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Hi. All my current writing is over at Audacious Fox, and I'd love to show you around. Thanks for reading.

When bloggers die

The question “what happens when bloggers die?” has been bugging me a lot lately. It seems that in a day in age where content creation is so immediate, so instantaneous, the last thing anyone seems to be thinking about is when all that creation eventually stops. Now, this isn’t suppose to be cynical, or depressing, simply inquisitive. What is going to happen if, when, bloggers start to die, taking their archives of content with them?

My mind jumps to John Gruber as an example. We’ve never met in person, although I live just a state away, but I feel that we have a relationship. Since I first started reading news online, I’ve been reading John’s Apple-oriented blog, Daring Fireball. Although he has his critics, and haters gonna hate, he has been a huge inspiration for me to always be a critical thinker and reader when it comes to news and texts.

With this mindset, whenever I saw Mr. Gruber link back to an article he previously wrote, whether to confirm some past prediction or simply to prevent writing a similar post, I would click along and reread the article. I enjoyed the sense of flying back in time, a childhood dream, and the journey never got old. It was during such a scenario that I first noticed the “Archive” link on the left navigation list. Almost every news / blog website in the world has a link like this, yet I had never explored any of them. Maybe it was my infatuation with current news, I’ve spent way too much time refreshing my RSS news feed, that stopped me, or I never deemed it worth my time. Regardless, I clicked through and, as all pretend time-machine pilots do, went back to the oldest article I could find.

I came to a stop on the 13th of August, 2002. It was a Tuesday. The article itself was interesting enough, Gruber was writing about the new Power Mac G4’s Apple had just introduced, and it was intriguing to read an article related to Apple that didn’t include the word “app” anywhere [1]. It was here that my mind starting clicking. In front of me was something valuable, as with all history, and there was something to be gained by reading this eight year old article if only for the perception. However, unlike larger sites with an actual staff like Engadget, TechCrunch, or Wired, Daring Fireball was a one man show. A great one man show, but run by one man nonetheless.

Being in a state of aging myself, 18 feels like the new 30, I thought about the future of Daring Fireball. What would happen when its author was no longer writing? Moving to my life, for example, if I ever were to pass away, I am unsure if my family even knows about my blog. Sure, I’ve shown them articles, but what happens when the things I take care of, domain / hosting / etc., start to expire. The situation amplifies itself when you consider the huge number of websites that are now hosted by 3rd parties like Tumblr, Posterous, and Wordpress. Quick enough, and with little help I’m sure, my online identity would fade away as if it never existed.

I don’t know what Gruber has set up, as things like this are personal affairs, but I would hate to see a resource like the archive of Daring Fireball fade away leaving only dead links and poorly cached Google copies. While this is probably far from what will happen to DF (if I’ve though about it, odds are Gruber has), it raises a larger question: what happens when bloggers start dying? Or to be more specific, what should happen to their content once they pass away.

I don’t think anyone has really thought about this in depth and really, how can you blame them. When Tim Berners-Lee, the man who created the very medium of the work, the Internet, is still alive and well, where does that leave time to think about death? Will legal wills of the future contain paragraphs explaining who is to receive the domain addresses, Twitter usernames, or similar? It seems silly now, indeed I fear I lose credibility with some assumptions, but in an ever growing world, both on- and offline, things like domains and the reputations they carry will only become more valuable. Coming back to my example of Daring Fireball, if we never start thinking about ways to keep single-person run websites available as resources to the future generations, I fear we may cost them unique insight to a time when things were less connected [2].

I realize that there are many, many, other great single-person websites out there, and I read plenty of them. However, for examples sake I chose to run with Daring Fireball and John Gruber since I’ve been reading his work the longest. Some will ask why would an 18 year old college freshman start thinking about the eventual passing of someone he had a, probably one-way, Internet relationship with, and in all honesty I have no idea. I wish Mr. Gruber nothing but a long and wonderful life with his family and a successful career. However, I feel that this is a topic that deserves some thought. Not only to ensure archives of valuable content online for the future, but also how to handle the transferring of online properties such as web domains.

We may still be quite a few years out from ever having to worry about something like this, and there is always the possibility that losing these resources is an empty fear of mine. Undoubtedly, with the cost of huge storage devices going down every day, to save a complete, design included, archive of many of the websites I had in mind could be done for relatively cheap [3].

However, just in case we do have something to be worried about, I would rather add a little fire to the flames of this conversation now instead of waiting around.

I wish you all long and happy lives, bloggers of the Internet. Keep up the good work. In the spirit of ending things on a high note, I close with an excerpt from a post by Tom Watson:

Stop, or at the very least reduce, the re-blogging, re-tweeting, re-sharing, regurgitation and make something. Produce content. Create a great design, dust off that camera and start taking photos or close that browser and start writing. Because trust me, there are plenty of people out there sharing. Do something different…

Make something.

1 - Linguists vote ‘app’ Word of the Year

2 - While discussing this topic with some peers, we thought about print as an option for archiving. However, the initial problem is obviously the size and cost needed to archive every single article out there. And secondly, these types of text were designed for the medium of the web and should stay there.

3 - Design has become an integral part of how we view text on the web. The integrity of each website design needs to be kept in order for the text to be interpreted as the author intended.

Thursday, 20 January 2011