410, the Croatoan of the InternetWednesday, October 5th, 2011
Last night Twitter was home to a small, short storm of activity around the disappearance of Mark Pilgrim. Which was downgraded to the disappearance of Mark Pilgrim’s websites. Today’s comic (which features Eric Meyer and a random Internet jerk) is not meant to directly relate to Pilgrim’s situation. I’ve certainly poked at Mark before from this site, but I doubt whatever situation made him decide to 410 his online world is a laughing matter. For that matter, it’s also not any of my business.
I was impressed with the speed of online responses to the situation. Tweets led to emails, which led to people scouring contact records, which led to calling the police to get them to check on him. It was a fast, modern response to what could have been a crisis situation, and it helped restore a bit of my faith in people.
At which point, the trolls rolled in.
Meyer made a post about Mark’s online disappearance, pleading for assistance in confirming if he was ok. What followed in his comment section were mostly people hoping for the best or brainstorming ways to contact him.
Then there was a handful of thoughtless comments like this.
I completely agree with Jeremy Keith when he rails at companies like Yahoo for permanently destroying massive corners of the Internet. The thousands of people that made sites (hideous or otherwise) there weren’t the parties responsible for the destruction of the content. In some (admittedly few) cases there were even people still using the aging “first city” of the Web. But there’s also no doubt that many who had made sites there, such as online picture books of their family history, expected their efforts to last forever. Only to have some jerks bulldoze their memories, destroying a huge part of the early Web’s history in one foul swoop.
But when a creator decides they’re done with their own work, let’s not get on our high horses and deny them the right to terminate their own creative endeavors. Is Mark obliged to pay monthly fees for his own websites if he tires of them just because others find them useful? Does a webcomic artist have the obligation to keep his scrawls online forever just in case fans come back to look at them years hence? Does a teenager need to keep all of their embarrassing Facebook posts about how they were crazy-in-love with some girl for 36 hours just so we can all gawk later?
God, I hope not.
Look, if others want to make archives of existing sites in case they go offline, then do so with my blessing. I think preserving our legacy of websites is far better than losing them. But to expect the creator of any work to preserve their own original copy of any piece seems a bit strange. To call them selfish for getting rid of it so is doubly absurd. Should I have preserved every crayon doodle I made in the first grade?
I’ve never seen the 410 status code before now. It’s a strange beast. “Site’s gone, not coming back, move along!” Despite the fact that the Internet’s many sites are so easily lost, we tend to think of them as cast in some sort of digital stone. The idea that a useful site would go away, permanently, on purpose even, is almost too much to accept. But they can go, whenever the authors want.
To me the idea of deliberately burning my own sites seems like it’d be a pity. I did put all the effort into them after all. But I think we all need to remember that there’s a big difference between Nero burning Rome and Mozart throwing away compositions he’s no longer pleased with.
Mark’s many contributions would be sorely missed if they were truly, completely gone. I understand the pain of losing a valued resource. But as others have said, we still have access to archives of them. As for his own sites, they’re his to burn. Here’s hoping he’s going to be ok.