Legacy Interfaces and Services Offered Online by Major Companies

   Practically Extinct small

Online services with unique interfaces that change regularly and through those changes provide a different experience and different content to their users.

Digital Species: Social Media

Trend in 2022:

No change No Change

Consensus Decision

Added to List: 2019

Trend in 2023:

No change No Change

Previously: Practically Extinct

Imminence of Action

Immediate action necessary. Where detected should be stabilized and reported as a matter of urgency.

Significance of Loss

The loss of tools or services within this group would have a global impact.

Effort to Preserve | Inevitability

Loss seems inevitable: loss has already occurred or is expected to occur before tools or techniques develop.


Interfaces to Facebook, Hotmail, Ask Jeeves, Tweetdeck, MySpace and many others.

‘Critically Endangered’ in the Presence of Good Practice

Robust and extensive web archives with strong documentation of search algorithms, ranking and personalization of interfaces.

2023 Review

This entry was added in 2019 to highlight the configuration of interfaces and, therefore, the ever-changing arrangement and presentation of content. Personalization means that the same query can produce quite different results to different users at the same time; the application of machine learning to behavioral surplus means the same may obtain different results at different points in time. That is over and above the rapid churn in the appearance of web interfaces. There is little appreciation of the implications for the use of online services and the potential for manipulations that arise. Moreover, the digital preservation community, which is historically concerned with data rather than interface, has only rudimentary tools to address this challenge.

The 2021 Jury agreed but noted a trend towards greater risk due to security issues posed by hosting legacy technology software and services which have prompted disposal of content imminently without adequate review or selection. The 2022 Taskforce agreed these risks remain on the same basis as before (‘no change’ to trend).

The 2023 Council agreed with the Practically Extinct classification and noted an increase in imminence, recognizing that while the need for major efforts to prevent or reduce losses continues, it is now much more likely that loss of material has already occurred, and will continue to do so, by the time tools or techniques have been developed.

Additional Comments

The 2023 Bit List Council additionally recommends that the next major review for the Bit List includes a consideration of merging this entry with ‘Consumer Social Media Free at the Point of Use’ and or new entry on interfaces of social media platforms, to provide examples of loss prompted by aggravating conditions.

The interfaces alone have less impact if they are gone (since many research uses are interested in the extracted data). However, it's an important distinction for us to make that we could end up preserving social media data as datasets in the long run, meaning that the look and feel (which serves a different sort of purpose) will be lost. A number of social media researchers in groups like the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) may care more about the data, but perhaps it is worth exploring a bit more about their interest in interfaces.

Without the interfaces and underlying software that enables social media platforms, it will be impossible to preserve the look and feel and even meaning of a large portion of content that depends on particular functionality or interface to be accurately or authentically interpreted, including for evidential uses, art works, design research, and historical / qualitative research. The loss of these interfaces (or lack of any indication of robust documentation by platforms) means a significant gap in the cultural heritage of many communities and even entire nations. For example, some content creators on YouTube may lose access to their content and accounts due to copyright infringement claims or reports of inappropriate content, which may or may not be supportable. The risk of loss is higher if the content is not stored anywhere else. Though some mitigation methods are available through the platform, this issue may only affect a small number of accounts.

Some of the content/iterations of these are likely preserved to an extent within existing web archives but not as targeted collection efforts. As we've seen with myspace and other platforms where the platform producers decide to remove content or shut down rather quickly, it can be too late if this content has not been preserved already.

The authenticity of displaying social media content from 2014 through modern interfaces is questionable, and without recording the interface at the time, it is not currently possible to recreate older interfaces. You'd think the platform owners would have the older versions saved, but these are not available at the moment, and it would be worth engaging in a conversation about making them available to cultural heritage institutions for display purposes.

Some of this information is almost certainly lost already (some through deliberate erasure). The imminence of action depends on the type of institution.

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