After some intense days this week (three > 2 AM nights, more on that later), it was nice to kick back and just sift through some neglected RSS injected content in my aggregator. So I was reading Gardner Campbell describe In My Life, where he shares the moments of his transition from University of Mary Washington to University of Richmond (just a highway a way, and by the way, Dr. Glu, a big dog nod for making a tough decision).
It struck me as sublimely profound that I was able to read this. No, nothing profound in the technology… much more subtle. It was the fact his thoughts, experiences, etc, are stored at www.gardnercampbell.net where they belong to him and have permanence, or as much web permanence as can be, in a unique identifier that is so over looked… just an URL. So what’s the big deal? It’s still so true that in our professional work, if we choose (or have our hand forced) to change employer, our electronic communication identifier, our email, can be abruptly turned off.
It happened to me when I left Maricopa, my email, which had existed 14 years, was axed just weeks after I walked out the front door. Now, in some sense, this was wonderful, as the daily deluge of spam vanished (or ended up somewhere else). At my new gig, my spam is a tiny, trickle, with all the force of the Salt River in Phoenix in mid June (if you’ve ever flown into town, the airport flies over this “river” which is a dry channel of rocks, old shopping carts, and a few brave desert shrubs).
But I digress into useless metaphor.
The fact that Gardner has built a good portion of his online ID on a web domain he owns, he can have as much permanence as he desires (or can pay for monthly ISPs), even in email address. It’s not to say that work/university emails are useless, but they are a vessel for one’s professional communications (mostly). In the old days, when email was novel, there was little reason to have more than one account. Today, I can estimate I have 5-7 personal and blog related emails, plus 2-3 at work.
But maintaining web URLs to me, are 100 times more important than dealing with changed or dead email addresses. This week, I was researching and pulling together a bunch of web resources we are cataloging (tagging in del.icio.us), and I came across one set that was compiled perhaps 3 years ago– maybe a page of 20 links, of which, by title alone. were perfect for our project.
Out of those 20, 19 were bad, dead. Some, one could guess, were vaporized because they were in some personal directory (a ~jones) under some .edu site, so someone graduates or moves to a new university, AXE goes their content. Others, and quite a few, were online journals, newspapers that only post content for a short time, AXE goes the archive. It seems insane to be doing some anal house cleaning; the cost of disk space being really not a valid argument to me at all. The ultimate internet lesson has been the power in many people being connected in many ways to many things. Why rip out that entropy?
Now it’s one thing to take down a silly web page, some poem one wrote for their pet ferret, but to take down an academic paper, or a research review, just seems insanely… stupid, to the collective way the web builds a vast archive of useful… stuff (as well as ferret poems).
But it goes even farther, and to me the catch-22 of electronic portfolios- I cannot really see much personal investment into documenting one’s self on some other system, unless you feel extremely content (a) it will not be yanked or (b) you cannot extract it in a form that will be useful. The popularity of photo sharing sites, blog hosts lies deeply in the realm of how much it belongs to the individual, with the larger group payoff a layer behind, but if it is ours, we can have some say over the longevity of the humble URL.
Preserve your URLs, keep ’em breathing.
And really, when I sat down to type this, I was wanting to give a glowing tribute to Gardner, someone I consider a colleague, have had numerous exchanges, and maybe met in person twice. Yet, he has established a proper permanence in URL-space, that is available to all. I call that a Bargain, the best I ever had.