The Lost History of Pictures
Written by Mark Randall
History... We write it down, transcribe it between languages, make hundreds, thousands or even millions of copies, and the information behind it rarely becomes lost. But what about Activeworlds building history?
Today I investigated the picture command, and attempted to work out how much of the artwork behind the buildings in Alphaworld had been lost to expired domains and dead hosting.

This was made possible via a recent propdump of alphaworld. A propdump is the means used to backup and restore a world, and contains all of the information about each object, its model, description, action, position, owner and various other data.

ImageFrom this propdump we can extract a list of objects with action commands that match a given pattern, in this case, have a “create picture” command somewhere in them to create a list containing every picture command still in use, even if those buildings containing them have not been visited in many, many years.

The resulting scan provided 9993 unique results, although in some cases each result had been used thousands of times.

The next step was to write a script that would go through the list, line by line, and attempt to download the associated image file.

Usually a file that is missing will respond with a 404 error, however due to the amount of domains which have since become inactive, many files could not be downloaded because their DNS could not resolve (DNS is the means of mapping a domain name such as www.activeworlds.com to its IP address 54.200.153.162).

ImageNext was the problem that many free websites, including those immensely popular ancient hosting sites such as geocities, long since sentenced to death after being bought out by Yahoo!, return a “success” result and a web page, rather than the image which was originally there.

This meant that even if a document was found at the URL, it had to be tested to check it actually was an image, those that failed this test were also marked as dead.

Downloading files en-mass is itself a risky proposition, as can be seen by some of the URLs that flew past on the status screen. Yes, there was porn in there and, unfortunately, what looked to be much worse.

Once completed 3,558 pictures had downloaded, a success rate of 35%. This means that approximately 2 out of every 3 unique pictures used in Alphaworld over the years no longer exists, at least at the original address.

Top 10 Working Domains

tnlc.com --> 389
i.imgur.com --> 214
objects.activeworlds.com --> 209
veger.net --> 149
img.photobucket.com --> 146
tex.swcity.net --> 127
pics.swcity.net --> 121
gigapath.org --> 90
pharadon.150m.com --> 88
www.veger.net --> 84

Top Dead Domains

www.geocities.com --> 609
photobucket.com --> 286
members.xoom.com --> 267
geocities.com --> 162
www.celebritybabes.com --> 161
www.angelfire.com --> 138
alphasville.com --> 105
www.pokemon3d.com --> 105
www.planetnamek.com --> 96
www.imagestation.com --> 89

Just how essential these pictures and textures were to their owners buildings is hard to gauge without visiting every one of them in person, but what is clear is a lot of intent behind many buildings will have been lost to dead external hosting.

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