Posthumous Hosting and Digital Culture

THE DEATHS of Leslie Harpold and Brad Graham, in addition to being tragic and horrible and sad, have highlighted the questionable long-term viability of blogs, personal sites, and web magazines as legitimate artistic and literary expressions. (Read this, by Rogers Cadenhead.)

Cool URIs don’t change, they just fade away. When you die, nobody pays your hosting company, and your work disappears. Like that.

Now, not every blog post or “Top 10 Ways to Make Money on the Internet” piece deserves to live forever. But there’s gold among the dross, and there are web publications that we would do well to preserve for historical purposes. We are not clairvoyants, so we cannot say which fledgling, presently little-read web publications will matter to future historians. Thus logic and the cultural imperative urge us to preserve them all. But how?

The death of the good in the jaws of time is not limited to internet publications, of course. Film decays, books (even really good ones) constantly go out of print, digital formats perish. Recorded music that does not immediately find an audience disappears from the earth.

Digital subscriptions were supposed to replace microfilm, but American libraries, which knew we were racing toward recession years before the actual global crisis came, stopped being able to pay for digital newspaper and magazine descriptions nearly a decade ago. Many also (even fancy, famous ones) can no longer collect—or can only collect in a limited fashion. Historians and scholars have access to every issue of every newspaper and journal written during the civil rights struggle of the 1960s, but can access only a comparative handful of papers covering the election of Barack Obama.

Thanks to budget shortfalls and format wars, our traditional media, literature, and arts are perishing faster than ever before. Nothing conceived by the human mind, except Heaven and nuclear winter, is eternal.

Still, when it comes to instant disposability, web stuff is in a category all its own.

Unlike with other digital expressions, format is not the problem: HTML, CSS, and backward-compatible web browsers will be with us forever. The problem is, authors pay for their own hosting.

(There are other problems: the total creative output of someone I follow is likely distributed across multiple social networks as well as a personal site and Twitter feed. How to connect those dots when the person has passed on? But let’s leave that to the side for the moment.)

A suggestion for a business. Sooner or later, some hosting company is going to figure out that it can provide a service and make a killing (as it were) by offering ten-, twenty-, and hundred-year packets of posthumous hosting.

A hundred years is not eternity, but you are not Shakespeare, and it’s a start.


Ten years ago tonight

Ten years ago

Ten years ago, my girlfriend flew home to celebrate new year’s eve in San Francisco, but I had to stay in New York to work, so we spent the turn of the millennium apart.

A friend of a friend threw a party. I attended, grumpily, as shown here.

Ten years ago, but it may as well have been a thousand. Everything is different now. Everything except that I am once again separated from those with whom I would most wish to mark the falling away of old things and the luminous beauty of new beginnings.

Heart trouble

My marriage resulted in a daughter, Ava, and a dog, Emile. My daughter, thank God, is fine. But Emile has become ill, first with pneumonia, which he survived, and now with pulmonary hypertension, which is going to kill him.

The pneumonia manifested as coughing, fainting, dramatic weight loss, and lack of energy. A week in a veterinary hospital’s intensive care unit saved his life. And, for a few weeks afterward, although still underweight, he seemed to be recovering.

Then he began fainting again, often falling into his own urine and feces, sometimes while emitting what sounded like a scream of terror. The light would go out of his eyes. Grabbing his feet, patting his side, I’d lie on the floor, coaxing him back from the other world. Then it was back to the veterinarian, or, as two days ago, to the veterinary hospital’s ICU.

At the hospital, they prescribed a new medicine, which he starts today. They also told me, in doctor language, that he won’t be with us much longer.

It’s too soon to give up hope, too soon to pull the plug, but the day of horrible choices is approaching.


Pride

Pride

I am sad that my five-year-old wrote on our door in permanent marker. She knows better. I’m proud that she is learning to write. And that she chose to write these two words—her name and mine.

When she showed me her work, I had a choice: reprimand her for writing on the door. Or tell her proud I am of her.

I think you can guess which I chose.

Happy Thanksgiving, Americanos!


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On Self-Promotion

Zeldman

You are a shameless self promoter!” he said.

I can’t speak to the “shame” part, but for the rest: guilty as charged.

Self-promotion may appear revolting, but it’s the only promotion that’s guaranteed in this business. Do it right, and only haters will hate you for it. To get, you must give.

Love your work

If you write or design, you must believe in what you do. If you don’t believe you have something to express, there are plenty of other jobs out there. If you believe in what you do, and if you’re doing it for real, you must find ways to let people know about it.

Sometimes this takes the direct form of a case study. The assumption in publishing such a study is that someone out there might be interested in the service your team provided, the thinking you brought to the problem, and so on.

There is a difference between being arrogant about yourself as a person and being confident that your work has some value. The first is unattractive, the second is healthy and natural. Some people respond to the one as if it were the other. Don’t confuse them. Marketing is not bragging, and touting one’s wares is not evil. The baker in the medieval town square must holler “fresh rolls” if he hopes to feed the townfolk.

The love you make

But direct self-promotion is ineffective and will go unnoticed unless it is backed by a more indirect (and more valuable) form of marketing: namely, sharing information and promoting others.

Is your Twitter feed mostly about your own work, or do you mainly link to interesting work by others? Link blogs with occasional opinions (or occasional techniques, or both) get read. The more you find and promote other people’s good work, the more in-the-know and “expert” you are perceived to be—and the more you (or your brand, if you must) are liked.

You can’t fake this. If you’re linking to other people’s work as a ploy to make others link back, it’s obvious, and you’ll fail. If you’re sharing half-baked information half-heartedly, nobody will stick around.

This may sound Jedi-mind-trick-ish, but never create a blog or a Twitter feed with the explicit idea of promoting yourself. Create for the joy of creating. Share for the joy of the sharing, and because the information you’re sharing genuinely excites you. Do that, and the rest will follow.

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