A Provocation for the Open Pedagogy Community

Dave Winer has a great post today on the closing of blogs.harvard.edu. These are sites run by Berkman, some dating back to 2003, which are being shut down.

My galaxy brain goes towards the idea of federation, of course. The idea that everything referencing something should store a copy of what it references connected by unique global identifiers (if permissions and author preferences permit), and that we need a web that makes as many copies of things as the print world did, otherwise old copies of the Tuscaloosa News will outlast anything you are reading today on a screen. Profligate copying, as Ward Cunningham has pointed out, is biology’s survival strategy and it should be ours as well.

(I know, nature is not teleological. It’s a metaphor.)

But my smaller provocation, perfectly engineered for Friday twitter outrage at me and my sellout-ness, is this:

All my former university hosted sites are gone. We built up a WPMU instance at Keene in 2010, and the lack of broad adoption meant when I left in 2013 we shut it down. I ran some wiki on university servers here and at Keene, and those are gone too.

All my self-hosted sites are corrupted from hacks or transfer errors in imports. Go back into this blog and you’ll find sparse posting schedule for some years between 2010 and 2012 and it’s because those posts got nuked in a 2012 hack. I had to go out to the Wayback Machine and reconstruct the important ones by hand.

Transfer errors, let me tell you:  Go back to 2007 and look at all the images that failed imports and moves on this blog when it was self hosted. There’s also this weird “” character that pops up in all of them like this:

Hold on, you say, these Metro signs look different! There’s no BRAND!

The entire Blue Hampshire community I co-founded, over 15,000 posts and 100,000 comments, originally self-hosted on SoapBlox and then WordPress? Gone. It’s probably OK, I said a lot of stupid stuff. But of course it was also a historically important site, one of the most successful state political blogging communities, one of the first communities to be syndicated by Newsweek, one of the first to feature news stories that cross-posted — as news stories — to Huffington Post. One of the first sites to get individual statements from all the Democratic presidential candidates in a weekly forum. Gone, gone, gone.

I know, this doesn’t seem to be provocative, but here’s the thing:

My Blogger sites from 2005 forward? They’re up and they are pristine.


I mean, I’m not sure that’s a great thing — it was where I put little experiments too little to be worth setting up another BlueHost domain. But it also did me a solid in Keene Scene, where the 12-year old images of Keene life have stayed up unmolested and without any maintenance. (I’d quite forgotten about it, really).


Same holds — as I’ve mentioned before — for projects students put up on Google Sites. The BlueHost server (and later the Rackspace account) was long ago shut down but Google Sites is still up.

I’m not making a specific case here. But I do want to point out a big reason I moved to self-hosted and institutional solutions was this idea that commercially hosted stuff was too fickle. In 2006, it seemed that every week a new site shut down. For better or worse (mostly worse) monopoly consolidation has changed that dynamic a bit. There are other good reasons for self-hosting or doing institutional hosting, but durability is more downside than upside of these options, and we might want to let our students know that if they want something to stay up, self-hosting may not be the best choice.

8 thoughts on “A Provocation for the Open Pedagogy Community

  1. Interesting at UBC UBC blogs is going strong with 45,000 plus blogs. Probably due to incredible developers, strict BC privacy laws and LTI

      • Yes, staff advocates really matter. Perhaps we should assume the institutional default to be deletion. Which does raise some interesting questions.

        Personally, I can think of two institutions that once hosted my work. The first: after I left they deleted the majority, although one ally (see the theme?) send me a CD of backups. The second: nuked their entire web presence after I left, then went out of business.

  2. I too have seen 14 year of web sites at the Maricopa Community Colleges disappear (some needed to, very problematic old perl scripts writing to open permission text files, old Wiki platform stuff but a lot of durable stand alone HTML) as well as 5 years of WordPress work at NMC.

    I’m with Bryan, I don’t expect my old work to stand, and I took as much archives as I could from those years, much I have reposted on my own archive http://mcli.cogdogblog.com/

    But there are some expectations to be checked that sites running off of databases and code bases, or in specific platforms/formats (like the old UseMod wikis I ran, quicktime video, real audio) and WordPress itself, which needs care to be kept running (not much, but some).

    For durability, I bet in the individual effort over the organization http://cogdogblog.com/2016/04/digital-durability/ because it takes a bit of work (ask an archivist).

    And to last, stuff ought to be archived in web native HTML format and media forms. My 25 year old HTML sites still work. There are ways to do this for not only WordPress, but almost many other platforms (SiteSucker app for Mc OS, which is front end for unix wget). See what the Archive Team is able to preserve.

    The presence of old Blogger sites is more likely an oversight from Google (who has a long track record of nuking their own platforms) or it takes no effort for them to leave the lights on– I have one still up from 2005 http://cat-diaries.blogspot.com/ But they have hardly changed the Blogger platform; the evolution of WordPress in terms of features on capabilities to do things beyond blogs is staggering. Blogger is still pretty much the same functionality as it was in 2005.

    If you want something to last, you gotta do some work, not expect someone else to do it for you,

  3. Thought-provoking! We have been thinking about this for our blog resources. Also, adding the dimension of geographical access. Medium, for example, is blocked in certain countries. When using a big, likely-to-stick-around platform, are we unavoidably using a likely-to-be-a-blocked-domain? I’m not sure…

    Do you think we should backup/web archive/in some way federate content if it is hosted elsewhere, as part of the practice of publishing or editing something? It’s certainly something I have thought about.

    BTW you probably know this but the  is probably a sign that a utf-8 file including double-byte encoded characters (e.g. plain text versions of things like  ) is not being loaded as such. If it’s an issue you are still trying to get around, get in touch, I’m happy to help. I’m assuming you know that though or have sorted it out, or it’s too late!

  4. I’m happy to say that my blog posts dating back to 2001 are still online. The blog went from hand-code to Blogger to pMachine to WordPress. All along the way I managed to keep the 2,500+ blog posts and 25,000 comments.

    I love the idea of federation with many copies in storage and use.

    At some point, I’ll probably reign in all my tweets.

  5. Juan Benet discussed something like what you describe here called the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS) on a recent Long Now Foundation podcast (and lots of other stuff, too.)

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