As If It Never Was: What Happens to Writing on the Internet?

We tend to act like once something it put on the internet, it is there forever (and in some cases–most often things we wish weren’t around forever, it seems to be).

But the truth is, online writing is far more erasable and intangible than most other generations of the written word. An article published recently, All My Blogs Are Dead, explains what it can really be like, particularly if you write for other people.

In the article, the blogger explains that he’s written more than 2,000 blog posts since 2009… but there’s no evidence of them at all. The sites he wrote for, in a string of freelance positions, have all ceased to exist or were purposely overwritten. Poof. There went his whole career and all the examples of his work.

When I was in college, the internet was just really starting to take hold and make its presence known. Professors were distressed by the idea that a story might never actually be put on physical paper. Our clipbooks–compendiums of our work used to earn our final grade–had to be painstakingly cut out of the print newspapers and glued in for final presentations. No internet print-outs were acceptable. (I wonder what they have them do now; they’ve switched the school to internet-first publishing…) We were advised to save the URL of any articles we wrote, as well as the HTML, so at least we’d have proof that we published something, somewhere.

I’ve since switched overwhelmingly to PDFs when I want to document work I’ve done for a blog or site or other internet project, but it’s still distressing to think that my work could be so thoroughly wiped from existence. I imagine I’d have to do the same with any fiction work. (I wonder, would I need to print that out, too?)

Bloggers in particular are susceptible to this problem: if you stop paying for your blog space, stop updating for a long time, your blog could just vanish into the void. I know I’m not backing up each post as I go…what would happen to all that writing?

Do you think about this kind of problem? What do you do to protect the longevity of your work?

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