Consider the following examples:
- A professor develops a blog during his tenure at another university. Once he settles into his new job with a different university, he realizes his entire blogging platform had been set up using his former university email address, which is no longer operational.
- A scientist needs the full-text of a previous post to answer a conference question but her blog posts aren’t displaying. She has been using the “post by email” route of publishing blog posts for so long that she can’t remember her login to access it that way, either.
- While delivering a presentation on his thesis research, a graduate student clicks the link of a key post and gets a 404 error. Neither a search engine search nor the blog’s search function turn up any results.
- A professor whose website unexpectedly expired during a brief blogging lapse can’t access any of his posts. After blogging three times a week for eight years, all of his content is gone.
- A recent doctoral graduate is interviewing with a potential employer, and the hiring committee is asking to see her scholarly blog. However, her blogging platform is temporarily down, and she’s not sure why, or when it will be back up.
Sound hard to believe? Or maybe technically believable, but very highly unlikely? Think again: all those posts you’ve spent months or years writing – or, as a researcher, spent months or years compiling – could be gone in an instant. “Even when a blogging platform seems established due to longevity or other factors, things can happen,” says Christopher Moyer, Vice President of Technology at ACI Information Group. A frequent contributor to Tech Target, author of the book Building Applications in the Cloud: Concepts, Patterns, and Project, and blogger at CoreDumped, Chris has witnessed the panic of students, faculty, and other blogging researchers when they can no longer access their content due to an email address change or other login issues, update- or theme-related errors, temporary downtime, or other issues.
Even a platform-wide disruption isn’t out of the question, and given the dynamic state of even the most prominent tech companies, blog authors don’t always know when that outage or lack of access is temporary or permanent. “For example, Tripod and Lycos, whose US subsidiary filed for bankruptcy protection in March, just experienced a major outage on June 16th,” Chris explains. “During the outage, rumors circulated that Tripod and Lycos were completely out of business, and the company hasn’t made any comments or updates as to what happened. Authors should always be aware of alternatives.”
With a wide array of comprehensive analytics and reporting tools used by the ACI team for monitoring database content, usage, and performance, balancing subject collections, and other quality assurance measures, there are plenty of opportunities for the technical support team to spot errors and anomalies resulting from restructured blog links or post settings, expired web hosting services, and other sources of blog – or blog URL – displacement. “ACI has thousands of publications, and hundreds of them have either changed URL schemes, moved, or just completely gone away,” Chris points out. “Forgot to pay your hosting provider? Surprise; everyone trying to access that blog post is now presented with a page saying you’re no longer around.”
In some cases, blog authors can help protect their work just by ensuring that the blogging platform used meets their intentions for how the posts will be uploaded, how the content will be used, and other individual needs. Scholars can choose from industry regulars like WordPress, Blogger, TypePad, Tumblr, or Medium, or can opt for a niche secondary environment like Hypotheses, a WordPress-based publication platform for bloggers in the humanities and social sciences. There are numerous options available, and for each option you’ll find a group of scholars that swear by its relative benefits – so it’s not necessarily easy for scholars to determine the best platform for their needs. Whether it’s for the initial development of a blog or for that widely-feared transition to an alternative platform, resources like firstsiteguide.com can help tremendously; their Best Blogging Platforms Reviews section offers a thorough review of each of ten blogging platforms, with detailed pros & cons listed for each. Such comprehensive details are needed for a thoughtful selection: Are you looking for enhanced backgrounds and plugins that will impress even tech-aware site visitors? Or do you just want the simplest, no-fuss way to publish and display your research or commentary? While most platforms are at least somewhat multifunctional, each option offers a different set of benefits for its bloggers.
Even once a scholarly blogger has selected (or transitioned to) the most appropriate platform, however, there is still the concern of preserving the scholarly record, where authored content has guaranteed access for the long-term. Backups can fail, passwords can be hacked, and theme or platform updates can sometimes “break” sites or site components – all despite the author’s best attempts at securing his or her content and ensuring its longevity. While ACI’s technology and engineering staff have attempted to help several authors with locating their past articles by searching on the Internet Archives’ Wayback Machine or through other means, the only assured way of retrieving past content is for authors to establish some reliable, long-term basis for archiving that content. It is this need that the ACI team was trying to address with the development of its full-text archiving and distribution option. ACI Senior Editor and A Venerable Puzzle author Jason Loch, who helps blogging faculty and researchers with that process on a daily basis, notes that the benefits reaped by authors are tangible and immediate. “Signing up for full-text distribution and archiving is one of the smartest things a blogger can do,” he explains. “Not only does it ensure the preservation of your work, but ACI’s advanced search capabilities will make it easy for researchers to discover your blog. It’s a sensible move, and it’s absolutely free.”
One direct impact of full-text archiving is the prevention of what some call link rot or reference rot, where online access links for past references are no longer working. Students, faculty, librarians, and other researchers depend on those resource links to access content or verify sources, so those dreaded 404 errors aren’t just annoyances: in such contexts, link rot becomes an obstacle to the research workflow itself. “Link rot is an inevitable and growing problem for researchers,” explains Aura Novembre, VP of Content. Like Jason, Aura has also worked with many scholars in preserving and archiving the full content of their blog posts. “By providing ACI Scholarly Blog Index full-text distribution and archiving rights, blogging authors can ensure that future scholars have lasting access to their blog posts. The authors who have signed with us for full-text distribution are glad to know that all of their hard work and insights will not be lost due to technical issues with their blog platform.”
That all of their hard work is digitally preserved for the scholarly record impacts a blog’s readership as much as it impacts an author. “There is no quicker way to guarantee a failed grade than putting in citations to sources that no longer exist,” notes Chris. “How can you verify sources if the average blog site only lives for a few years?” While ACI’s full-text archiving addresses the larger components of this, the technology and development team also worked on finding a partnership to ensure the permanent longevity of those scholars’ posts far beyond ACI. Chris and the ACI team worked closely with Portico, a digital content preservation service of JSTOR‘s parent company, ITHAKA. Portico’s mission involves using digital technologies to preserve that knowledge for the scholarly record. As a result of this partnership, Chris says, “ACI backs up all content to Portico – an approved academic solution to preserve access for libraries should anything happen to ACI.”
To learn more about the ACI Scholarly Blog Index or other ACI resources, please visit the ACI Information Group website. To explore the ACI Scholarly Blog Index, click here for a free individual trial login, or click here to request a free trial customized to your institution.