What Do We Own?

by {"name"=>"Aaron Gustafson", "twitter"=>"AaronGustafson", "googleplus"=>"AaronGustafson"} on 17 November 2014

My good friend Jeremy is incredibly excited about the Indie Web movement and I am right there with him. I love the idea of owning your content and then syndicating it out to social networks, photo sites, and the like. It makes complete sense… Web-based services have a habit of disappearing, so we shouldn’t rely on them. The only Web that is permanent is the one we control.

But going down this rabbit hole got me wondering how much do we really control? And beyond that, what do we own?

To borrow a quote from Mandy Brown (which also Jeremy referenced):

No one owns this domain but me, and no one but me can take it down. I will not wake up one morning to discover that my service has been “sunsetted” and I have some days or weeks to export my data (if I have that at all). These URLs will never break.

I don’t know if her statement is true. Idealistically, I want it to be true, but consider the following:

  1. We rent domain names through registrars. We “purchase” domain names, but we must renew them from time to time to remain in control. Assuming you keep up the payments, they can still be seized for any number of reasons or they can be stolen. Or the registrar can go out of business and you have to scramble to move it to a new registrar.
  2. Most of us rent space on the Web. I can’t think of a single friend of mine who still personally hosts his or her website. As such, we are beholden to our hosts. Even if we keep on top of our payments, things can go wrong: They could crash or have another issue and lose all of our data. They could go under. Or they could simply lose your domain.

Knowing all of this—and realizing that when I am dead and gone all of the content I created could be lost to the ether if my family doesn’t know how to keep things going or doesn’t care to keep making these payments—I am left wondering how do we achieve the permanence of print on the Web?

I don’t have any answers, so I pose it as an open question to the Indie Web community. If you have some thoughts, I encourage you to post them on your own site and use webmentions to add them to this page. Or you can default to the comments.