Shutdown strategies

The Toast is shutting down. I’m not a part of the Toast community, but I’ve enjoyed many articles there over the last three years. The website will continue to exist, but they won’t be adding any new content.

Hi.co is shutting down. Their shutdown stategy is much more elaborate. They plan to use an ion-etching process to “print” a tiny copy of the entire site on a set of nickel plates. Using an optical microscope, the content of these plates should be readable for thousands of years. They also intend to keep the site’s archives online under a different top-level domain (hitotoki.org) and sell the more valuable domain hi.co to cover some of the costs.

Even if you’re not generating any new content, running a website takes money. When we talk about “buying” and “owning” domain names, most of the time we’re talking about paying a company (domain registrar) to maintain a database entry for a domain name. As soon as you stop paying the registrar the annual fee, they stop maintaining the database entry, and the domain name goes up for auction. Likewise, most of the time, a website is hosted on servers run by another company, and that company expects to get paid every month to keep the server running. If a site owner stops paying the bills, the site will disappear within a very short time. (I suppose in that sense it’s no different that any other property.)

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, mostly in the context of this here blog. If something happens to me, and I stop paying the bills for sunpig.com, this blog will vanish. If I’m dead, I won’t be around to care, but I can’t help feeling disappointed now that all of this content will just go away. It might still exist in a backup somewhere, but keeping digital content accessible requires ongoing effort and money. Back in 2002, Mark Pilgrim said, “Anything that is infinitely reproducible can survive.” (Ironically, that link points to Internet Archive, because in 2011 he chose to shut his own website down.) His argument is correct, but there’s a catch in the word “can”. Just because copyable digital content can surive, doesn’t mean that it will.

The Internet Archive does amazing not-for-profit work to digitally preserve large chunks of the internet, this site included. Will it still be around in 50 years? I hope so, and I’ve just donated to help make that happen. Also, since the beginning of this year, I’ve been gradually scanning mountains of old paper files cut down the space it takes up. But I still can’t escape the feeling that if I want to pass on a copy of everything I’ve written here on sunpig.com to Alex and Fiona…I should print it out.

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2 comments

  1. I am thinking about keeping this content for Alex and Fiona…..

    My grandmother was born in Essen in 1899 to a working class family. She was the eldest of seven children, and the only girl. She completed primary school; that was the end of her formal education. About a hundred years ago she and (separately) her father moved to the United States. All the boys followed eventually; the mother remained in Germany until her death.

    This young girl did not speak or write English, and was clumsy in that language until her death in 1956, but she was literate in German. She and her mother carried on a correspondence all those years, until the mother’s death, and I have a lot of those letters, the ones from the mother to the daughter of course. They span all those years of living here, marrying, and having two children of her own. There are treasures in there, for me especially, since I am the only person now living who remembers my grandmother. I loved her and I remember her well.

    That is the record. It is on paper, and it is theoretically virtually immortal if properly cared for. German is a modern language and is still accessible.

    But. All those letters are written in the Alte Schrift, the old handwriting of that day. I can hold my own in German, but I cannot read the Alte Schrift. Hand writing has been drastically revised in German, to the extent that anyone writes cursive at all in any modern language. Cursive, in English, is no longer taught in schools in the United States, and children growing up now cannot read it. I am careful to print everything I write by hand to my grandchildren.

    You see where I am going with this. The medium of digital recording is changing much faster than handwriting styles in German. Computer records from even as short a time as twenty years ago are increasingly difficult to access technologically. Even if you do manage to keep a record of this blog, will Fiona be able to read it when she is 30? Will anyone be able to get at it? Will her daughter be able to access it, or will she be shut out, as I am shut out of my grandmother’s box of letters?

    I have no idea what the answers to these concerns might be. I am suspecting that your best chance would be to print it all out on actual paper, since the typography of the English language is changing much more slowly.

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