Monday, February 15, 2010

Digital wakes

I saw something really sad today.

Not pathetic; sad. The search for a score to a tv series leads me to the composer's website*. Unbeknownst to me, he died in 2003 (I haven't investigated the cause).

What is sad, apart from his death, is his website.

This is where it's important to make the distinction between sad and pathetic, because in another light, the website could be characterised as pathetic.

The site is full of Flash, ambitious menu systems fly around the screen and let you play music, blue and steel gradients are everywhere.

On top of that there is no structure, navigation and menus are bizarre and almost every external link is broken.

The one section of the site that does still work and have activity was the forum, and that just leads to more things that could be described as pathetic**.

But the site isn't pathetic; I know what it takes to maintain a site, especially one as ambitious as his. And he isn't there anymore.

I also know that almost any site I've worked on would probably do worse if it was left alone for six or so years. Broken links, outdated protocols, dated visuals would only be the start. There are probably examples out there.

The difference is, in my case those sites really could be called pathetic.

I don't know why his site persists; a good guess is that it's being kept up by family or friends. A place to post memorials and let fans, find out more about him, find out he died.

The front page, what you get to from Google is a memorial. To get to what would have been the site when he was alive, is tricky. And apart from the forum nothing seems to have been updated since soon after his death.

I don't know, but I'm guessing whoever is keeping the site up doesn't have the technical knowledge, cash, or even the willingness to trawl through the site and fix or update anything. I imagine they pay the hosting and domain charges each year and try not to think about it.

Which isn't pathetic. It's heartbreaking.

Almost all of us leave a trail; digital evidence of our existence.

That trail won't go away when we die. Not immediately, anyway.

This is a new thing. This isn't the same as the works of a dead author, or articles in a newspaper article, or even just photos of someone who has since died.

Printed works can't change. A physical thing can't be updated. A new edition can printed, but the old editions still exist and you can't update them.

The web can change. We expect that the web is current, has been updated and if there is a person tied to a section of the web, especially now with social media, we expect that the changes will be made by that person.

This doesn't fit with our expectations of how media works with people who have died. As I was writing this, I kept referring to the composer's site in the past tense***.

But as far as websites go, there isn't any reason to consider his site as something that 'was' instead of 'is'.

The website didn't die, he did.

Luckily, I haven't had too many people close to me die who would also have large presences online. But I will.

And maybe I'll have to decide whether or not to maintain a site. Or pay hosting.Or maybe I'll just click a link.

And it will be really sad.


- blogged from the road.

*I haven't written his name intentionally, although I'm not really sure why. There are enough clues in there that you could find out anyway, or I'll even just tell you if you ask; who he was just didn't seem to be the point.

**The other site that could be called pathetic was apparently a long lost vestige of GeoCities or something similar. And I was initially going to write about it as well, in some sort of snide 'check out the fossil (with bonus crazy)' way. But in the end that just seemed mean. And lazy.

There's another post in that other site, but I'll have to come back to it to do it justice.

***To be completely fair, I also used the past tense to be in agreement with my opening statement; 'I saw something reall sad today.'

But as I edited the post, the past tense classification of the struck me, and I realised that it was an important part of why this 'digital wake' (in more ways than one,) was so different.

No comments: