Blog Writing: What Do You Do When a Blog Goes Bye-Bye?
Ah, a day in the life of a blogger and computer geek. It began with an attack from two ten year old emil viruses and ended with the star blog of the article I was working on disappearing.
Blogging can be easy and fun, but if you do it for a living, it has its ups and downs, good days and bad. In my ongoing series on Lorelle on WordPress called “Blog Struggles,” I share some of the hardships associated with blogging, from the early days to present. Today, it was a bad day. Two weeks of research down the drain.
I’ve been working for two long hard weeks on an article about an open source program with the focus on an excellent community fan blog. Just before hitting the Publish button, I visited the site to verify some information.
The site I’d visited so often in the past ten days greeted me with a big white page and a note that the site had been “discontinued” without further explanation or link to an alternate resource.
Poof. Gone. Bye-bye.
Gone is the site. Gone is the information I need to verify. Gone is all the information and resources this site so passionately shared with the world. Gone is my article. Wasted is my time.
In return, I have nothing to show for this site skipping town and leaving me bereft. Since they were the focal point, the star if you will, of my story, I can’t link to them with nothing to show my readers. As a paid writer, I now have nothing for two weeks of wasted time, and a deadline in my face – and you thought blogging professionally was easy.
If I were to publish the article, the backlash from my readers for reporting on an invaluable service that doesn’t exist doesn’t help anyone, least of all the Blog Herald. The backlash could spill over on the site’s owners, whether or not they are deserving. Or it could bring forth a ground swell of enthusiasm and help to keep the site running – or not – if that is even what the site owners want.
So now what?
What do you do when a site you depend upon goes bye-bye-gone?
When a Site Goes Poof in the Night
Journalists have long had to deal with the consequences of fallible sources, of sources here one day and gone the next – but they survive. It’s part of the business of being a journalist.
Until recently, the loss of a source and the inability to verify the facts was painful, but short term. As a long time print newspaper editor told me, “Today it’s news. Tomorrow it’s fish wrapper.”
If you publish information on the web, it’s not fish wrapping paper tomorrow. It’s like an encyclopedia that sits on your bookshelf collecting dust – as long as the domain and hosting fees are paid anyone can land on that article at any time and read about how exciting and informational this valuable resource site is, only to find out it doesn’t exist.
If the article was published two years ago, the readers will usually let it slide. If it was published ten minutes ago, who do you think gets the slap?
There are various names for this phenomenon: dead-end websites, link rot, dead links, and abandoned websites and blogs. The estimate of how many websites are abandoned with active domain names is hard to find, but it is in the millions, maybe higher. There are a lot of studies, mostly dated before 2005, that report most blogs are abandoned within one to two months of starting, and few are updated on a regular basis. Several studies report 60% to 90% of all registered domain names have been abandoned by their owners.
Wikipedia’s article on Dead Links states:
Like almost all large websites, Wikipedia also suffers from the phenomenon known as link rot, where external links go stale after a period of time. As of the November 6, 2006 database dump, Wikipedia contained 2,578,134 external links, and roughly 10% of these links are broken in some manner.
You think you have a hard job to maintain your external links. Think about how much time and effort, and money, goes into maintaining the integrity of the links on sites like Wikipedia!
In 2004, Netcraft reported that the average life spam of a phishing site was 54 hours. With the increase of exposure to millions even faster with social media tools, I would predict that time period to be down by half, further adding to the vast numbers of dead and abandoned websites, as well as the speed at which these scams come and go. Not that I’d link to one of those sites, but the numbers are overwhelming.
A site you link to now or in the past could be abandoned at any time. How would you know? And what impact does that have on your readership and credibility?
The Impact of Encountering a Dead End Link
Want to lose credibility and readers? Then promote dead end links on your blog.
In a paper from the RBC Financial Group Chair of Electronic Commerce called The Influence Of “Dead-Ends” On Perceived Website Usability (PDF), the authors state:
When shopping for a product or searching for information on a website, it may take several attempts for consumers to find what they are looking for. It is suggested that these unsuccessful attempts to find a product or information, i.e., dead-ends, influence consumers’ perception and evaluation of the website usability. Results of this study, conducted with 204 consumers over two different sites, suggest that there is a negative relationship between the number of dead-ends experienced by consumers while shopping online and the perception of the website usability.
…Between 25% and 75% of online shopping carts are abandoned by customers (Hill 2001). Furthermore, conversion rates for websites range from 2% to 5% (Betts 2001, Gurley 2000).
While these are old statistics, it is easier and cheaper than ever to start a blog and website – and just as cheap and easy to abandon it.
There are almost six million blogs on the free hosted blog service, WordPress.com. WordPress.com reported in January 2009 that of the six million registered blogs, “1,373,108 active blogs and 18,768,022 active posts where ‘active’ means they got a human visitor.” That’s an estimated 22% of the WordPress.com blogs.
Does that mean the rest are dead and abandoned sites? It’s easy to experiment with a WordPress.com blog, skewing the numbers, which is why Matt Mullenweg announced last year that he was changing the home page statistics on WordPress.com to track the number of bloggers not blogs, to keep the numbers closer to reality. As of the end of February 2009, the current number of bloggers on WordPress.com was 198,285.
People are buying and selling abandoned blogs all the time, creating a powerful market, but also leaving bloggers not knowing what they are linking to if the linked blog changes hands without notification or the owner removes the content and puts up a “for sale” sign on the site.
What Do You Do With a Dead End Linked Site?
A few dead links in hundreds or thousands of articles is not only excused but expected. It’s hard work to backtrack through all your content to maintain current links, taking away time and energy from producing new content. Yet, some of our best content continues to have life years after publishing. Ensure your most popular past posts are updated and checked for dead links to keep your newly arriving visitors happy.
What do you do when the article you are researching requires that now deceased site?
If the site has been around long enough, you can link to the Wayback Machine on the Internet Archives. Possibly, the content has been cached by Google, but who knows how long that will be preserved.
If you don’t need the whole site as your resource, you can look for articles on other sites that make the same point.
Unfortunately, my article revolved around an entire site. A now dead site.
What do you do when a site you blog about, or are about to blog about, goes bye-bye?
And what am I going to do with all this useful information that has no site to send you to? Sigh.
The author of Lorelle on WordPress and the fast-selling book, Blogging Tips: What Bloggers Won't Tell You About Blogging, as well as several other blogs, Lorelle VanFossen has been blogging for over 15 years, covering blogging, WordPress, travel, nature and travel photography, web design, web theory and development extensively as web technologies developed.
What about the Internet Archive: Wayback Machine to find and/or reference back to the defunct post? Maybe you could even capture the original content and acquire permission to republish it or at least make a PDF of it available as a reference from within your new post?
There’s a dead link in one of my older blog posts that referred to a very inspiring article I simply cannot find again, so I share your frustration. I hate to remove my post, but also hate to leave a dead link laying around out there.
Ooof! Somehow I missed the paragraph where you specifically mentioned IA until after I had posted that comment. Sorry!
What can be worse than a completely dead site is a domain name being taken over by someone else who then decides to publish something completely different, particularly if it’s likely to offend the original audience. It’s not uncommon for an “adult” site to replace a previous site — at best it’ll be one of those daft ad-laden holding pages.
I discovered purely by coincidence last night that another blog I had linked to within a blog post is now gone. But the cool thing is that I had “Shared” the post in Google Reader, so it’s still there even though the site itself is not. So, I’ve copied the original text out of the Reader feed and saved it to a PDF and am now trying to track down the author.
Yet another reason to love Google Reader!!
I’m really sorry about the 2 weeks worth of work lost, but this was an excellent article not just about keeping links up to date, but about a trend we don’t hear much about. If it seems like it’s a very few users making a lot of noise on the Internet, that perception is very close to being the truth. I’m active on my blog, stumbleupon, twitter, digg and a number of other places. The amount of content I produce is huge, and I’m just one person.
It doesn’t really matter. Even today, books on print have a ton of references to publications that are no longer available, at leat near you. What I am trying to say is that citing the work is just a duty of Due Diligence. What is important is that you know your subject. For instance, St. Thomas Aquinas was one of the theologians that brought Aristotle back from the dead. Believe it or not, after the Fall of Rome, Europe lost its best literature for hundreds of years and the broken link to its past was one of the main causes of the Dark Ages. It also allowed the Catholic Church to become powerful.
Aside from translating Aristotle’s work to Latin, St. Thomas Aquinas also wrote commentaries for theological purposes, obviously; mainly to prove that Aristotle was “really” talking about God. The point is that although not everyone had the works of Aristotle at home, they knew about his philosophy through St. Thomas Aquinas. In summary, if you reference a dictionary, the chances are high that your readers will find at least new edition (LOL). Anything else, even for someone who lives in the NYC Metro Area like myself and has access to the New York Public Library, will be out of print. In fact, the existence of listings titled “100 most influential books of all time” tells exactly what you can source all the time. Again, content; not reference. In fact, references are used by academia to trap their students. Notice how we speak about the US Constitution as if everyone had read it.