I read a post over on the Workbench blog asking about the writing of Leslie Harpold, an early blogger who died in 2006. Her family has let her domains expire.
I've been getting emails from people wanting my help in getting their sites converted from Manila to some other format. It's totally predictable this would happen, but this is the wrong time to ask that question. There's nothing that I, one person, can do to help. The time to ask is when you're creating your web archive. That's when you should be concerned about what could happen to it if.. And there are lots of ifs.
I'm a very technical person, and I've been aware of this issue starting from the first day I wrote an essay that was published on the web. I've been doing things to protect my writing. Yet, if I were to for whatever reason, stop tending my web presence, the whole thing would disappear within 30 to 60 days. One or two billing cycles before the hosting services cut off service. And then no more than a year before the domains expire and become porn sites or whatever.
Harpold's writing may be gone. Whether it comes back is entirely up to her family and volunteers. But there are millions of others whose work will not get this kind of attention, and if they want to do something to future-safe their work, right now, there is nothing they can do.
What's needed is an endowment, a foundation with a long-term charter, that can take over the administration of a web presence as a trust -- before the author dies. This is something you can and should be able to ake care of yourself.
My father, who died in October, did a fantastic job of preparing his estate so that it would require the minimum work of his successors. But there was nothing he could do for his web site, and as far as I know he didn't. I don't control his domain, even though I host his site. Luckily I'm technical enough to know how to do a permanent redirect, and I'm fairly confident that even if I can't gain control of the domain, we can preserve his writing. I'm also going to statically render it, so it doesn't require any special software. But even then, even if I host it as a sub-domain of scripting.com, what happens when I die?
We need to focus as much attention on preserving the record as we did in creating easy to use web content tools. We've created a problem of monumental proportions, the hole gets deeper every day, and people are just beginning to come to grips with its scope.