Erasing blogs does not “break the Web”, Robert!

I’ve written before about how I believe that blogs are nothing particularly special in the online world and that fundamentally a weblog is just a collection of Web pages, with no special requirements or rules. Having said that, I will hasten to add that there are certainly best practices in the blogging world, but at its core, a weblog tool like WordPress is a slick content management tool.
Given that, what’s to be made of Robert Scoble’s complaint about IBM wiping a few weblogs out of its system? Robert says: “Blogs should never be erased — for any reason. That breaks the Web. A kitten was just killed and IBM did it. Put the blogs back.”
I’ll ignore the kitten reference since that’s just hyperbole and I’ve been known to turn a colorful phrase or two myself, but does removing a blog entry or deleting an entire blog truly “break the Web”?


The core issue is one highlighted by former IBM employee Simon Phipps, who notes on his Sun Microsystems blog (he’s now a Sun employee) that:
“I see IBM’s former Fellow, “Father of Websphere” Don Ferguson, is already in the process of being airbrushed out of history. His blog already redirects to the home page for IBM’s dW bloggers (he’s still listed as I type this) despite the cached version showing no signs of being any less defensible than it was a month ago.”
What Simon and Robert don’t seem to understand is that anything with a corporate logo atop de facto represents the viewpoint of the company and/or its employees. I don’t care what kind of disclaimer you have about “representing individual views”, for example, if a sun.com or microsoft.com blogger was writing racist, sexist or similar vitriol, the company would be liable and suffer the consequences too.
There’s also no latitude in the law, for example, for a company to say “yes, those views are inconsistent with our current corporate thinking, but they’re from a former employee”. If they could, companies would probably like to have previous years Annual Reports vanish in a puff of smoke after 12 months too, leaving just a thin sheaf of financial data and legalese.
But I don’t want to pull the lawsuit trump card because I imagine that’s not why IBM has removed Don Ferguson’s weblog from its suite of blogs. The answer’s more simple: Don is no longer an IBM employee so it makes no logical sense for his weblog to remain accessible on the ibm.com domain.
Remember, corporations aren’t worried about “the historical record” they’re focused on profitability, on producing world-class products, getting them into channels and producing a share price increase to benefit shareholders and employees alike. That’s it.
I just don’t see what’s so hard to understand here regarding IBM’s behavior. Corporations do this all the time and companies have been doing this for aeons, as far as I know. Indeed, I was involved in the creation of a small conference but parted ways with the others after our first event. The conference site has completely erased my involvement and replaced me with someone else for their follow-on event. We parted ways and that’s fine: I certainly don’t imagine for a minute that they have any obligation to retain evidence of my prior participation.
There’s a second issue here too. First off, whether a former employee should have their blog or Web area retained when they depart, and my answer is obviously that they shouldn’t, and that just as they’re removed from the corporate phone book, so should their online presence be wiped.
Robert goes quite a bit further, though, stating that he believes that all blogs are sacrosanct and shouldn’t be deleted. Hmmm… I find that a bit puzzling, but perhaps that explains why his Scobleizer blog was never hosted at Microsoft while he was an employee: perhaps he expected that once he left they’d shut it down?
I just can’t see why it makes any difference whether you keep all your blog entries and blogs forever, versus deleting material you dislike retrospectively, material that might get you into trouble legally (or socially!) or even entire weblogs that reflected your past ideas and interests, but no longer are relevant to your life.
It certainly doesn’t break the Web.
Indeed, if something that trivial broke the Web, then we’d have a very different write-once sort of Internet, one that would be far less interesting and valuable, at least in my eyes.
That’s my view. What’s your opinion of this issue?

9 comments on “Erasing blogs does not “break the Web”, Robert!

  1. I agree with you mostly Dave, but Robert Scoble is siding with Jakob Nielsen here: linkrot must be avoided.
    I invented “blog scorching” at a group blog that me and Paul Woodhouse Tinbasher, and others, were involved in, as contributing editors.
    I was told that I was posting too many posts, I felt disrespected, and so I deleted many blog posts, including guests posts I had invited in, by Cory Doctorow, Evan Williams, and other prominent bloggers.
    I was hated and reviled for doing that, as some people said their links no longer worked, the links they made to those posts that I deleted.
    But at the time I felt it was appropriate. Looking back, I think I probably over-reacted.
    I have deleted a couple of posts from my blog. One was “Against RSS”. I had changed my mind so drastically, I no longer wanted to be associated with my antagonistic rant against feeds. (Though I still have many serious reservations, and I rarely use my Awasu feed scraper/reader, as good as it is.)
    A friend with a personal blog posted about how some little kids from the neighborhood were allowed inside her and her boyfriend’s apartment. The kids ran up, chasing a cat, into their bedroom and bounced around on the bed.
    I told her to delete that post, because it made her look like a potential predator or molester. If those kids ever lied and accused her of such monstrosities, the prosecution could hold up her post as evidence.
    She refused to delete the post, though the boyfriend agreed with me. He did not approve of her actions or her post.
    Bloggers forget that expressing weird thoughts or hostility toward another person could come back to haunt them, like in a criminal investigation.
    Nothing “sacrosanct” or “sacred” about a lousy myopic narcissistic blog post. But then again, in professional blogs, you may cause some research and linking problems by deleting a post or entire blog.

  2. I have to say, I agree with Robert on this one. It’s not the end of the world, obviously. But IBM really should put the blog posts back for posterity.
    I too laugh at the idea that there’s something sacred about blogging, but it does kind of break the web when a permalink doesn’t go where you think it’s going to go.
    There’s a reason they call it a PERMA link.

  3. There seem to be two arguments here. In regard to “breaking the web” I agree that erasing blogs is not a breaking the web phenomenon. If I have a so-called static web site and change the content of one of the pages while leaving the URL unchanged and thereby lose the original content (a very common occurrence) no one seems to say I have broken the web. Blogs are no different. The web is a dynamic entity with information constantly being added, deleted or changed. You can not break if by removing some of the information.
    The second argument seems to imply agreement with what I said above but goes on to say that blogs are so special and so important that we should preserve and archive their content forever. I disagree. Blogs are the medium and not the message. Preserving the message is something that has to be evaluated based on its merits regardless of the medium used to convey that message. Using a blog to convey that message does not automatically bestow any special significance on the message. So if the owner of that message want to erase based upon their evaluation so be it.

  4. I’m so bad at math, your capcha almost caught me. : )
    I’m not Robert, but if I were viewing “break the web” more as “break the INTENTIONS of keeping a blog,” then I concur. I think that deleting posts is too… cover-uppy.
    –Chris…

  5. Let me take issue with just one small part of your post, Dave. To suggest a blog is just a collection of web pages, while technically true, misses the point. It’s like saying a book is just a book. There’s a difference between, say, the latest Jackie Collins potboiler and “Common Sense” or the Bible. There are many different types of websites and the mere fact that they all are made up of HTML is incidental. All web content is not equal by simple virtue of its underlying composition. All books are ink on paper, but still some classes of books are more sacrosanct than others. I would therefore suggest that it’s not inappropriate to view a blog as something different than, say, a product catalog page.

  6. For me there is an issue of whether a source is to be trusted or not. I read Simon Phipps post as indicating a non-transparent, progressive re-writing of history, which as an historian I find quite bothersome. There is a related issue of blogs or blogging technology being used for b2b communications and in intranet mode – what can other businesses or staff really believe if the sites in question are subject to undeclared editing? Shades of Winston Smith in 1984 as I mention in my post on the subject at http://businessandblogging.com/2007/01/17/when-is-it-ok-to-back-edit-a-business-blog/

  7. Don Ferguson’s blog is still on the IBM website, they have removed the home page but all blog entries are intact. They have added “Mr. Ferguson is no longer an employee of IBM.” to his blog bio.
    Without a home page the navigation of his blog is more difficult. If you do a search for “Furguson” you can find several of his blog entries, from there you can navigate down his “Recent Entries” list. You can also move backwards through the blog calendar to find his posts.
    IBM bloggers are in the Developerworks part of the website, its an area for customers to get additional information and support on IBM products. IBM do not have a policy of erasing ex employees from Developerworks, they do not remove forum posts, redbooks and white papers written by the recently departed. I don’t see why they would start removing blog entries. Don Furguson’s blog entries remain findable if you are searching ibm.com or google for keywords that appear in his entries.
    I see no reason for IBM to promote his inactive blog by putting it on the various blog registers but they have done the right thing by leaving the archive in place.
    I don’t read Developerworks blogs very often because I don’t like the look and feel. I don’t think trackbacks to these blogs even work (I’ve tried a couple in the past and the ping failed). The comments handling isn’t great. I read far more posts from IBM bloggers at the ITToolbox site. These posters get a better looking blog with better promotion and they keep it if they leave IBM.
    regards Vincent
    – currently an ITToolbox blogger, IBM ex-employee though I only worked for them for one week!

  8. This reminds me of the recent Dilbert strip, whatever you do on the job belongs to the company, you have zero equity or right of ownership to anything.
    To think that it costs a measly $100 a year to get outside hosting, I can never understand the mentality of these eminent techies who expect the company to treat their blogging output as something which they own the copyright to.
    As for ‘breaking the web’, I think that another way of putting it would be taking a unique book in a library and burning it. The library still stands, but anyone looking for that particular book will never find it anymore.
    Is it really significant?
    Well, if you decide to not be a writer or artist but to opt for a job as a cog in the corporate machine, then you are simply not in a position to talk about leaving a legacy for posterity, you and everything you do is expendable, just another generic resource to maximize profits.

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