Daniel Miller

Where Do Our Websites Go?

My friend-on-the-internet Jordon Cooper died last year. (I blogged about his passing.)

Today a new article from his website appeared in my RSS reader (Feedbin, if you must know). I assumed perhaps his wife Wendy was writing on his site, much like Ezra’s wife Hillary does every year. It was not that. Jordon’s domain registration must have expired, and a different Jordon Cooper picked it up. He’s also a Canadian, but the similarities end there.

It was jarring, to say the least. This wasn’t just any site–Jordon’s contained well over a decade’s worth of writing. I assume all that writing is now stuck in a MySQL database somewhere. Maybe the actual server or VM is gone too.

It’s made me think about how one should prepare the world to handle all these digital assets after we’re gone. My domain and my hosting are set to auto-renew, but only for as long as the credit cards work. This blog is stored as flat files on Github, but does anyone who might care in the future know that? When, if ever, does Github remove accounts of deceased persons?

Even if I stored all this on an external hard drive, which I don’t, who would care about it enough to plug it into a computer? How much longer would the hard drive last, and how much longer would adapters to connect it to a computer exist?

“The cloud” is as ephemeral as spoken words. Dropbox and Google and my web host store some things, but they’ll go away as soon as my money is no good. Besides, they’re all locked behind passwords even I don’t know (they’re stored in my 1Password vault, the master password for which only I know).

Will the blockchain save us? Will services?

It’s a hard problem.

In one recent case, a widow contacted the company for access to her late husband’s backups, but the data was inaccessible because it had been encrypted.

“It was heartbreaking and sad, and I wish we could’ve done something,” Mr. Thomas said. “But the stuff was encrypted.”

(from The New York Times)

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