Something I failed to dive into during my article last night on the short lived nature of hardware hacking scenes was the fact that so much of the software that is written for these systems, once modded, seems to disappear over time, becoming harder and harder to download and try out as each month passes. Link after link results in either a 404 error, or worse, the download site being completely changed into the typical placeholder page, or some other vector for malware and who knows what else, and nothing is done about it.
You see, for some reason, after maybe a couple of years, these awesomely skilled hobbyists will build up quite the archive of programs for the system they might be working on. Some good, some back, some almost mandatory and others just one off little oddities. These files will often be hosted on their own websites, for a time, or on various file sharing websites across the net. The latter are usually safe, and stay active for quite some time, albeit the sites they are hosted on might be a little scummy, but it is the former that are the big issue to me.
You will see cross links all across various “scene” sites discussing posts about then-new discoveries about hardware and software, or in depth discussion on new homebrew. You click on these links to to go these other websites, and what you wind up getting is some page that tries to slam you with ads, attack you with malware, or pull the classic “fake an error message so you call up fake tech support scammers” page. Needless to say, the sites, which are quite valuable thanks to the popularity of system modding, are taken over by people I can only call scumlords once their original owners abandon them.
Why are they abandoning these sites, though? Why are they letting all of this information be lost to time? Sure, archive.org has hit plenty of these sites, but it doesn’t grab everything – many files are lost in the archiving process, most commonly those files that we are going to the sites to hunt for! Of course, if you know the name of the program, there is probably a mirror somewhere else online, but still, I prefer to download from the creator, where possible. I don’t care if your program is 8 years old, if it is useful, then it’s useful. I understand that you don’t want to pay for a website year after year, but this is why you should plan ahead and make sure your site can evolve. For a site like xbox-scene, which is a zombie in and of itself, at least if it comes back to life it can evolved to discuss the Xbox One and future consoles – it isn’t named something obsolete like “Gamecube Emporium” (which I just made up) and locked in the past.
Hell, Xadara itself used to be an almost completely different site, before I shifted it purely to a blogging focus. The site evolved, yet in some ways stayed the same since it was about my projects and things I like. I don’t want it to become a ghost, like all these others sites have been.
Regardless, the sites of various scene members seem to have come and gone. Maybe those people are scared of legal reprecussions? Maybe they don’t want to be associated with a given scene anymore? (something I can totally understand from firsthand experience) or maybe they just don’t care about the status they have made.. which to me makes no sense. You work so hard on custom software, and understanding these machines, all to just abandon it a few years later? That would be like carving a statue by hand then once you are done, smashing it a year later. Yeah, you can do it, but it doesn’t make all that much sense, at least to me.
Still, there are also those sites that are still up, but don’t work right – files are broken, pages don’t load correctly, and everything is just a mess. I did mention this somewhat in my last article, but it should be said again that this is incredibly annoying. At least this option gives us proper file names to search for, but still.
My point is, it shouldn’t be such a chaotic mess. The information should stay properly archived and safe, and the people who work on these projects, I personally think, should try to keep as much of this alive as possible. Granted it’s their work, they can let it die if they wish, but it doesn’t help those of us in the future who want to take advantage of these now-dead systems.
The links lead to nowhere. The files exist, but can be a pain to find. Hardware scenes, after their heyday, quickly develop this ethereal feel to them, kind of like ghost town. Between the abandoned state of the software that is out there, and the dead links to who knows what other software, it’s like I’m walking down a digital version of Pripyat, Ukraine. The only difference here is if I hunt hard enough I usually can find what I am looking for. It just sometimes takes more effort, and risk, than it’s worth.
It isn’t like I’m trying to pirate the newest Xbox One games: Far from it, I just want to see what these machines were really capable of. Maybe I should download dev libraries for the Wii and see what I can come up with