Keeping things can be good to help you remember your thinking, where you were, what you did, and to get a sense of history. Sharing things online lets you connect with other people as you contribute to various communities. But as communities change and sites change or go away, many things disappear. Earlier this year I moved my blog to the Blot blogging system as it’s a simple and somewhat future-friendly system based around text files and Markdown. I moved things over from Squarespace, but in the process I realized that much of my blog over the past 17 years had things that were missing with links and images.
When things like that happen the first thing to do is check is the essential resource of the Wayback Machine at The Internet Archive as there almost always is a stored version of what was on the web. But when I started looking I found that I lot of the site wasn’t completely archived and many of the images were not there. The assumption was that everything was regularly archived, but it was not. Most of the text is there, but a lot of the links and images were no longer working.
With the first iteration of my site based on Blosxom, all of the files are text based along with images. The fascinating thing is that for that version I could just use the whole set of archived folders with Blot and it would work. But I had a lot of stuff missing from the site which brought back memories of what happened when 43 Things went away along with other sites. Part of the challenge in the modern world of social media is trusting what you write and post to outside sites. When a site goes down it can emphasize how ephemeral some things are. It’s essential to have a copy of your stuff.
That’s why you need to have a site and domain of your own to store things. If you have things hosted by someone else, is it possible to export your content? If it isn’t, there is a real possibility that it all could go away or be challenging to find. Now when I am writing and posting something I create it locally first and then copy and paste it. That way I have a text archive of it. Now I’m writing notes and shorter form things in Bear and longer stuff in Ulysses. That gives me an archive of all my writing from the posts on the sites.
When I sign up for a service I always check to see if it is possible to export things. If you can’t you are taking a huge risk as everything could disappear without notice. But even without exporting, you should have some sort of system to keep everything that you create. With my main blog (where this blog post is), it is using Blot to create the site. Blot constructs the site out of a series of files and folders hosted on Dropbox. That means that I have a backup of the entire site on Dropbox as well as hosted locally on my computer. I like the simplicity of the system (as the files are text files and the images are image files) and if I decide to move to a different system I still have the writing and images ready to go.
The final thing that I need to do and get better at doing it regularly is to make a backup. To consciously go to sites I use and export my data. The other thing to do is to go to the Internet Archive and the Wayback Machine and archive pages and check out the archived versions to make sure that they work. Sometimes they don’t. To be sure that a site of yours (or someone else’s) will work in the future you can go to the Save page in the Wayback Machine and archive the page (as well as saving it in your own archive). That can be a big help and it makes the Internet Archive a bit better too.