Scalar downtime, and how to know between downtime and disappearance

David graciously posted for all of us last night, notifying us of troubles accessing Scalar, which seemed at the time to have disappeared.  When you’re looking for a needed tool, especially under deadline, and it appears to have vanished or changed or its functionality is impaired, what to do? My answer: there are steps you can take to see the nature of the problem.

I admit that I myself have stoked fears concerning how DH projects can be ephemeral, much more so than more traditional scholarship, and that we must learn how to live with that. However, it’s really unusual for ongoing, very active tools and projects to dematerialize (to the extent that they were ever “material”), or to undergo major revision without notice.

Here’s how to get the DL (down low) on DH as it happens, especially when something adverse might have happened with little notice.

First, do an internet search. One of the nice functionalities that both Google and Bing have built into their searches is the ability to limit searches by time. In Google, once you perform a search, you can select the “search tools” tab, which creates a tab “Any time,” and you can select the most recent 24 weeks, week, month, or a custom time period. Similarly, in Bing, the search results page has a tab marked “Any time,” also with a pulldown to select a recent or custom time frame. In either case, you’ll see instantly if people have been working on the tool, what problems they have encountered, and so forth. If there’s recent activity, especially recent routine activity, that would suggest that the site/tool’s problems are new and probably temporary and unexpected. Try searching not only the name of the project or tool, but if that turns up no leads, you can also try that with “down” or “gone” or other such combinations to see if anyone has mentioned it, especially on a blog or discussion board.

Second, check Twitter. As you’ve picked up on, Twitter is the main social media for digital humanities. A search for Scalar, for instance, yields its twitterfeed. In this case, according to the the Scalar project’s twitter feed, it went down around 5PM yesterday, and was back up around 9:30PM.

A third way to check, if neither of those comes up with anything definitive, is to go to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. The Internet Archive is a non-profit attempt to store the entirety of the internet for posterity. It stores and makes available books and other texts, music and audiobooks, videosoftware (including totally groovy simulators of old computer and gaming systems; Atari, anyone?) and other stuff, as well as literally billions of web pages. Those webpages are made accessible at the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. The Wayback Machine finds websites to archive in two ways. One is similar to how search engines find so much on the internet, by crawling the internet automatically, storing what it finds. The other is by hand: you, or anyone, may enter a url on the Wayback Machine, which the Internet Archive will then store.  Long story short (too late now), you can always check the Wayback Machine to find the most recent image it has of the website in question, to see if there’s any notice on there of upcoming changes. Any tool or site with institutional backing, chances are, will have announced an upcoming change in service, and you might find that on an archived version of its website.

So, when encountering a sudden change, it’s best to follow the advice emblazoned on the cover of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, namely, “don’t panic.” Unless, of course, you find out that that your absolutely essential tool really has disappeared. If that’s the case, well, then, you can always do something that makes me feel better, at least at first:


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