A terrible thing happened recently. You might have missed it.
AOL Hometown, which itself was actually a combination of a bunch of previously acquired websites, shut down. It shut down on October 31 of this year. If you try to go to a site that used to be hosted there, you are forwarded to a weblog entry by “The AOL Hometown Team”, that says this, in total:
Hometown Has Been Shutdown
Posted on Nov 6th 2008 1:30PM by Kelly Wilson
Dear AOL Hometown user,
We’re sorry to inform you that as of Oct. 31, 2008, AOLÂ® Hometown was shut down permanently. We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.
Sincerely, The AOL Hometown Team
And that, my friends, is it.
There was a weblog posting on this same site, informally, on August 4th, letting people know AOL Hometown was being shut down, and maybe you should make an effort to get it. Officially, though, notification was sent out (how? In what way?) on September 30th, giving people essentially 4 weeks to figure out how to get their data off the servers, find a new place to send the data, get that arranged, and then do the transfer.
Of course, many people may not have been checking their e-mail. Some people might have had un-working e-mail and not been notified. Some people might have not understood how to make things run.
Go ahead and read these comments. They’re heartbreaking.
2. Is there not a way to obtain the blogs anymore. I was unable to transfer them before oct 31. Please let me know if there is anyway to get them. Thank you Sandra
5. My question is like those above. Is there anyway still to retrieve my hournals and homepages? I tried before the deadline but nothing happened. These are my memories. Things I wanted to remember about my kids. And when I tried to access them before the deadline I was unable to. Otherwise I would have printed it all out. Please help.
12. WHERE IS THE HOME PAGE IT TOOK MONTHS FOR ME TO BILL. I DID NOT RECEIVE ANY NOTICE VIA THE MAIL OR E-MAIL. PLEASE HELP ME FIND MY WEB PAGE SO I CAN COPY IT AND MOVE IT SOME WHERE ELSE.
17. What happened to my web page on my husband, Bob Champine, that took me many years to put together on his career and which meant a lot to me and to the aviation community. I noticed with 9.0 I lost the left margin and the picture of him exiting the X-1. I need to restore it to the internet as it is history. Please tell me what to do. I will be glad to retype it, I just don’t want it lost to the world. I need help. Gloria Champine
It’s all fine and good, those readers who sneer and say “you get what you pay for” and “ha ha, losers”. But the fact is, these people were brought online and given a place for themselves. Like a turkey drawn with a child’s hand or a collection of snow globes collected from a life well-lived, these sites were hand-made, done by real people, with no agenda or business plan or knowledge, exactly, of how everything under the webservers worked. They were paying for their accounts, make no mistake – this was often provided to them as a tool combined with their AOL accounts. Some were absorbed from other companies as AOL purchased them. Some of these websites had existed for a decade.
Some people didn’t back things up. Some had moved on. The data, however, stayed where it was, for years on end, and if someone happened to not be online for 4 weeks and be prepared on short notice to retrieve their stuff, then they were well and truly fucked.
Browsing the weblog that represents where these tens of thousands of websites used to go, you end up facing Kelly Wilson. Kelly Wilson is like the fucking Grim Reaper of websites. If you browse this collection of her postings, you can see she’s primarily doing the same thing: “These sites will be shut down. You better get your shit off because that’s it, it’s gone. You have 3 weeks. GO.”Â One of these sites being shut down is Ficlets. Read this weblog entry from the creator of Ficlets and try not to have an emotional reaction.
If you’re going to start composing something at me with a salad of sneering and a dash of cynicism, just fuck off right now. We’re the failures here. We failed them.
Our little technorati, our people who cry for open source and beg us for money to Fight For Electronic Freedom and make their rounds at all the right cocktail parties at tech shows.. where the hell are they now? We’re talking about terabytes, terabytes of data, of hundreds of thousands of man-hours of work, crafted by people, an anthropological bonanza and a critical part of online history, wiped out because someone had to show that they were cutting costs this quarter.
It’s an eviction; a mass eviction that happened under our noses and we let it happen.
I’ve been evicted before – I was kicked out of a boarding house I used to live in between 1992 and 1997. Eviction laws were in place and I was sent notification after notification, shoved into my mailbox, left under my door, explaining my rights and how to appeal and how much time I had. It was done during the summer months, because winter would be a hardship. It was handled coldly, nastily, but it was done according to law, and luckily, I had a place to move onto. (They were closing up the building to turn it into professional space, which it is to this day.)
When we evict people from their webpages, fuck all is required.
And before you sneer at AOL people, these people who trusted AOL: how about your Flickr? Your Facebook? Whatever the hot new wig-wag that you’re dumping hours into without thinking about it? What, you’re paying for something? Check this recent event out, paying subscriber: you have shit. Because of a cascade of EULA and Best Practices, and most importantly, a complete disregard for the importance of this data, we’re going to let it happen again. And again. And again.
Think your site is untouchable? Think again, pokey.
What am I saying here?
I’m saying that, like a real eviction, there should be practices in place. When you open your doors to hosting user content, you should have rules in action that, unless it’s a complete and total fire sale and you have no hope of even staying open that long, then you should be required, yes by law, assholes, to make the data available to customers for an extended period of time.
There’s business opportunity here, for warehouses of data that can take in, say, AOL Hometown, and hold it for a year or longer, allowing people to acquire their data over the course of that year. With legislation or even the kind of peer pressure you all used to dupe people into Creative Commons, you could have this be the norm from this point forward.
If you tell people they can upload their content, you should have a clear and distinct way for them to retrieve their content. People do it ad-hoc as they can, but the abilities of most people, the people without an engineering degree or years of experience, to get back what they put up is minimal. It’s not that important. We should make it important.
How many more times will we allow this?
How long before someone takes a fucking stand?
Update: This page got an awful lot of attention, and so I decided a clarification was in order.
Categorised as: housecleaning
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