We are living in the digital dark age. Wikipedia says:
the digital dark age is a lack of historical information in the digital age as a direct result of outdated file formats, software, or hardware that becomes corrupt, scarce, or inaccessible as technologies evolve and data decays.
Another way to say that: did you think computers would help preserve information? Actually, they might make it deteriorate even quicker.
Digital Data Won’t Last Forever
Eg, lets say 20 years ago you recorded your masters thesis in a Microsoft Word document and saved it to a floppy disk… well, that information is probably lost forever. It’s really hard to find a floppy disk reader, the floppy disk is probably deteriorated, and there might not be any programs that can read that old file format anymore.
Or how about this: you have a blog, like me. You hope to read from it in 20 years. Well, if you’re self-hosted, you need to keep paying the bills, otherwise the site will be taken down within a few months. Or let’s say you’re on WordPress.com, and you don’t need to worry about paying for hosting. Your blog will be around for decades, right? Maybe, assuming the company doesn’t decide your free blog is a liability and turns it off, or the company doesn’t get bought out and shut down.
These aren’t theoretical problems:
- MSN messenger, which my friends and wasted tons of time on in middle school, was shut down by Microsoft;
- all my wife’s data on FluidSurveys got erased after they were bought out;
- when the LDS Scriptures app was discontinued, I nearly lost all my journal entries…
The data we are generating today is no safer.
And would you like your children or grandchildren to be able to read your blog in 50 years? Or 100? Well, the prognosis on the data living that long isn’t good.
But Facebook Data Will Last Forever, Right?
I’ve caught myself thinking: but Facebook’s data will surely be around in 20 or 50 years, right? It’s so big, how could it disappear? Well, who knows what the future holds, but I think things are starting to sour. Here’s some things that could go wrong for them:
- people stop using it (in favor of some other social network), and then people from 50 or 100 years from now view it as cat GIFs and fake news, and so decide to just get rid of it
- government regulates it to death and decides it should be shut down and inaccessible
- your privacy settings only permit you and friends to see your info, but you’re all passed on, so the information is totally inaccessible per you privacy settings
- Facebook decides to only have paid accounts, and you either can’t pay, decide not to pay, or are dead and so can’t choose
- Facebook gets hacked and the data is corrupted
I would guess your Facebook info will probably be around 20-30 years, then it’s likely lost. We’ll see, but one thing is certain: Facebook has made no guarantee, nor can they, that your data will be kept forever.
The Typical Suggestions For Preserving Your Data
I’ve read various tips on how to preserve your data and story for as long as possible, but they all seem rooted in the 90s. They usually mention:
- Save your files, images, videos etc, to an external hard drive
- Save them to disks, or flash drive, or another hard drive, and send it to a family member or friend living far away
- Update those backups every few years, and move them onto new file formats when they become available
Those feel like suggestions from before the Internet was mainstream. Not only do they sound like a good deal of work, they also won’t work once you’re not around.
Elsewhere I also saw people suggested uploading to cloud storage like Dropbox or Google Drive. That’s probably a good solution for preserving it for 10 years, maybe 20. But Google, for example, is notorious for shutting down services once they’ve basically grown bored with them (remember Google Checkout, Google Wave, or Google Code?)
I suppose along with considering the technology, we need to consider the organization that’s preserving the data: will this organization be around for decades or centuries?
How I’d Like To Preserve My Data
In order for people to preserve their data, like stories and media, it needs to be really easy, preferably automatic.
Here’s what I’d like to see: a WordPress plugin (and extensions for other blogging platforms) that automatically sends your blog posts to:
- Family Search
- The Internet Archive
- Government Historical Databases
- Whatever other organization dedicated to preserving data you can think of
Ie, give the data to the organizations who’s purpose is to preserve that information.
Family Search is the best bet for preserving the data, in my biased opinion. They’re not only focused on family history and preserving it, but the fact it’s actually part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is a big plus for me: they’re religiously dedicated to preserving that data. I think they’re one of your best bets for preserving your data into the next century.
The Internet Archive is trying their best to record a snapshot of every website online. They don’t have everything, but they have a lot. It has several snapshots of this blog you can peruse. But it sometimes struggles with more complex sites (for example, on their snapshot of this blog, the “Older Posts” button, which is supposed to load older posts, doesn’t work.)
Also, I slightly worry that they might run out of funding in the coming decades, or there could be legal complications to continuing it (eg, Europe’s GDPR gives websites users the “right to be forgotten“, which means if I ask for a website to take down all its info on me, they’re legally required to do that… so what happens if I ask that of the Internet Archive? Bye-bye historical record).
Various Government Historical Databases exist, although I’m not sure if they will take an interest in preserving your story, or if they will make it easy.
And I’m sure there are other good organizations dedicated to preserving data that could be added to my list (start-up companies don’t count, in my opinion, as they usually don’t last more than a decade).
I’d like this tool to work with WordPress as it’s open source, free software, meaning it will continue to exist independent of any companies. It’s also pretty ubiquitous these days. And I figure if you put something in a blog post, you probably want it to be visible today and forever. (Also, WordPress has “private” and “protected” options for posts, meaning you could have posts be private on your blog, but still be published to Family Search so that they’ll become public when you pass on.)
But maybe I’m just thinking WordPress because that’s what I’m familiar with. Maybe this could be a more generally accessible tool?
How Will You Preserve Your Data for Future Generations?
If there were a tool for automatically sending your stories, data, and media to organizations dedicated to its preservation, how would you like it to work?
And what do you think is the best way for your data to survive the digital dark age?
36 thoughts on “The Digital Dark Age & Your Blog”
And where are the original stone (10 commandments) tablets? Or the rest of the dead sea scrolls. Nothing lasts forever – even the sun.
Thanks for chiming in. Right, unless you want to talk metaphysical, your blog won’t last forever.
I don’t think I want my blog to last that long, but long enough for my grandkids to read it would be nice. I personally would have appreciated having some more records from my grandparents
Hi Michael I’m visiting via Donna from Retirement Reflections. I have a blog and never actually thought about it’s future. I have written much about inspiring women Over 50 to embrace life and now that I think about it, my work would be a wonderful legacy for my children and grandchildren to read. You have certainly made me think about what to do with it all. Have a great day!
Thanks for the encouragement Sue! Yeah I think if you do nothing more than print your blog posts out and keep them somewhere, I think that would be great.
Thanks Michael, something to think about …
Thank you. Please let me know when you have any further thoughts on how to preserve your blog.
I think the perceived value of your blog’s stories and thoughts will have a bit of a “u” shape: right now it’s current and valuable; in 5-10 years we might all be thinking “oh, that’s old news”, but in 20-50 years it may be one of the few things that’s been preserved from this era, and it might be even more valuable than it is now. So good luck with preserving it for them!
Visiting from Retirement Reflections, Michael. This topic has been on my mind for I want my grandsons to have access to the thoughts of their silly grandmother long after I’m gone. I was considering going through the arduous process of printing my blog entries I’ve written and putting in a book or safe deposit box. I must look into Family Search.
One thing I’m going to try (before creating a plugin like I’m describing in this post) is export my blog to a pdf. There are various plugins already (some free, some paid) that can help with this. Once you have a pdf of your blog’s posts, printing it will be less arduous. You could take a look at https://wpdean.com/how-to-an-create-ebook-from-wordpress-post-and-pages/ if you’d like to try that too.
Regarding Family search: there are various aspects to the site, but the most relevant one is “Family search memories”. See https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/familysearch-memories-add-important-details-family-photos/ for some details about that.
Thank you! This is most helpful. I will check out your suggestions, Michael.
Actually, this is a better link for learning about Family Search Memories: https://www.familysearch.org/photos/
Such an interesting topic Michael. I don’t think enough thought has been put into the future of blogs and I too am keen to leave mine as a legacy for my family. Donna at Retirement Reflections shared your post and I’m very thankful that she has. You’ve given me a lot to think about.
I agree, there’s a lot to think about. We have so much emphasis on the new and exciting, that we forget about the old. And then, if we don’t find a way to preserve it, it’s gone, and it’s almost like it never existed.
Let me know if you have any more thoughts on the topic!
I don’t know if the comment has gone through.
I landed here via Donna’s post.
A very good post in these times, when we tend to generate more data than in the pre-digital era.
Your tips are all worth following.
I have backed up all my important data in hard disks.
— Pradeep | bpradeepnair.blogspot.com
Thanks Pradeep! This post was more of me thinking out loud about the best way to backup your blog and data. I’m not entirely satisfied with the current options. But I think backing up your data on external hard drives is better than nothing. Just be sure to check those hard disks still work every year or two because they deteriorate as well.
Donna sent me over and I’m so glad she did. I can’t believe I haven’t worried about this before, but you’re so right. Our blog posts could become obsolete sooner rather than later. If nothing else, I need to print out the ones that mean something to me (for my grandkids most likely) and maybe even put them into a book.
Thanks so much for the feedback!
Ya I think printing them and putting them in a book would be great. The plugin Anthologize plugin (see https://wordpress.org/plugins/anthologize/) is totally free way to do that (there is no paid option either).
Since writing this post, I’ve used it. I think it could be improved so I’m discussing some improvements that could be made with its developers. If you try it, please let me know he it goes.
Here’s an amusing vision of what might happen in the future.
For the record, here’s a link to Donna’s blog, where she mentioned this blog post: https://www.retirementreflections.com/how-will-you-preserve-your-blog/
This post, “How to Host Your Website After Death”, https://code.tutsplus.com/tutorials/hosting-your-website-after-death–cms-23492, was very influential. (Although I admit I read it so long ago that I forgot to mention it in the main post)
Someone else tried to load two web sites from several years back and found the simpler one (just HTML) worked fine, whereas the one with a host of dependencies much harder. That’s the situation I’m foreseeing more as the years go on.
Other services that have the aim of preserving digital data: forever.com (well-established for-profit company) and permanent.org (new non-profit.)
A study found tons of only scientific journals that were discontinued and nobody preserved them: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/09/dozens-scientific-journals-have-vanished-internet-and-no-one-preserved-them