The future sits
at the juncture
of hopist optimism
and doomist pessimism.
an assumption of
While some are unconcerned by the eventual fate of their blogs, others, such as Beaton, see the potential for a kind of immortality.
Three years ago, I wrote a post entitled ‘How to ensure that your blog lives forever‘. It was mostly right; but there were some issues it didn’t properly address. I hope to correct that, here.
Forestwood’s post ‘Transfering or Inheriting an Existing Blog‘, and the comments it generated, especially Dr Christa Van Staden’s assertion implying that there wasn’t a problem, caused me to delve more deeply than I had done previously. During the course of October last year, I bent the ears of a succession of WordPress.com Happiness Engineers (ten, in all!) on this topic and related issues.
One of the incidental, yet important, points that came out of these discussions was that WordPress.com is different from most other blog hosting platforms in that they don’t purge sites, which means that these can, potentially, remain available for a very long time.
[…] your free sites will never be deleted or purged, as many others from our competition do. So, your free blog can be on the internet forever (or until there is no WordPress.com) – it just has to be not set to private and there you go. Every site will also have our free domain that you had when you started the site (yoursite.wordpress.com)Happiness Engineer ‘S’, email dd 26Oct2021
In my earlier post on this subject I explained why I chose to stick with the ‘free’ domain name provided by WordPress.com for ‘Wibble’, rather than opt for a ‘custom domain’. I still think that is (at least for me) the right decision. I was, however, mistaken in believing that all of the links within a WordPress.com site addressed by a custom domain would cease to function sensibly. Most of them will continue to work, such as navigation, widgets, and links to comments; but some, those inserted manually, may not.
Your primary domain is the site address people will see in their browser’s address bar when they visit your site. Your site must have a WordPress.com plan to set a custom domain as the primary site address. Without a paid plan, all custom domain(s) on the site will automatically redirect to your freeWordPress.com support on ‘Set a Primary Address‘
There are two different issues here: one concerns the internal linkage within a site; the other relates to inbound links to it from other sites. I’ll try to illustrate some of the problems that can arise by means of some case studies.
missingthemuse.com (case study #1)
Let me state up front that I consider Dan Hoger, and his alter egos ‘Phoenix Autumn’ and ‘Cyborg 476931 from the year 2256’, as a friend. I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I was picking on him. But he has given me a perfect way to illustrate some of the problems relating to domain names that expire.
I copy-pasted that text directly from Dan’s Gravatar, and the link in that text came with it. Currently, at least, it points to missingthemuse.com, which is a domain that he has allowed to lapse as he has taken a break from blogging (to work on his novel, I hope!).
I took an educated guess and added ‘.wordpress’ before the ‘.com’ to make https://missingthemuse.wordpress.com/. The site is still there. But there are some problems; the ‘about’ page, for example, contains no fewer than nine links that are all dead, because they are to the custom domain missingthemuse.com – which is missing in action.
And there’s more…
Dan’s Gravatar gives a contact email address at danhoger.com. On a hunch, I thought I’d visit danhoger.com on the web, and what I found there suggests that Dan has relinquished that domain too at some time in the past. Whois-history reports that it’s now owned by a company called ‘Alibaba‘, in Singapore.
The moral of the story here is that there are unscrupulous folk out there who will acquire lapsed domain names and repurpose them to their own nefarious ends, effectively hijacking all inbound links to the name that may exist.
contentedness.net (case study #2)
Hariod Brawn (‘H’) is a blogger I’ve known for years. I still see comments from H all over the place, and those are linked to the domain name contentedness.net, which is – was – the address of H’s site for years. But of late, it appears to have some issues. The domain appears to be active; its registrar is Tucows, and the nameservers associated with it are wordpress.com’s, yet attempting to access it results in:
Something unexpected happened while accessing this website. It looks like it doesn’t have an active domain connection upgrade to link the requested domain name to the WordPress.com site.
If this is your domain name and it has recently stopped working, it’s possible that your plan or domain may have expired. Please log in to your WordPress.com account and review the status of your plan and domain.
The ‘free’ wordpress.com domain for H’s site is https://contentednessdotnet.wordpress.com/, and most of the links within work fine.
However, the link to the book (‘The Sway of Contentedness’) in the middle of the home page is to http://contentedness.net/a-book-by-hariod-brawn/, which fails because that domain name is inaccessible. This link has clearly not been automagically converted to the ‘free’ name; if it had been, it would point to https://contentednessdotnet.wordpress.com/a-book-by-hariod-brawn/.
(As a gift for H, some time ago I created a ‘genius link’ for that book, at booklinker.net, which automagically transports the user to the (spit) amazon website in their own neck of the woods:
thenerdylion.com (case study #3)
I used to frequent The Nerdy Lion’s blog years ago via thenerdylion.com, a domain which appears to be active, yet trying to access it directly results in an error:
The connection has timed out
An error occurred during a connection to thenerdylion.com.
A little digging suggests that the content may be available at https://thenerdylion.wordpress.com, though that site is currently private – and, indeed, there’s no way to be sure that it’s actually the same ‘The Nerdy Lion’ at all.
gratwise.com (case study #4)
I acquired the domain name ‘gratwise.com’ a year ago, as a gift for a friend who was working on a project for which I thought the name might be suitable. Those In Charge of the project didn’t agree, so the name is no longer needed. I’ve deliberately chosen not to renew it, and to use it instead to test some aspects of the question of what happens when a custom domain isn’t renewed. The name gratwise.com is scheduled to expire tomorrow; just a few hours from now.
Paraphrasing the email I received from WordPress.com not long ago:
The domain name gratwise.com is set to expire on February 9, 2022. If the upgrade which adds this domain to your is not renewed, the site will no longer be available at https://gratwise.com/.
I’ve set up a microsite at https://gratwise.wordpress.com with gratwise.com as its primary domain. If you’re still reading and aren’t entirely bored by all of this waffle, you may want to visit the site; I discuss there some other issues I’ve not touched on here. You will need a password to access the site: it’s “letmein”. (Yep, that’s neither especially imaginative nor particularly secure; but neither are necessary.)
Inbound links and link rot
You’ll probably be glad to hear that I’m nearly done.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that inbound links to a site, where the domain name is no longer available, will all fail, effectively severing the site from the web, casting it adrift. So, even if the content is still there… what’s the point, if it can’t be found? In some cases, it might be possible to insert ‘.wordpress’ into the domain name to access the site – but, of course, not every site is on WordPress.com.
And, of course, modifying the name in this way will only work if the (lapsed) custom domain name is identical to the first part of the ‘free’ WordPress.com domain name. For example, for a short time in 2018, I registered the custom domain ‘wibble.blog’ and had it set as the primary domain here on ‘Wibble’. I recognised my mistake, and reversed the decision (as I recounted in my earlier post on this topic). I allowed ‘wibble.blog’ to lapse; there’s no point trying to access it via the web as (unless someone else has acquired it) the DNS will return an ‘NXDOMAIN‘ (‘non-existent domain’) response, and your browser will say something like ‘This site can’t be reached’ (Chrome) or ‘Hmm. We’re having trouble finding that site’ (Firefox). Worse, though: even if you knew that ‘Wibble’ was hosted on WordPress.com, there is no way of knowing from the name ‘wibble.blog’ what this site’s ‘free’ domain name is pendantry.wordpress.com. Worse still: there is a site at the domain wibble.wordpress.com (which was born, and apparently died, in January 2006, a year before I started blogging here).
The World Wide Web has a serious design flaw, one that ensures that link rot is endemic. The domain name system (DNS) requires that domains be maintained; a fee must be regularly paid to keep the name in operation.
In effect, it ignores the inevitability of death.