The Permanence of Our Websites

Something that has been bugging me for a while is the idea of permanence. Its partially why I am reluctant to use so many digital tools, out of fear they may be decommissioned. The loss of my main hobby domain reiterated that and it makes me question, truly how do you guarantee the permanence of our websites?

Do you guys take any steps to ensure that you website stays up for the forseeable future? Is it hosting it somewhere special, or having multiple backup hosts? Do you index your website on Wayback Machine regularly?

Curious to hear your thoughts.

7 Likes

I make my website locally and then publish on Neocities, which helps me at least have an offline backup! Also, none of my writings are unique on my website and are in my notetaking system, so I always at least have my essays and such in there in case somehow I lose all of it.

I think there’s a certain level of “oh well” you have to have in the fact that your website won’t really last forever, and just enjoy the moment and the process. Enjoy the process in the today even if you knew it would all be destroyed tomorrow.

2 Likes

Firstly, you’ll want to address the question of what it means to be permanent?
Secondly, you’ll need to confront that things that are permanent, are usually so because they’re either a natural result from nature, or that the temporary things that seem permanent, are kept that way due to effects like the Lindy Effect(what is old typically stays with us for longer, and is selected more via survivorship bias).

So seeing this, I would say the first thing you need for a website that remains “permanent” is something that people want to keep that way that reaches beyond your life- if that is the scale you refer to it. The simplest way to do this is through quality. The second simplest way to do this is through delusion and deception- the latter will fall away as it’s a political approach. This point though gets into more philosophical territory with “death of the author” and “second death where people no longer utter your name” being relevant discussions too.

If instead, your question is about permanence as in backing it up so that if a host goes down… the simple answer is to just be sensible. Make backups, and if you care about link rot too, use the wayback machine to reinforce them against link rot. This can also apply to your own links and your own site.

I think the better way to frame this is online tools. Nobody except you or your own incompetence can stop you running a binary on your own hardware(or maybe Windows since it sucks… or maybe dead servers since a lot of binaries phone home… especially modern adobe junk).

1 Like

Interesting perspective, I will definitely look into properly backing up my website offline as well!

Your post has inspired a post on my future blog! Truly, I do have this intrinsic motivation to create something which outlasts me. And I agree with your correction of online tools and digital tools, because truly speaking, even something like a backup on a home server running a stable linux distro is probably going to resilient to the tests of time.

I will simply make backups, embrace the finite nature of our reality and live life! Woohoo!

1 Like

I just make sure that whatever tools I’m using that the final output is static files that I can move and shift where ever.

What happens after I’m gone? There are services that are popping up to take care of this, prepay a domain for as long as possible, host it somewhere and wish for the best.

I actually wrote about this on my website last year: Skyhold - Linkrot, or Website Existentialism

Basically, though, I think it resonates with the reason why it’s so important to own your data. If you can’t export it or save it, you have no control over whether or not it continues to exist. I remember when “hosting” was basically at the sufferance of a person who offered you space and they could pack up or forget to pay their hosting or something at any time, and that would be it if you didn’t have everything saved.

3 Likes

This is a topic I’ve been coming across since I started my personal website almost 2 years ago. Towards the start, when my exploring of websites was at its most intense, I came across Wesley’s site & post: How Websites Die

This topic would go on to be discussed on the Yesterweb Forum: web archival and our digital library of alexandria

WordPress.com would publish this craziness: 100-Year Plan + Hacker News discussions [#1 & #2]

I’d discover Derek Sivers was working on these 2 projects: Digital Legacy Trust + Hundred Year Host

Personally (and I can’t stress that enough), I see this pursuit as a tad foolish. Defying death is unnatural. The concept of ‘legacy’ is just a moving of Death’s goal post. “Oh, I’m not dead when I literally die, there’s still the second death of no longer being spoken about”.

Do I think these archival, site extension pursuits are entirely pointless? No. Because websites are EXTRA fragile / mortal / sensitive. They die all the time when their creators are in full-health. So by all means, do what you can to protect them.

But doing so in the name of eternity? I think there is a deeper underlying fear? there that one should perhaps be reflecting on and thinking about. Particularly in this sort-of culture we inhabit: embracing technology, particularly it’s goodness and strengths. The leap in logic of going on to see technology as a savior (from all sort of things) is only a stone’s throw away from where we are; I think.

EDIT: 2 relevant concepts: Memento mori [#1 & #2] (Acceptance of Death) & Cryonics (“Defiance of Death”, particularly through Technology)

1 Like

this is a really interesting topic that i like thinking about now and then. i read this blog post by neonaut that got me thinking about the longevity of my website. i may not last forever, and neither will my site, but it’ll probably last longer than me! (as long as neocities does)

with websites, i dont think anything is really permanent because who knows how long a hosting service will last, but i do think that backing it up to a hard drive will give it some permanence because someone could find it one day, or maybe you pass it on to someone, and they could reupload your site to a new domain or hosting service, and even if they don’t, at least there will be a phjysical copy of your site on a disk somewhere. but other than that, the end of a website is kinda inevitable, and i dont think thats a bad thing, you can mourn a lost site, but as others have said, just enjoy the process in the moment!

1 Like

Gah! This is a constant chore with me in running a web directory: clearing out dead wood (sites that have gone dark.) It never ends, it’s a manual task and to much like work!

In the late 90’s and early '00’s, personal websites that stuck around the longest were on Geocities and Tripod. Those two hosts never deleted anything so even websites that had been abandoned by their webmasters would drift on, like the Flying Dutchman, for many many years until somebody pulled the plug on the entire host. But those sites were pure static HTML so they were durable.

Having your own domain helps you manage your site should you ever have to move it to a new host, but you really only rent a domain so for longevity the domain lasts as long as you and your credit card hold out for renewals. Same with paid hosting.

The bottom line is, change and churn are the constants on The Web. That’s part of why it’s called, “The Web”, it’s all fragile, gossamer threads.

But keep backups of your website, and backups of your backups. Hard drives fail, operating systems brick themselves (thank you Microsoft) stuff gets corrupted.

3 Likes

I have a local repository, which I push to Github, which then deploys on Neocities. And then there’s the Internet Archive. So I’m probably pretty fine for now.

4 Likes

Almost 50 years ago, when I was 18, I made up my mind I was going to live forever. Part of me still thinks that, but realistically I know I’m not.

Nothing is left of my old sites that were hosted by Yahoo, Lycos Tripod, Freeserve and others apart from what’s on the Internet Archive. Even the hosting companies themselves are long gone.

A couple of years ago I thought about what would happen to my sites after I’m just dust or ash. I host my sites on one computer, “The Server in the Cellar,” but write them on another. Both computers have at least two backups on separate drives, which are kept up to date.

Where I can, I have leased the domain names for 10 years at a time, but that’s not going to help when the server finally gets shut down.

The sites are regularly crawled by the Internet Archive but I went a bit further. I’m lucky in that I have friends who are not only a lot younger than me but also technically minded. Two of them have promised to put copies of my entire site on their servers. With a bit of luck, there will be live copies of the sites around for 20 to 30 years after I stop writing for them.

The only other way I can think of doing it, is to arrange for a stonemason to carve every page into rock and then burying them in the backyard. They should last thousands of years!

8 Likes

And then your backyard would become a tourist destination! :sweat_smile:

Perhaps people could take a look at how the memory of Uriel has continued for the past decade since he died. http://uriel.cat-v.org/ credited with https://werc.cat-v.org/ and various subdomains of cat-v.org. A lot of this is maintained by sl though, so like you said, it’s probably best for a tightly knit group of people or an organisation or something else to that nature

I think it’s important to make my mark and make people of the future know that I was here. I don’t know where I’ll be in 20+ years; maybe I’ll have abandoned my website, maybe it’ll still be actively upkept. But I get a profound sense of fulfillment, joy, and existentialism by browsing websites of people who have since passed on (either from life or just to other things). Doubly so in a queer context. I want people around me, now and in the future, to be able to look back on my work and say ‘they were just like me!’. Reading blog entries of trans people from the 90s has left a really huge impact on me. I don’t look so highly of myself to expect the same effect coming from my work, but yknow. I can try. I’ve worked very hard to be who I am today, and I’ll continue to do so. I want that work to be seen.

on a practical level though I just keep local backups of everything and try to write my code in such a way that it is easy to go back and edit :P

2 Likes

I read @jackdaw post links about link rot, which has always been a problem for me as well, and then I read about WordPress’s 100 year plan for only $38,000! It’s not something I’d do, and It sounds a lot for a lump sum but annually, it isn’t that outrageous.

Just a little story about what happened to one of my sites and how that came about…

My dad was in the Royal Navy, and one of the first things on my site in 1999, were the scans of his collection of photos. One of the ships he served on was HMS Gambia. In 2002, I was contacted by the HMS Gambia Association to help create their website. In 2014, the whole site just disappeared

I thought about it a bit and contacted the surviving Association members about resurrecting the site. I say surviving literally. The ship last sailed in 1960, so even by 2010, anyone who ever worked on the ship was already 70 years old. The Internet Archive is great, but not perfect and some material is probably gone forever but I did rewrite the site.

The nice thing about it is that most of the crews are now gone but their children and grandchildren still contact me and the site is still being updated with their stories.

My point is that if people are interested, then old sites can be given a new lease of life and need not just be lost.

One last thing, not all the crew are dead yet. The mailing list I use is getting smaller every year. They are in their 90s now, but I’m still in contact with a few of them.

3 Likes

Great job on the site, I’m enjoying reading through this morning

To be honest I don’t think anything is truly permanent. Some things last for a really long time and something disintegrate very quickly, but eventually all will go. Now of course we hope things of value stay the longest and that definitely is not always the case (and then to complicate matters, what we consider valuable or not worth preserving will change over time).

Anyways all that to say I’m not too worried about how long my site will stay up after I’m done maintaining it. I can only hope that if someone finds anything of mine valuable enough to keep, that they preserve it in some manner and republish it. If no one finds my pages valuable enough now to preserve, I’m honestly okay with that and them being lost forever. I periodically download a copy of my site incase neocities were to suddenly implode so I could transfer to another host, but other than that I don’t have much safe guarding.

I personally have downloaded pages of an informational site I adore, moved by that fact that he has shut it down before and it is currently being renovated (badly). If his site shuts down for good and he either dies or stops his crusade against piracy maybe I’ll republish his pages to preserve the invaluable information he has collected.

2 Likes

There’s all sorts of reasons why sites disappear. Some contain information that is unique or unusual and deserve to be preserved.

Sometimes it’s not even the author’s fault. Every host I used to use before I started self-hosting is long gone, some without any warning at all. If you care in the slightest about what you’re doing then you really do need to have your own copies of the files.

1 Like

I don’t think Nearly Free Speech is going away any time soon.

I don’t think I’m going to get kicked off of NFS any time soon.

As long as I remain employed, I can afford to keep renting my domain (with auto-renewal) and pay for hosting.

If I think I’m going to lose my job soon and be unemployed for a while, I’ll put a couple hundred into my NFS account to cover expenses. My will has instructions

The new version of my website has a downloads page where you can grab archives of my site for offline viewing or mirroring. The archive gets updated every time I do a full build.

I don’t expect to live forever, let alone be remembered forever. But I can’t predict the future, either, so I have no way of knowing whether anything I write will be of use or interest to anybody after I’m gone. But by making it as easy as possible to distribute my work and preserve it I leave that door open.

2 Likes