Earlier this year, without any fanfare, a truly great resource and archive relating to Afghanistan's recent past went offline.
The AfghanistanNewsCenter wasn't very well known, and it doesn't seem to have done too much to publicise its activities. The founder -- Fawad Ahmad Muslim -- as far as I've been able to figure out, simply kept updating the site as more news came in. I subscribed to his Yahoo Groups newsletter since at least 2007. If I search through my database of reports published on Afghanistan, many (many) of them include links to stories made available through afghanistannewscenter.com so I'm sure it wasn't just me who used it.
At its core, its mission was very simple: gather together all the English-language reporting on Afghanistan (from wire services, magazines and also sometimes press releases) and store it in a database. This database was browseable by date, and the archive went back to 1992. With a bit of Google Kung Fu, you could even perform text searches on the full archive, getting year-by-year outputs of articles about a particular person or place.
As a researcher without the backing of a large institution, affording me access to resources like LexisNexis and the like, AfghanistanNewsCenter was an essential and valuable part of my resource quiver. I think I must have used it to research pretty much every project that I've produced since first arriving in Afghanistan in 2004, from the bigger books to research papers and my own newspaper articles.
A few months ago, I noticed that the site went down. I've been unable to contact the owner, even though there is a sort of ghost remnant (presumably automated) version on Facebook, which posts recent wire copy articles. Needless to say, Facebook being Facebook, there's no way to do anything useful with the articles on that page, and the more useful google-driven searches by year and by keyword are impossible. I am pretty sure that most of the archive wasn't even stored on Facebook in this way.
So this is just a paean to a resource that's now lost to us. All the articles still exist, thankfully, distributed across a thousand different news outlets and services, and you can still collate all these together, but the ability to search and index these articles is now lost to us. Its sudden and unexpected demise should, moreover, offer a lesson to others who hope to offer such services in the future.Please, PLEASE, find a way to ensure that these useful services are managed so as to be sustainable over the long-term. Even if this means finding an institutional home for the data, it'll be worth it over the long-term.