diamond geezer

 Wednesday, September 08, 2021

This is the 9000th post on diamond geezer.

The diamond geezer Risk Log

One day this blog is not going to be here. I don't just mean I'll have stopped writing new stuff, but the stuff I have written will have vanished. As a personal blog hosted on a free corporate platform it'll eventually slip away, either degrading over time or with the plug pulled in a single extinction event. Even if its content were transferred elsewhere it'll still all have faded away by, say, the middle of this century, as will much we take for granted on the internet today, as millennial online protocols begin to be withdrawn. My ultimate published legacy is potentially zero.

So I thought I'd run through some of the larger risks concerning the future existence of this blog, whether I'm around to see them or not, and consider some of the possible mitigations which might retain its content for as long as possible.

Risk 1) Google takes issue with my blog and deletes it.
Blogger's terms and conditions say that "If a site is violating any terms of service, it may be suspended without any notice." It only takes one poorly-judged post, or one upheld complaint, and some unseen hand might decide to delete my blog overnight. It happens elsewhere as accounts are extinguished on the whim of the powers that be, rightly or wrongly, but it'd be particularly galling to lose five million words overnight.
Mitigation 1) Keep an archive of the blog.
Yes, I do this. I've just downloaded a 19th birthday archive and it runs to 69MB of text and code. So my blog wouldn't have been entirely lost, except from your point of view it would have been because you wouldn't be able to read it any more.
Risk 2) I take issue with my blog and delete it.
I can't think of any circumstances in which I would actually do this BUT there is a menu item within the Blogger interface called "Remove your blog", and one incredibly unlikely day I COULD be stressed enough to do so. A far greater risk is that someone hacks into my account and decides to delete it for a laugh, which is why I have that really strong password, or perhaps that a visitor to my flat gains access to my laptop while I'm not in the room and gets rid of it all anyway. Both are highly unlikely, but a risk log should always contain all catastrophic risks with non-zero probabilities.
Mitigation 2) Never invite any visitors to the flat.
Risk 3) Google decides to withdraw the Blogger blogging platform.
Now we're talking. Blogger's been up and running since 1999 and it is quite frankly astonishing that it's still freely available. Countless other websites, services and platforms have fallen by the wayside over the last 22 years but Blogger soldiers on. It won't forever, there'll come a day when the service is withdrawn, potentially with the removal of all existing global content. It is immensely reassuring that Google updated the Blogger interface last summer because that means they're still invested in it, but I struggle to believe it'll still be up and running in 22 years' time.
Mitigation 3) Transfer the blog to an alternative platform.
That's the obvious solution... if one platform disappears, find another. But it'd take some hosting, there being over 9000 posts and thousands of photos across 229 monthly archives, not just the ones on the front page. More awkwardly my blog includes thousands of links to other posts on diamondgeezer.blogspot.co.uk and they'd all stop working, so the simple functionality that currently allows you to zip around the archive would be lost.
Risk 4) All the photos disappear.
This is not beyond the realms of possibility. All my photos are hosted on Google and they could easily choose to end that free service, or drop the capacity threshold to a level where I had too many. It's not as bad as losing the words but in a lot of posts you'd totally lose the gist of things, and a blog with gaps where the photos used to be isn't an appealing site to surf.
Mitigation 4) Host the photos elsewhere.
This actually happened recently. I received notice that the site where I hosted this blog's earliest photos was about to be discontinued so spent several days during lockdown uploading them all again, this time to Blogger's photobucket. Thankfully there weren't too many embedded images pre-2006 but it still took ages, and I genuinely don't think I'd have the staying power to do an entire blog's worth.
Risk 5) Internet protocols degrade.
It happens slowly but inexorably - something everyone can read one year becomes something nobody can read several years later. Text and photos are usually OK but special embedded things like maps, videos and soundclips sometimes fail, not to mention HTML commands that new browsers no longer understand causing a carefully-coded table to fall apart in an unreadable splurge. The odd unrecognised character isn't going to cause serious problems, but one day a page is going to fail to load because something on it is no longer understood.
Mitigation 5) Don't do too much fancy stuff.
The fewer 'special' things I embed, the less likely they are to mess things up in the future. For example my posts used to include Flickr galleries comprising five randomly-selected thumbnails, but the code for that no longer works and all that appears is a blank space so I don't do that any more.
Without putting too fine a point on it, a lot of additional risks would stem from my death or incapacitation. All sorts of changes to services and protocols can be mitigated if I'm still around to deal with them. But if I'm not here then nothing can be done and those problems gradually mount up over the years until the 9000+ posts I left behind are no longer readable in their existing form.

Risk 6) Blogger introduces a new feature I can no longer respond to.
They have form on this, occasionally introducing some new way of doing things that I have to find a way to work around. Most shouldn't affect already-published posts but some future changes might, for example if they decided that everyone had to upgrade to a bespoke mobile-friendly template and I wasn't around to do so. They could also refuse to display photos hosted via http rather than https, in which case most posts written pre-2013 would no longer render. I don't yet know what they'll choose to do, only that something is bound to bugger up the blog if I'm no longer here to react.
Mitigation 6) Let a trusted friend have my login details.
If I'm not here to fix things, the only solution would be for someone else to gain access and fix it themselves. It might therefore be wise to consider devising a Blog Legacy Strategy, poised to kick in after my death, so that this blog stays live for as long as possible. But I'd need to trust this chosen person explicitly - see also Risk 2.
Risk 7) All the comments vanish.
One of the delights of this blog is the additional conversation that exists in the comments box, adding an entirely new dimension to the reportage in every post. The blog would be a lesser place if the comments weren't there, and in some cases the posts wouldn't make sense. Imagine if the comments database became inaccessible or the script which makes the box pop up no longer functioned.
Mitigation 7) Transfer the comments elsewhere.
This has indeed already happened, at the end of 2009, when Haloscan was taken over by a dubious company and I was forced to transfer seven years of comments to a separate service. My bespoke Tridentscan hosting solution has proved exemplary ever since, and because it's based offsite should (fingers crossed) outlive any issues the blog itself might be having.
A lot of other things could go wrong with the blog but they wouldn't be an existential risk. After my final Flickr subscription lapses all the links to photos will stop working, but that won't affect the overall text. One day you might only be able to read the blog in some browsers and not others, but all the content would still be there. So long as all 9000+ posts are still somehow accessible, my years of work up until that point are preserved. But there is a more serious long-term issue, something Blogger introduced in 2010, and which still affects the existence of thousands of posts to this day.

Risk 8) Blogger's auto-pagination feature evolves.
Auto-pagination was introduced to stop blog pages being too long to load efficiently over a mobile connection. This proved catastrophic news for monthly archives because the entire page no longer displayed, neither was there any way within an ordinary template to click back to pages 2, 3 and maybe 4. For example, if you check my August 2021 page it loads no further back than August 22nd, which means my reports on the Marble Arch Mound and everything before that no longer appear. Blogger eventually produced some bespoke code to slot in by hand, but search robots and archive services don't use it which means two-thirds of every month's postings have become essentially invisible.
Mitigation 8) "But the British Library are archiving everything..."
...and indeed they are, enormously kindly, as part of their long term UK Web Archive project. They've been taking snapshots of this blog since 2008, most recently on 11th August 2021, which should mean you'll always be able to go back in and read through my archives if you really want to. But because of auto-pagination all they're really doing is archiving the last week and a half of each month and all the rest is missing, potentially lost, indeed today's post will one day be entirely invisible as if I never wrote it. I could solve the problem by updating to a more discoverable template, but sadly I'm the obstinate blogger who last tweaked his template 18 years ago when I changed the background colour from green to grey. It'll be the death of me, or at least the death of two-thirds of my content.
In conclusion, what I'm really saying is enjoy flicking through this blog while you still can. The navigation works, the comments exist and all the posts are still accessible, as indeed they have been for the last 19 years. But one day, whenever that may be, it's all going to fade away and disappear. May that day be as far in the future as possible.

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