Musings on Photography

Obligation

Posted in web issues by Paul Butzi on November 15, 2009

II-091109-1126.jpg

In the comments on this post, Tim Parkin wrote:

For the sake of the internet (and for your search engine optimisation rankings) you should keep the old content or at least 301 redirect from the urls to your new blog posts (the latter will help people find useful old information – think of all the people that may have linked to your content in the past?)

Similarly, Hugh Allison writes:

It would be a real shame to lose some of your old articles (going off the silver standard, putting away the silver prints, toning black and white digital prints, if you meet buddha on the road).

This is an interesting question that I’ve struggled with quite a bit, and it’s what kept me from successfully doing anything about my static website for the last two and a half years.

The first issue is easy – I no longer care about search engine rankings. There was a time when such things (and traffic statistics, and other related measures of importance to the world) were things I tracked religiously. And now I find that I don’t much care, perhaps because I’ve gotten more clarity on why I’m doing this stuff.

And I’ll certainly put 301 redirect tombstones in place when I move stuff to blog posts – *if* I decide something’s sufficiently worth saving to make it worth moving to a blog post.

The deeper issue, though, is this: do I have some obligation to keep stuff on the web just because I once wrote it and some people find it interesting, or useful, or have linked to it? I’ve given that a lot of thought over the past two years, and I think the answer is that there’s no such obligation. I guess I’ve just decided that stuff on the web is inherently ephemeral. I write it, put it on the web, and it slowly but surely loses relevance as time passes. Sometimes it no longer reflects my current thinking, and now I”m running the risk of people misunderstanding what I currently think. It becomes factually incorrect. I don’t have any obligation to keep that stuff alive, any more than I have some obligation to preserve my grocery store receipts for posterity.

There’s this theoretical world wide web, where you publish something and it lives forever, free, without you doing anything. This theoretical world wide web bears little resemblance to the world wide web that is bringing these words to you. The difference is that when people think about the theoretical WWW, they somehow get this preposterous notion that it is self-organizing even though there’s no organizational mechanism at all.

In the the real web, it takes me effort to manage all the baggage of old, out of date, or irrelevant content. It has no physical presence but I must maintain it, answer questions about it, and when I decide to renovate the website or blog or whatever, I must spend inordinate amounts of time dealing with this large mass of stuff.

The other thing I’ve figured out is that we don’t really WANT the theoretical web. If there was no grim reaper slowly paring away the debris on the web, it would rapidly become impossible to find worthwhile stuff because it would be awash in a sea of stuff which was no longer relevant.

3 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Hugh Alison said, on November 15, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    “The deeper issue, though, is this: do I have some obligation to keep stuff on the web just because I once wrote it and some people find it interesting, or useful, or have linked to it? I’ve given that a lot of thought over the past two years, and I think the answer is that there’s no such obligation.”

    I understand this. I routinely save stuff that I find especially interesting or useful (for my own purposes). One has to accept that information on the web is in motion, and that it may not be there next time one looks for it.

    The web is changing the world, and photography is one of the more affected areas.

    How do you value a perfect “fine” black and white print on someones wall – possibly only ever seen by a hundred people against a popular foto on Flickr, seen and enjoyed by several hundred thousand people?

  2. Bryan Willman said, on November 15, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    Recall as well that someone who really wants to save your stuff can download into a .pdf, or find it (most likely) on the wayback machine (if that’s still up) and so on.

    One tactic would be to run the acrobat tool that sucks a whole web site down into a (large) .pdf, and call that “archives pre 2010” or some such. But of course, all that stale stuff you don’t believe anymore, is still stale stuff you don’t believe.

  3. Mike said, on November 16, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    If there was no grim reaper slowly paring away the debris on the web, it would rapidly become impossible to find worthwhile stuff because it would be awash in a sea of stuff which was no longer relevant.

    Is it not already there then?

    Seriously, there is some interesting stuff on your static site, but it is yours to keep or bin as you wish.

    Mike


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: