Reminder to journalists: If you don’t build your own index, nobody else will

Today marks 10 years since I finally got around to self-assigning myself a weekly writing task: sum up where I’d written, spoken or been quoted over the past week. As much as I’ve sometimes resented having to bang out a “Weekly output” post when I’ve been jet-lagged, sick or both, it’s been time well spent.

The immediate upside of that first weekly recap of my work–which I chose to write on a Saturday for reasons that no longer resonate, then shifted to Sundays after a few months–was forcing me to write here more regularly. I’d have to inventory what I’d done to make a living once a week… and then I’d need to find something else to write about each week to avoid having this corner of the Web become a cringe-inducing exercise in self-promotion.

(Whether I have succeeded in that aspiration is a separate question.)

But as weeks of these recaps turned to months and then years, I realized that maintaining my own index of my work was my best defense against search-unfriendly sites and link rot. I can’t stop management at a client from breaking links or shutting down the entire operation, but having the original page addresses here means I can always plug them into the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine to see if that worthy San Francisco non-profit squirreled away its own copies of the pages.

In more recent years, various services have stepped up to streamline the task of providing an index of your published output. For example, friends of mine seem happy with Authory, which charges $96 a year for automatic backup of your posts, including marketing and analytics features. I remain content with my DIY approach, since it keeps this chronological index on the site Google (and other search engines) most closely associate with me.

But if you write for a living, which tool you pick up to preserve your online work matters much less than your committing to take charge of that. You can’t expect employers or clients to preserve your online work for more than the first several years after publication; you need to do something for yourself, and if you didn’t start that a decade ago, now is still a good time.

Dealing with your work disappearing

If you were going to look up any of the tech-guide stories I wrote for Gannett’s NowU last year, don’t. NowU has become more like NotForU: Gannett stopped updating the site in the spring and shut it down a few weeks ago.

NowU closing noticeThis wasn’t the first time I’ve had my work vanish from the Web. My blog posts for the Consumer Electronics Association evaporated after a CMS switch, and all of the short updates I wrote for Sulia disappeared when that site closed. This time around, however, was better in one important way: My editor e-mailed me in late April to give me a heads-up about the impending closure of the site.

That note gave me more than enough time to save my stories as PDFs. At CEA, I had to rely on Internet Archive copies when management there let me repost some of those pieces here. At Sulia, I had neither a backup elsewhere on the Web nor advance notice of its demise, not that I was going to try to reproduce a few hundred microblog entries.

(The Internet Archive couldn’t preserve my stories at Gannett’s would-be hub for 45-and-over empty-nesters because NowU’s site was apparently coded to block it. That’s not how I would have run things, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.)

What I’m left with, then, is the enjoyment I derived from researching and writing those stories, the new sources I discovered in the process, the (generous!) payments that arrived on time–and, not least, the chance to sell stories about those topics all over again. If you’ve got a freelance budget and could use a how-to about WiFi and travel, international smartphone roaming, TV technology, or cutting the cord, please get in touch.

A bout of broken links at CEA’s blog

The Consumer Electronics Association recently moved its Digital Dialogue blog over to a new content management system. That wouldn’t be a news item to me, except that when CEA switched its blog to the same CMS that runs the rest of the site, they elected not to bring over entries older than November.

CEA Digital Dialogue logoThat means that along with CEA posts going back to the blog’s debut in March 2008, all of my own work there has gone down the bit bucket. (That’s not the first time this kind of link rot has happened; when Discovery News changed CMSes and redid its design in January, my car2go review somehow vanished; they were able to repost it, but not at the same address.) That’s not what I would have done; it’s also not my server.

You can still find most of my CEA contributions through the Internet Archive, but only if you know the original address of each. So I asked the folks at CEA if they’d mind me reposting some of that stuff here–I had to ask because my contract, like too many freelance arrangements, had a “work for hire” clause assigning copyright to them–and they said that would be fine as long as I noted where and when the work first appeared.

I said “some” and not all because I don’t have the time or motivation to rescue 50-plus contributions, not all of that material retains its relevance, and some of it is, you know, not that good. Four I have in mind: a December 2011 post unpacking the odd ritual of granting exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s anti-circumvention clause, an April 2012 rant about how “digital rights management” restrictions in e-books preserve Amazon’s dominance, a June 2012 confession of how I overestimated the appeal of the DVD recorder, and a July 2012 protest against sacrificing compatibility or connectivity to make phones and laptops fractionally smaller or thinner.

But if there are others you’d like to see restored here, please let me know. To help with that, I’ve gathered a more-or-less complete list after the jump of the posts, podcasts and chats I did for CEA, with Internet Archive links when available.

Continue reading