Why you must print out every page of your web site

Your company web site has no-doubt had several loving hours spent on it. If you have a blog, it’s pretty certain that there will be tens of thousands of words in it by now if you have been blogging for a a year. This web site, for instance, has over half a million words of editorial in it – that’s around ten books worth; quite a lot of work. How many words does your web site have? Indeed, have you even considered the intellectual capital you have embedded in your site?

Now what if, by the click of a switch, someone, somewhere decided that they will change the way the software that produced your site works. What if the way that sites are stored was changed? What if a key company went bust in the chain that gets your website out to the world at large? Could you resurrect your site – would your intellectual capital be lost forever?

OK – I know – you’ve heard of backups before and I’m sure you have them. But, Dr Vint Cerf – the person who invented the coding that makes the entire Internet work – has said at this week’s Search Marketing Expo that we must all consider the problem of “bit rot” – the fading away of parts of the Internet because they were constructed with old software that is no longer available.

This is a problem that has been taxing the National Archives for many years. They are charged with storing everything they possibly can to preserve an archive of the country. Since so much of that is now online – what if the archive could not be accessed at some stage in the future?

As Dr Cerf said: “Imagine it’s the year 3000 and you’ve just done a Google search and you turn up a 1997 PowerPoint file, and you’re running Windows 3000. The question is, does it know how to interpret the PowerPoint file? The answer is probably no.”

But you don’t have to think that far into the future. I have book manuscripts in a program called MacAuthor; it was all the rage at the time – in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Douglas Adams even wrote The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy on it. We used to speak at conferences together about the use of such “desktop publishing” software in business. But sadly the original manuscript of that book – and the original manuscripts of my books are no longer accessible. To edit such books, they now need to be scanned in again from the paper records because MacAuthor no longer exists and nothing will import the files any more.

{module fineprint}So even though Dr Cerf is pointing out a potential problem for the Internet long-term, not having a copy of your work which can be accessed in more traditional ways could be a real problem for you.

And as Dr Cerf pointed out in his speech, paper will be accessible for many, many, many years to come. After all you can still look at the real, 1000-year-old Domesday Book – as well as access the online version nowadays. But if, in a few years time, that online version failed to work because of some change in software along the line – we’d still be able to access the paper version.

So, consider your web site and your current online resources. What if Facebook decided you had to upload all your profile material, rather than typing it into an online form? They could do just that now if they wanted, nothing is really stopping them (apart from ease of use). But what if they did? Do you have all your Facebook profile information in a file you can upload? Or would you have to start from scratch again? Even if it was on paper, you could scan it in and then upload it.

It may not be very “green” to keep a copy of your web site in paper form; but it would preserve your work, not only for yourself if something went wrong, but for future generations who may not be able to get into your digital work otherwise.

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