Mail To The Future Dot Com?

(To make things clear from the beginning, this piece is not about Dave Winer)

It's time to add "death" to our thinking about the Internet.

On June 14th 2004, Dave Winer, who hosted for free about 3,000 weblogs on his server, closed the service. Some people used the terms "killing" and "murder" to describe the sudden disappearance of those weblogs. Others wrote that they were only websites and the use of the words "killing" and "murder" is not appropriate.

Dave didn't kill anything or anyone. His server just couldn't serve the weblogs to the world anymore. The taking about "killing" and "murder" around this incident have spread so fast and wide it made me understand that it had resonated in the hearts and minds of many people.

Weblogs are online diaries that people write as they move along their daily lives. It is a constant recording of the writers' lives. Sometimes, writing a weblog is becoming an important part in peoples' lives. Making unavailable a part of peoples' past lives make them feel it is like killing a part of their lives.

The web is very young. People who write weblogs are relatively young.

When Dave Winer took offline about 3,000 weblogs, his action made people think about their own death, about the fragility of what they do, about the relation between their lives and the digital representation of their lives.

It was a shock to some.

We think that we will live forever. We think that the files we have stored on machines powered by electricity will also live forever. Our files have no other purpose than to be online. We think that if our files are not available to the web, they are dead.

In a way, thinking about the death of our files is like thinking about our own death.

Come back with me to 1999, in the height of the boom, when we thought that everything on the internet was possible, when optimism reigned.

On this year, in order to demonstrate the strength of his software, Frontier, Dave Winer created a website called Dave wrote that "It's an idea out of the science fiction books. A way to send a piece of email to yourself or someone else, not right now, but in the future!". People could create an account and compose email messages that will be sent in a future date, to themselves or to other people.

Creating assumes eternal life, to humans and to machines - humans who will live to get the messages and machines that will be able to send them.

As I write this, is not working. I don't think Dave Winer thought this will happen. I don't think he ever thought he will have to take offline the 3,000 weblogs. I don't think any of us did.

What will happen when we die and stop updating our sites?

What will happen when we stop paying our hosting fees and our files will die?

What will happen when we die and our mail sent to us will be un-answered and later start bouncing?

Today, five years after 1999, I think it's time to seriously consider the fact that out files will not live forever, that the online representation of our lives will not live forever.

It's time to add "death" to our thinking about the Internet.
Extra reading - Why I don't write a personal weblog

People are more important than computers.