Thursday, April 20, 2006

Proper Procedure For Shutting Down A Blog


This is an old post but I wanted to bring it up to top as I recently saw some blogs shut down improperly, i.e., deleting the complete content.

Every now and then a blog shuts down. There are as many reasons as there are bloggers, ranging from getting bored, through getting Dooced, to dying. Every blogger goes about shutting down the blog in different ways. I tried here to put down, in more or less systematic way, the dos and donts of shutting down a blog. If you disagree with some of the points or have additions, please state your opinion and rationale for it in the comments.

1) DO NOT DELETE THE BLOG!

First, spammers are mighty quick at taking over abandoned blog addresses and placing various shady businesses, including porn, on those addresses. Everyone who has ever linked to you is now linking to porn. Bad idea.

Second, even if you started your blog because you are a loner, once you got readers, got blogrolled and linked to, your blog is a node in the web. Deleting the node injures the web. This is anti-social behavior. All the links to your blog become dead links - a big no-no in the blogosphere, where link is the currency, like ATP is currency of energy in living systems.

2) The absolutely best way to quit blogging is to get a couple of guest bloggers on board, give them a couple of weeks to get into the rhythm and the tone of their posting, then graciously exit. That way, your blog continues living even if you never post again.

3) If #2 is impossible, or you do not want to do that, you can stop blogging. If you are paying for the server, ask your readers if anyone is willing to volunteer to host your blog. It does not cost them much, nor take too much space, and an avid reader may be quite willing to do this. Saves your blog for posterity.

4) Write the Farewell Post. You may or may not explain your reasons for quitting. People may be sad, but they are always gracious and understanding. Without a farewell post, people will worry, they will keep e-mailing you asking what's wrong, and keep your blog blogrolled and subscribed on newsfeeds for a long time, which bring in too many visitors to the blog that you do not want to be visited again.

5) Notify all the aggregators, web-circles, blog alliances etc., including BlogXplosion, Technorati, etc. that your blog is dead and should be removed from their databases. Remove the link to your blog from all your other websites (e.g., on Friendster, Facebook, etc.).

6) Clean-up your side-bar. Leave only archives, categories and, perhaps, the basic manual blogroll. Delete all other links, including the links to blog alliances, carnival homepages, web circles, your Flickr account, etc. Delete all automated blogrolls. Delete your sitemeter and remove your blog from their database. Remove the TTLB status, and actually go there and do the whole procedure of removing your blog from the TTLB ecosystem. Remove all the images and fancy stuff. You can change your template to the simplest, most boring template that your host offers with no frills on it. This minimizes the future visits and reduces the amount of used bandwidth.

7) Change your sub-header to say "This blog is officially dead" or something to that effect.

8) If there are posts on the blog that you do not want people to see, well, tough luck. It's too late. WayBack Machine, Google Cache, various mirror blogs, spam blogs and aggregators already have all that. Other bloggers have quoted you. The stuff is out there. However, it takes some Internet savvy and sleuthing ability - as well as strong motivation to do so - to look for your old posts.

You can make the process more difficult, at least for casual visitors. How? Do not delete the offending posts. Edit them. Do not change the post title (especially if that action would change the permalink, as it does on Blogspot). Instead, replace the content of the post with a simple message "This post has been deleted". This leaves the inbound links 'live', yet removes the content from all but the most dedicated readers.

As you go about editing your posts one-by-one, you will realize what a small proportion of your posts meets your criterion for deletion - most are perfectly OK (linkfests, memes, cartoons, jokes, online quizzes, pictures of your cat, carnival announcements, short links to a newspaper article, etc.) and should be left intact (except perhaps removing bandwidth-intensive stuff, like images, audio files and movie files).

9) If you have posts that were featured on carnivals it is a sin to delete them. Carnivals are going to be the key entry-point into the blogosphere for future historians, students and archivists. They are also key nodes in the web that is blogosphere. If you have hosted an edition of a carnival, deleting it should be considered a capital crime.

10) If you are old, or sick, or enjoy dangerous activities, or are about to go off to war, teach someone in your family or a friend how to shut down your blog in case of your death. You may want to do something like this anyway, even if your risk of death is low. Perhaps write down detailed instructions and put them in an envelope to be enclosed in your Will.

If you do not follow these steps and decide to delete your blog, expect people to get really angry. I searched for a good example of such expression of anger and I found one on a sex blog. Here is the whole rant (sorry, I felt I needed to copy and paste the whole thing), with some good points, and some obvious reasons why you should take your time and make an effort to shut down your blog properly:
So I notice that Blog X has gone offline, saying goodbye thusly:

"Thanks to everyone who wrote in expressing concern. Enough emails were received such that some kind of explanation seems necessary. We simply thought it in our best interest to discontinue the blog. We're each okay; it was just time to euthanize it. Anyway, thanks for reading, commenting, and sticking with us as the blog evolved. See ya, mo***rf***ers, perhaps in some other place, in some other guise."

No, mo***rf***ers, you won't see me. You may come back, but it will be a cold day in hell before I link to you again. You've demonstrated that it's a waste of time trying to incorporate you into the warp and woof of the world information culture that is the internet.

I'm going to rant a little bit here, because I'm sick and tired and fed up with people who vandalize the web on their way out. This is not really about BloggerA and BloggerB, they are just the latest offenders in a long line. Plus, it's been a bad week for this.

You see, when you build a good blog -- and BloggerA and BloggerB had a very good one -- people link to you. And those links are valuable. All links are valuable, and should be as permanent as you can make them. They bring order to the web -- hell, they're what makes it a web -- and when you take your site offline for no good reason, you smash every one of those links. Not only are you spitting in the face of everyone who ever complimented your contribution by linking to it, you're also in effect taking a sledgehammer and a torch to your little corner of mankind's greatest invention, our unsurpassed cathedral of knowledge, culture, and art.

I expect plenty of hatemail on this subject, prating about "it's their right" etc. And of course that's true. Everybody has the right to yank their stuff offline for no good reason. Just like everybody has the right to buy books and then burn them. We don't respect the latter sort of wanton destruction -- indeed, we have a special horror of bookburners -- so why respect the former?

I also expect people to chime in with all sorts of alleged "good reasons" why folks need to take stuff offline, especially adult stuff. Feel free, but I'm calling "bollocks" in advance. A couple examples to explain why:

1) "They got found out and are being outed." If so, that can (rarely) be quite tragic, but honey, that ship done sailed.

"The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it."

If you put it up on the internet, it's going to stay there, or come back if it seems to have gone. In addition to the currently-active public archives like the Google cache and the Wayback Machine, there are dozens of entities spidering the web and making private archives for various purposes (commercial research, government intelligence gathering, etc.) All the data in those archives is likely to become public -- and be put back up on the web -- at some point in the future. Meanwhile, there are a zillion quotes and excerpts of your stuff on every blog that ever linked to you, none of which material is going away. You can't unring the bell, and you look foolish trying. You worried about shame and embarrassment? The whole point to this post is to try and make you more shamed and embarrassed over your dumb-assed internet vandalism than you could ever hope to be over the content of your blog. I'll probably fail, but I'm doing my best. I know people will propose all sorts of consequences worse than shame or embarrassment that can motivate trying to hide an adult blog after the fact -- the one that actually has my sympathy is the risk of consequences in an unexpected custody dispute -- but none of that means a thing against the brutal fact that smashing your blog won't hide its content or save you from whatever consequences you're seeking to avoid. "Nor all your tears...."

2) "They got bored / lost interest / wanted to move on." Fine, so stop blogging. No need to smash the excellent thing you've created and pee on the remains while insulting everyone who ever complimented it and while damaging the things they have created. Does it hurt so bad to just leave your archives up and your inbound links unbroken? If you can't afford it, and that's unlikely in this era of cheap bandwidth, find somebody willing to mirror your site or host your domain for you. If it's good, there'll be no shortage of offers. Hell, even if it's bad, blogs are such great search engine fodder that a discrete text link in the header or footer saying "Maintained on the web by xyz.com" provides enough traffic to make it an attractive proposition. I'd cheerfully maintain any sex blog I ever liked well enough to link to, on those terms, and I'm not alone. There's never a legitimate financial reason to destroy a good blog.

I suppose that's enough of a rant for now. Please, I beg you, when your blogging jones is exhausted, don't vandalize the internet by destroying your creative work and everything that ever acknowledged the value thereof by building on it. It's selfish, shortsighted, destructive, rude, and self-centered. You are part of something bigger than yourself, please don't piddle on it when you're done with it. Thank you.

Update and Reminder: Despite the ranting tone of my post, I will not accept namecalling or incivility in my comments. One comment deleted already.

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