Tuesday, September 16, 2008
  What will we do when you are gone: digital life after death
In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.
[1789 B. Franklin Letter 13 Nov. in Writings (1907) X. 69] Quoted from

Indeed, as we all know, taxes can be avoided, at least by the rich. Death however, is in the end unavoidable and unpredictable, our end might be tomorrow if we fail to take due care crossing the street.

It's an issue we don't talk about, indeed until recently (at least in my experience) it is one that people online have avoided thinking about. In nthe "virtual world" we've pretended that death happens to other people. This pretence is assisted by the fact that online the dead simply "fade away", there is no new activity on the blogs and email lists and even attempts at direct contact (unless you use a phone number or physical address - which is cheating) simply go unanswered.

What happens, though, to all the effort and love that have gone into our online worlds when we die. Print books continue to reside on library shelves until the special entropy that affects libraries moves them to the stacks, and eventually to the second hand bookshop. Online it is different, as Peter discovered (aftermath of Early Christian Writings and friends) even without the extreme case of death a little inattention and your site is gone.

Of course there is the Wayback Machine.However, out of the more than 1,600 pages in my Amos commentary the best result this branch of the Internet Archive can offer is 95 pages from 2005. This blog, though it has a few less pages suffers even more the highest Wayback score is 7 pages.

Peter's problems stemmed from a failure to renew his domain name on time, I wonder who has the details of your domain registrations, hosting accounts etc. and do they know that they will be responsible for the treasures after you are gone?

Now that I've put the wind up you by introducing the extreme (if totally unavoidable) case of death, what about the other common problem, a fine resource is built up - let's call it New Testament Gateway (since a while back Mark discussed just this issue) the originator of the site loses energy or moves on to other tasks, or is simply overwelmed... Certain sites are of use to all of us, we rely on them. Yet their future is highly insecure.

What should we do?

Some suggestions for discussion:
  • individually: we should seriously think about making a list of key data for our domain names and hosting etc. and ensuring someone we trust has it and has the means to use it in the event we cease to be able to...
  • as communities (and I guess these would have to be informal ad hoc small communities) we agree on some sites that are worth maintaining and developing, and in collaboration with their founders we take steps to ensure continuance and continuity.
  • maybe: CARG should organise first discussion and them action to ensure that some of this gets done in a more organised and collective way...
If we do nothing the future of the past of biblical studies online is very insecure.

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