The Ghost of Tom Joad . . . Orphan Web Pages

This is a plea to anyone who has ever created a substantial online resource to make provisions for keeping the resource available should anything prevent you from continuing its maintenance. I initially posted this on another web page in 2010, but three useful folk music resources I had linked to have gone down recently, reminding me that this is still a concern.

Originally I posted about web pages just becoming unavailable. That’s bad enough. But nowadays when a domain name expires, whoever it was registered with reregisters it in their own name and posts advertising in the hope that someone who followed a link that originally pointed to actual content will land on their page and fall for the advertising links. This, by the way, is very profitable for the domain name registrars who do this, but very confusing for the readers that the original site was set up to serve.

One site that just “went away” is “Tom Joad’s” tablature page for Clawhammer style banjo. It wasn’t huge, but it was useful. I had saved a number of the tabs for my own use. To me the biggest advantage of having multiple pickers’ tabs for the same song is that it gives other pickers a sort of “second opinion” in case you don’t agree entirely with the tab I posted.

As another example, 5-string players who hangout at the Banjo Hangout site also know that I’m hoping to restore Mitchell “Mickey” Cochran’s banjo tabs. I’ve put up a few here and am awaiting final permission from the family before I post the rest.

Now here’s the original post:
Avoid zombie web pages
As a consultant, I’ve always made a point of keeping my clients informed of my progress, and of sending them copies of my work on a regular basis. Many of them resist, saying, “Just send it all at once.” I say, “But this way, should I get hit by a truck, you’ll have the work I’ve done for you to date.” The client won’t be left holding a bill for my services with nothing to show for it.

Of course we all know that the “should I get hit by a truck” principle applies to everything in our lives. But I’ve become a bit sensitive this year on how it applies to information resources that thousands of hobbyists have been providing for free to our friends on the World Wide Web.

It Happens More Than You Might Think
Since January, three content-related web pages that I provided links to for their unique, helpful information have gone down. By themselves, they won’t really bring anybody’s interests to a screeching halt, but certain groups will miss their content very much.

A worst case scenario struck a certain collector’s community [in 2010]. A unique and comprehensive reference site went down without warning. As a favor to my friends in that community, I spent countless hours restoring the site’s 110 pages and nearly a thousand photographs. Yes, I know that the content of that site wouldn’t seem important to many of the people who read this, but the principle applies: A large online community was left without its principal resource because the site owner didn’t make any provision for what would happen if he suddenly became incapacitated.

Are My Articles Really THAT Important?
Some hobbies and interests literally grew up on the Internet. [Modern Clawhammer banjo playing almost fits into this category, by the way.] There are so many great resources that the hobby would not exactly be crippled if any one – or even any three – went down tomorrow.

But many personal web pages include the valuable results of painstaking experimentation or research through materials that aren’t available to the average person – work that other folks may have to do without or redo from “scratch” if the web page goes down.

How-to articles are especially important, even if you’re “redesigning the wheel,” or doing what I do and trying something anyone (else) would be an idiot to try. Just as important are pages that publish research into little-known areas. Lots of folks who are thinking about getting into a hobby [or learning a new instrument] . . . read literally everything they can find on a subject, and even the “silliest” articles may be the “tipping point” that gives them confidence to try.

Plan Now
Many of us have already made out lists or at least told our family what to do with our “stuff,” once we’re gone. But if we don’t have any family members who are interested in receiving our Internet torches, maybe it’s time to contact one of the resources you like and ask the site owner if he or she would like to be the “caretaker” of your own web resources in the event that you suddenly can no longer keep them going. You might even set up a system where you and other friends occasionally trade CDs of each others’ sites. If nothing else, someone you trust should have a copy of your FTP and login information. Giving someone “permission” to republish your site should you fall off the grid is not enough – if the person doesn’t have access to your source files, it could be more trouble to republish your stuff than it’s worth.

Who Ya Gonna Call?
There are certain other hobby webmeisters that I trust to do right by my hard work, and who trust me to do right by theirs. It’s kind of a mutual “insurance policy” that will keep our online “legacies” from disappearing without a trace if one of us becomes incapacitated without warning. If you have a web page that includes how-to articles and or the results of original research or other unique material, you owe it to your peers either to:

  • Get a younger family member onboard and show them the ropes of maintaining the site, or
  • Contact the webmeister of your favority hobby site and ask them if they’re interested in keeping your materials online should you get hit by a truck, or
  • Both.

P.S. If the webmeister you contact isn’t me, and they think you’re crazy, tell them to read this article. If it’s me, I may still think you’re crazy, but at least I’ll know what you’re talking about.

Conclusion
The good news is that in some of my content areas, there are hundreds of small, but helpful resources I count on, and often link to for more (and in some cases, better) information. The bad news is that unless I revisit the article where I put the link, a site can go down for months without me realizing it. Again, it’s happened far too many times this year alone. In at least one case, could have set a whole interest group back literally for years.

I hope you all take this as a positive – my conviction that so many of the personal sites on the web have information worth preserving indefinitely. I’m certainly willing to do my part, and I know that most other of the “serious” hobby webmeisters are willing to do theirs as well.

Your questions, concerns, insults, faint praise, etc. welcome as always,

Here’s hoping that every one of you lives a very long productive life, and that the topic of this article is never an issue for your readers. 🙂

Best of luck,

Paul Race

Paul

About Paul

Paul Race has been writing and playing all kinds of music since the 1960s, though he tends to favor acoustic and traditional songs. He has created resources like CreekDontRise.com, ClassicTrainSongs.com, and SchoolOfTheRock.com to help other musicians get a good start on their own journeys.

One Comment

  1. Speaking of “Tom Joad,” AKA Chris Erswell, we have been able to track down and restore many of the Clawhammer banjo resources he posted on his site between 2000 and 2006. We are especially glad that we were able to save most of his Clawhammer tablatures and in many cases, the MP3 files he created to go with them. If you don’t specifically play Clawhammer, that’s fine, most folks who pick 3- or 4- finger can figure the tabs out, too.

    For details, please click here:
    https://creekdontrise.com/tabs_instr/banjo_tabs/tom_joad/index.htm

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