This month has been nasty in the blogosphere; as in sudden-death nastiness, best summarized by Shelley Powers in With Sadness. One of the departed, Anita Rowland, was an occasional contributor here, writing me emails before there was a comment system, for example to identify a crocosmia and an iris. Bye, Anita. What, then, about blogs and death?

I see two problems. First, will your blog survive you? Second, who writes the last entry?

Life After Death · Dave Winer is insightful on the first subject in Future-safe archives. He makes an important point: people (like Dave and me) who build and maintain our own blogging systems are especially susceptible to death (snicker) in that there’ll be nobody there to keep things running once we’re gone. I’m less vulnerable, in that ongoing is just a bunch of static files, with a cron job to flip the little picture on the right side of the page. I do need to add something to make it easy to turn off commenting, which by default stays live against anything that’s still in the Atom feed. Then I think this might stay around for a while, assuming someone pays the bandwidth charges.

So, as we get older, anyone who provides a blogging system for other people to run ought to consider adding a publish-the-whole-thing-as-static-files option. I remember when Russell Beattie stopped blogging for a while a couple years back, he managed to do that: make a flat static version of the whole thing that just kept running.

On the other hand, people who blog off their own space; say whatever.blogspot.com or blogs.sun.com/whoever, have a good chance of speaking to the hereafter. Hmm, it occurs to me that we’ve had several thousand people blogging at blogs.sun.com since 2004; it wouldn’t be surprising if one or two of them are now dead.

So, if we can crack the technology nut, then there are the financial issues; once again, more difficult on your own property. ongoing burns between one and two hundred GB of bandwidth every month. I’d expect that to drop off once I’m gone, but not that fast, and not to decline to zero for quite a while. So who’s gonna pay? Maybe I need to think about a Blog Trust and talk to my lawyer.

The Last Post · Over at Anita’s space, there’s a nice final entry from her husband. Which is awfully considerate. On the other hand, some of us might be nervous leaving the last words to another, and some might even think it unfair to ask that of our spouse or next-of-kin.

Consider the example of Ezra Pound, who devoted the years between 1915 and his death to a single long series of poems, The Cantos, which is flawed and even horrible in parts, but in other parts my personal favorite words ever written by anyone.

The last entry in the completed collection is a tiny fragment concerning his partner Olga; I’ll try to reproduce it (the indentation and spacing are difficult):

            That her acts
                           Olga’s acts
                                        of beauty
                              be remembered.


            Her name was Courage
            & is written Olga



These lines are for the
      ultimate CANTO

whatever I may write
      in the interim.

[24 August 1966]

I think it might be a good idea to prepare a Ultimate Post, and instructions for those we trust and love on how to put it online.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Renate (Dec 18 2007, at 03:27)

Think the death online should be like the death offline - disappear without a trace. Only leave comments, pingbacks and trackbacks, but turn off your blog.

As you wrote - there's no one to pay for your bandwidth - or probably you can inherit it to a company in the future. Maybe that's a business idea?

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From: Danny (Dec 18 2007, at 03:28)

http://www.openarchives.org/ may help...

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From: Duncan Hull (Dec 18 2007, at 05:17)

Since blogging is all about free speech, and since we're all mortal, perhaps bloggers should write *every* post like it might be their last Ultimate Post?

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From: John Cowan (Dec 18 2007, at 05:23)

Not quite the same thing, but related: http://www.catb.org/~esr/continuity.html is Eric Raymond's page about what to do with his site and his software if he dies or is incapacitated.

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From: len (Dec 18 2007, at 06:27)

I've had occasion to think about that topic. If it's my choice, it will be the last piece of music, not text, or a song if both. Then close the blog. A one sided conversation isn't one.

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From: piers (Dec 18 2007, at 09:00)

Perhaps, like many comic strips (Hagar, Hi and Lois), a 'blog could be a legacy to pass along to a protege or child; or is this something that is more likely in a visual medium?

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From: David Magda (Dec 18 2007, at 18:30)

If no one pays the bills and your server, or your domain goes away, there's always The Wayback Machine:

http://www.archive.org/web/web.php

Seems that your weblog was last scanned (at the time of this writing) on June 15, 2007:

http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://tbray.org/ongoing/

Remember that you technically don't own your domain, you're simply renting it from the registrar. Once you stop paying it goes back to 'them'.

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From: Mark (Dec 18 2007, at 21:47)

> I'd expect that to drop off once I'm gone, but not that fast, and not to decline to zero for quite a while.

I stopped updating diveintomark.org for about 18 months and my traffic barely declined at all. In fact I was continuing to make 300-400 dollars a month in Adsense revenue. Now *there's* a creepy thought -- if I had died during that period, would that invalidate my Adsense contract? Or would Google continue to send checks to my widow? Time to check those terms of service again...

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From: Derek K. Miller (Dec 20 2007, at 22:40)

I've been thinking (what with the cancer and all) that perhaps assigning a digital executor might be worthwhile -- someone to figure out hosting and registration continuity and make sure things get wrapped up, maybe add a header saying "FYI this guy's dead now," and so on. Most of geeks have geeky friends who might be willing.

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author · Dad · software · colophon · rights
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December 17, 2007
· Technology (77 fragments)
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