Virtual obsolescence

This is a topic that worries me. I guess few other people will have interest in planning ahead what happens to software creations/property/art when they become obsolete and depend on some obsolete/discontinued component to work but this is an eventual fact of software and hardware life.

So, why should you worry?

Well, for a start you will be throwing down the trash all the money, effort and resources that you already acquired up to that point and then repeat it all over again.

Say for example that we are in 1990 and you just bought a new IBM personal computer or acquired yourself a nice website domain. After a couple of years you see no more use for any of them and they quickly get disposed with something more interesting at that moment.

What is the result? The computer or website domain that you acquired might have cost you some hundreds to thousands of dollars and now it is just plain trash in your eyes, quickly lost from sight and only a memory to you.

Now what happens when fast forwarding 30 years from now? That old piece of hardware might possibly hold now a status of vintage and the website domain gets its value increased due to longevity of its registration date which is a factor of value to collectors.

I'm not advocating that you should keep everything obsolete around your house, the point is asking you to think and apply this concept to the software bits that you write, the work that results from your own intellectual creations which many times will be lost after a mere years.

In this virtual world, you can likely adopt two distinct approaches: 1) accept that things might be lost forever and do nothing or 2) accept that things might be lost but do something to counter-act this kind of obsolescence.

If you're the type of person willing to follow option 2) then here is my list of recommendations to consider.

  1. Style doesn't go out of fashion. Pick a domain name that you are proud about right now and keep it for as long as you can. In some years the domain might be unused but if you have chosen a name you personally fell attached, then it might still be used for other projects or just kept as a collector item (with added value if it hosted a site in the past). As for hardware, try to pick a good looking machine. Extra points if it is sturdy and from a reputable vendor. The odds are that you will remain a proud owner of the machine regardless of how obsolete the hardware underneath has became in the meanwhile (for e.g. I kept religiously my first laptop from the 90's and 20 years later was a portion of computer history and my own history).
  2. Use public hosting whenever possible. Say for example this blog, Google will keep my words around for thousands of moon-cycles after I stop walking on this earth. Invest your time wisely in choosing a network platform that has conditions to last. A private hosting eventually gets disconnected or some public services will not care about you and delete everything after a few years (for e.g. Microsoft already deleted my first blog, GitHub will delete your account if unused, Yahoo killed Geocities, ...). At least with companies like Google I will be sure that these blog memories will live forward since they rely on data gathering as a business model.
  3. Share your projects. If you're founding/maintaining a project that you hold dear, then consider opening your hand of the sole ownership. Let other people of your trust to step aboard as administrators and owners instead of just grouping followers or supporters. Being a creative genie is a fabulous thing but when you're doing everything alone then alone you remain. For me (as author and/or user), it hurts when one of these projects fades to oblivion after left alone. This model of work might function good for someone like Fabrice Bellard, but gosh, just share your projects. It is a great thing for everyone if you can walk away one day and see your child becoming fabulous as it grows through the years.

That's it, three tips to reduce the obsolescence risk and safeguard a piece of the past, today.

This kind of thinking-ahead requires additional work, expenses and effort. In the end, only pays off when someone else finds your effort useful. Even then it is certainly unpredictable what might happen. Still, who knows if you'll do something today that will help someone else 2000 years from now like the Rosetta Stone did. Unfortunately for us geeks it gets difficult to write bytes in stones, creativity will certainly be needed to solve this challenge.. :-)

What about you? What kind of virtual footprint will you leave for the future?