This isn't a new experience, but today I found myself trying to remember the domain to a site that hosted bash aliases. I'd used it a number of times and found it really useful.
I tried the URL I thought it would be…no dice. I tried to google words that I thought would yield results…no dice. I even discovered my Google history (beyond the browser history, a searchable archive of everything I've ever googled and clicked through on). Again…no dice.
Eventually, I remembered. It was a cool URI, except, as I found through the Internet Archive, it had closed down and vanished back in Jan 2015.
Cool URIs don't change. But they sure as hell vanish. But…maybe that's the way its supposed to be.
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First of all, I made a mistake early on, years ago, I misconstruing "cool URIs don't change" as "will always be available on the web".
For starters, "don't change" means that really the original resource indicator works and returned a status code (approximately) less than 400. i.e. It loads, or it redirects (or certainly that's good enough for me).
What it doesn't mean is that once you publish something at the end of a URL, that it must always be there. This is where I went wrong. Because it takes a heck of a lot to keep a single domain running, let alone all your projects.
Cost of a URL
In the year 2016, I have a fairly reliable process for getting a new web site up and running. The costs are relatively low, financially, but the reliance on 3rd parties is high (which is the trade off).
Here's a breakdown of what's required to get a new site live (for me):
- Registrar: Namecheap ~$11 (£8.09) per year
- DNS: CloudFlare, free
- SSL: CloudFlare, free
- Hosting: Heroku & Zeit, free
- Source code control: GitHub, free
- CI/CD: Travis, free
This of course assumes that the project is just a little stand alone side project. It doesn't require any special storage needs and doesn't need to deal with heavy traffic (and need to scale).
Then multiply this by every other little mildly viable idea you have. What if one of them takes off. In my case it was JS Bin (running costs per month are around $300-400 per month - and I'm fairly good at being cost efficient).
With this all in mind, is it reasonable (for me) to be disappointed that alias.sh had shutdown? That their cool URL hadn't changed, but it had simply vanished.
Or, are websites (and their domains) perhaps actually a living system, something that I didn't give them credit for?
The living systems of the web
I've not thought of websites like this before, but what if they're more like living systems?
The web is still relatively young, and indeed so are its makers, so I don't think there's a particularly long life expectancy for a web site. And certainly not a predictable one yet.
There's some that last only a few months of the campaign sites and micro-sites ilk. There are anomalies ranging from archive.org and bloggers running into their late teens of a website.
Just like a living system, they eventually die, and that's the natural order of things. In spite of being a digital system. Something that from a technical perspective is immortal. Quite simply, our sites are us, and like us, they come to an end.
These endings don't obviously have to be "in real life" death (though there is some part of me that plans on how to sustain this domain after I'm gone…), but circumstances change too.
Maybe I won't be able to afford to run JS Bin one day. Maybe it'll be bought and it owners let it die. Maybe the maintenance and customer support becomes too much of a personal burden. Maybe, I just lose interest. I don't foresee any of this happening, but it's possible, right?
In the case of alias.sh, the site had run its course. Now, it's no more. It served those people who visited, but the individual (or individuals) behind it have retired the site, and only it's shadow remains in the Internet Archive. Until, inevitably, the archive vanishes one day too.
Though, it's entirely possible that the domain gets recycled into a new system (of course then the cool URIs will change…and break), but this echoes our non-digital real lives. New things grow in place of the old.
It's also worth remembering that even though a domain is purchased, it's really only rented from the registrar.
Digital is not immortal
I'll always remember when the CD came to the consumer market hailing the end of tape (similarly DVDs ending VHS). Tapes had a distinct lifetime (though significantly longer than records), but CDs we immortal. WORMs: Write once, read many. The internet to me, once available online, was the same: digital, and thus, immortal.
But now, I think, perhaps this is the programmer and perfectionist in me. In fact, the web, it's constituent parts: our websites, are us. Just people and our voices. And with that, we are not immortal, neither are our digital counterparts.