Will You Read My Blook After I’m Dead?

DeathBob is a blook writer. He hosts his blook on WordPress, buys his own hosting plan, and has completed a masterpiece: a beautifully written work entitled Bob’s Blook.

One day he steps out of his house to pick up a pound of beef. It is a wonderful day for a walk down the road: the sky is an azure blue, his garden is in full bloom; the smell like wine in the air. He hums as he steps out of his front yard – there are library books under his arm he wants to return – and as he turns to head down to the shops he is hit by a speeding car.

Let’s take our mind off Bob for a moment (he won’t survive, if you’re wondering) and give some thought to his blook. What will happen to it? Bob has not left the password to the WordPress blog to any of his acquaintances, nor has he left instructions for the maintenance of his domain name or his hosting plan. Both will expire, and when they do, Bob’s blook will be no more. Since all copies of it exist solely in the digital domain it is highly likely no trace of Bob’s Blook will remain after a 5 year period. There is no chance of a grandson finding a dusty manuscript in a drawer, and there is certainly no chance of publication after death – a Children Of Hurin will certainly not happen here.

Poor Bob.

The above story brings us to the topic at hand today: we’re not going to live forever. When we’re gone, what’s going to happen to our online scribblings?

It’s a handy thing to note that the printed page will still be accessible 100 years from now. The digital page, however, may not. Times change, so do file formats. Who isn’t to say that HTML would be phased out a century from now, and that PDFs are to be laughed at?

Dave Winer gets down to the heart of the matter in his article Future-Safe Archives, which was sparked off by the death of blogger Marc Orchant.

People are humble, no one wants to come out and say their work has any value that’s worth preserving past their death, but come on, we know that’s not true. If Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be writing on the web. As would Hemingway or Faulkner, Vonnegut or Mailer, John Lennon or Dylan Thomas, Carl Sandberg or Robert Frost. Mozart, Bach and Beethoven. You think there isn’t any great literature out there on the web? I wouldn’t be so sure about that. What if there is? And what if a baby born today becomes a great creative force? Or what if there’s a social disaster like the Holocaust? Did you know that there are preserved diaries from pre-revolutionary America? Writings of ordinary people can be of enormous help to historians. And if we believe in citizen journalism (I do) why not citizen historians? Shouldn’t we be thinking out into the future? We should!

Winer humbly admits his entire web presence will disappear within mere days of his death. He runs his own server; tweaks and maintains it on a weekly basis. And in days his site will be gone, and the thoughts that defined him will be lost forever.

I agree with Winer’s view that creating future-safe archives will require ‘foresight and planning’. I intend to leave some form of continuation for all my web projects should I – knock wood – get hit by a bus. But, should it prove to be too complicated to protect my digital content, I have this to say:

There will always be paper.

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Category: Writing · Writing Web Fiction
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  • http://mortalghost.blogspot.com Lee

    Yes, you have a good point. I’ve decided, for example, to POD copies of my novels (and possibly short stories) to give to my children. At least then they can show their children what Grandma spent hours and hours doing …

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Same here, Lee, same here. As much as digital content evolves, I still place a lot of trust in paper.

  • Required

    Well it was fun, served it’s purpose well. What do I care what it does after I’m dead ? :) I used it as a tool, poked people with it, juggled it, generally used it to entertain myself on my long train journey through life.

    It’s served me well, it will probably retire when I do. :)

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    And that sounds like a plan to me, Required. =)

    The rest of us may want a little posterity, especially if we’ve worked hard to spin our yarns and record our lives.

    But to each his own, and I must admit your comment made me smile.

  • http://criticalmass.crazydreams.org CrazyDreamer

    You should hear some of the discussions we have about this (well, about safeguarding our paper-to-digital conversions) in professional circles (such as [digital-text] over at Yahoo! Groups) where most of us can count on a certain level of support for the forseeable future. It runs the gamut from the “even ASCII may die!” doom-and-gloom crowd to the “PDF/A is god” supporters. (To be fair, one of the latter is the editor of the PDF/A ISO standard and PDF Standards Evangelist for Adobe, so he’s entitled and expected to be that way.)

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Oh my. That sounds like one heck of a party to attend. Which camp are you on, CD?

  • http://criticalmass.crazydreams.org CrazyDreamer

    I’m a moderate, as usual. I neither suggest that everthing will change or that nothing will; rather, I presume that, assuming that you engage in good data preservation practices (offsite backups, that sort of thing) and use a publicly-developed, widely-supported standard for your encoding, you’ll always be able to access your data and any major changes to the standard will be accompanied by (semi-)automatic conversion tools.

    I do think that the gold standard of data preservation should probably be printing stuff out on archival-quality paper and locking copies in geographically remote archive vaults. I would suggest for bloggers and bookers that if they want to preserve their output, printing it out once a year and locking it in their safety-deposit box or similar wouldn’t be amiss. (Of course, I’m new to these things and am not sure how easily a print version may be accomplished, but some CSS hacks should make things look okay to start with.) Engaging in all of the usual backup practices such as downloading your blog monthly, making sure that your usernames and passwords are kept in your safety-deposit box, and putting as much as possible on automatic or pre-payment plans should be routine as well, of course.

  • http://www.ergofiction.com Jan Oda

    3 years after date, I find this sadly to the point.
    Chris Al-Aswad Novel of Life seems to have dissapeared, and I have no idea if there’s a back-up of it somewhere.

    It’s sad really.

  • http://fiction.courage-my-friend.org/ Chris Poirier

    According to the WordPress URL I checked, the site was removed at the author’s request. Possibly, a family member is planning a print version? However, The Internet Archive still has it.

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    :( I really hope Chris’s family has taken his work and kept it in paper form, for posterity.

    It would be a shame if his work disappears because of his death. I don’t know. I kind of miss him.

    May Lethe Bashar live on.