Future-safe weblogs

It’s a common theme for Dave Winer to write about preserving our writing on the web. Today he outlines some criteria for judging whether a web host will last:

“The concern is that the record we’re creating is fragile and ephemeral, so that to historians of the future, the period of innovation where we moved our intellectual presence from physical to electronic media will be a blank spot, with almost none of it persisting.”

I think about this in 2 parts. The first is publishing your weblog to your own domain name. This ensures that your writing doesn’t go away and links don’t break when your web host goes out of business, because you can copy your content somewhere else and map your domain to that new location.

The second is some kind of host that will last forever. This is an unsolved problem. Hosting fees need to be paid, domain name registrations need to be renewed. It may be too big a leap to ever get there, but we could settle instead for better mirroring of content. I’d like to have my content mirrored automatically to GitHub Pages, for example, and maybe even Medium.

Imagine the life of a printed book from the early 20th century that has now survived generations. How was this possible? Many copies must have been printed, because some will inevitably be lost or destroyed. And when a library or bookstore is closed, copies of the book must be transferred to a new location.

This all follows naturally with a printed book, but to adopt the same pattern for digital works, we must go out of our way to create a system of mirroring and long-term storage that tries to match what happens in the real world automatically. It’s a great challenge.

Unfortunately very little has changed on this topic since I wrote about permanence 3 years ago. But we can change that. Open formats and auto-mirroring will be a key part of my new microblogging platform.