Digital Preservation of Blog and Profile Data

At last year’s SXSW conference, there was a panel about Digital Preservation of Blogs. The Rogue Librarian was part of the panel. While that panel was decent, one thing it did was trigger some other digital preservation thoughts I’ve had, little by little, for quite a few months.

I was recently speaking with Jeff Cole from a PatientsLikeMe, a company that is creating a community site for patients of life-altering diseases. Patients use the site to track their progress dealing with the disease. One question that eventually needs to come up with is pretty morbid, but real. What happens when these users pass away?

This is something that Eons, former Monster.com founder Jeff Taylor’s new company, is also going to be dealing with. Eons is a social networking site for users aged 50 and above. So, while one company is going to have to deal with users passing away from horrible diseases, another has to deal with the inevitable because of advanced age.

So, what should the sites do with these rich profiles of information? Honestly, I think the profiles need to stay online. But denote that this person is no longer with us. The pages become an online tribute to that person.

Amber MacArthur and Leo Laporte’s wonderful new podcast, Net@Nite, covered a related site in their second episode. The site, MyDeathSpace, is a repository of MySpace pages of deceased users. For example, in October 18-year old Jordan Scudder was killed in an auto accident. If you visit his MySpace page, you see that it now has become a repository for remembrance messages. For example:

hi jordan, i really miss you. i still would like it if you would come home, everyday it gets harder and harder, i hear it is suppose to get easier but….. your my boy, what can i say. i keep looking at all the pictures of when you kids were little and i’d like for you to see them too, some of them would make you laugh. i also, found the video of when *you, dad and kristin* when on that swing in kissimmee, of course you had to fix your hair before you were even off the ride. hahaha. i really do love and miss you so much, ( more than words can say). forever, your mom

Messages like these will always be there to remember Jordan. I think the multitude of social networking sites out there can learn a lot from this. Keep it there. Remember the past users.

Now, a stickier situation is blogs. What happens if a blogger passes away? Eventually, the hosting costs won’t be getting paid. The hosting company will likely shut the blog down. But then all of the data is lost. Should hosting companies have some sort of responsibility to check and see what’s up before shutting a site down? How good are the backups they keep (if a family member contacts them after the fact to explain the situation)?

The blog is the new diary, and the number of blogs out there is only going to increase. This is going to become an issue at some point, and I’m curious how hosting companies will deal with it.

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