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We should retire Aaron's number (scripting.com)
105 points by davewiner on Jan 16, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments

So, if we make a permanent "monument" out of his domain name, what's the deciding factor for or against doing it for any other website?

Will the internet become littered with millions of permanent monuments to misguided souls, like the little crosses on side of our highways?

Take this sentiment and jump forward 100 years. What's left?

I suspect this will happen to any namespace after long enough. Domain names, Twitter handles, Facebook URLs, whatever. Once enough real estate is taken up with immobile monuments to the dead, the living will have to move on to something else.

I also think this will happen well before 100% utilization. After some point, the number of collisions you hit when trying to get a memorable name becomes too much of a burden and you just go somewhere else, as previously described here: http://rachelbythebay.com/w/2012/11/28/namespace/

The first number ever retired in all of sports was Lou Gehrig's, in 1939. By the 100th anniversary of that ceremony, the Yankees will have retired about 25-30 numbers. The active roster requires 40+ free numbers < 100. What happens when they run out?

That's a different problem. Retiring a number only affects the subset of all people who actually care about the Yankees numbering system, but only has to be done once with no further upkeep.

The decision to lock down a domain name in perpetuity potentially affects everyone on the internet and more to the point, negatively affects the people responsible for maintaining the DNS servers and the content servers, etc.

> What happens when they run out?

2 digits of base > 10?

3 digit numbers?

Hardly a tricky problem to solve...

Got a nice chuckle picturing them wearing hex numbers.

In 100 years we'll have some other addressing system for whatever mutation of the all-connected-network we have then.

While it's irrelevant for us to really predict or care about it due to the complexity involved to get some new standard designed and implemented, it's still worth noting: that's what they said about Y2K.

Sometimes I have the feeling that most of the namespace is already clogged with spammy parking pages, and even spammier sites. I think I'd rather stumble into monuments.

I really love your blog posts. I've yet to read one yet that isn't thoughtful and concise.


Just more (sub)domains. That's all


Nice thought Dave. Aaron did already address this in his "If I get hit by a truck..." post: http://www.aaronsw.com/2002/continuity

And Sean is most definitely on the case. But please give him some time and space.

The footer on that post should really be changed.

I agree. We should leave the responsibility of the upkeep of a virtual presence after death to the person themselves. Aaron showed that you can plan for your presence after death: maybe we should all have some sort of plan. (Something like a will).

If you read through Dave Winer's past writings on this subject, you will find that there is currently no good way to implement this such a plan.

Dave Winer has discussed the issue of preserving websites for a long time. He calls this "Future Safe Archives".

http://scripting.com/stories/2007/03/29/fourIdeasForTheFutur... http://scripting.com/stories/2007/12/10/futuresafeArchives.h... http://scripting.com/stories/2009/10/10/onceAgainFuturesafeA... http://scripting.com/stories/2011/01/10/nytOnFuturesafeArchi...

Even just a week or so before Aaron's death.


I am sure that I have read him write about this many other times, maybe going back over a decade.

I first got really serious about it when we lost the RSS 2.0 spec on a server upgrade at Harvard. That's when I realized that unless we took serious steps to protect the content, by using least common denominator technology, and not requiring a separate domain, that it wouldn't last very long after everyone who cared about it was gone from Berkman.

It's turned out pretty well. The spec is still there and accessible, and now it's been almost ten years at that spot.

I'm also hosting my uncle's site and now my father's. I'm not happy with the job I'm doing on either of them, but I have my own work to move forward, and as I do that of course I'm creating MORE problems. But I'm also trying to be mindful of separating the content from the rendering. The actual content is stored pretty permanently, and the rendering is considered lose-able.

Eventually I hope to have ultimate editorial flexibility and have it also be very future-safe. CMSes can anticipate these problems, and I've tried to do that in my latest development.

It's hardly a "small" hack. Who would be running the site, paying for bandwidth, etc. Who decides who gets a memorial like this? It's essentially creating infinitely long registrations and adding a "special case" that will remain in the internet's infrastructure forever.

The Internet Archive, probably. They have a long-term view toward preserving Internet content, and the resources to support permanent memorials would be negligible for them. It would be similar to a university library preserving the papers of an important writer. I can't imagine a more appropriate custodian.

Aren't all physical memorials, statues, plaques, banners paid for? Just like paying for the upkeeping of a memorial, I see no difference.

Someone just has to keep paying for the domain and hosting and it will remain forever. This is proposing that we never allow these domains to be registered again, even if they expire

If the Internet Archive would support hosting the content/collection, I'd be willing to throw $50-100 into a pool to prepay the domain for the next 10-20 years.

The content can't be over a GB. Hosting that all static in S3 would be, what? ~$0.10/month+transfer costs?

We've solved this problem before with libraries. They're one of the institutions that in society are meant to last long-term, and take on the costs of preserving material for perhaps perpetuity. For books, that means a building, shelves, temperature and humidity control, and a staff to watch over all of it - plus whatever above and beyond you want to provide to help people access the material. That's not free but how to pay for it and how to manage acquisitions are well-established.

There are two somewhat separate issues - maintaining a presence online, and deciding where in the namespace it should go.

Certainly it's easy to understand how a library could manage to keep a site online, especially if the site is simply and static. In time (over the next 20 years sort of timeframe) if we settle on a single way to run more complicated sites with frontends and backends (one PaaS to rule them all, if you will) then maybe a library would run an instance and host sites that way. It's within their mission and I'd welcome the use of my taxdollars to do that - in a sense they do, as they put many of their collections online.

Where in the namespace is a more interesting question. I host my own domain because I want to trust as few things as possible (I give up and trust the root servers) and I need to keep paying for it for the rest of my life (I'm OK with that - I've got about 50 years left, I can swing the $500+inflation.) If anyone ever got control of my domain, they'd be able to be me - by publishing as me, or accessing other services either through whatever OpenIDs I've got out there or just being able to use 'recover password' emails. That bothers me - there's nothing I can do but keep my domain active, but I want those parts of my domain to die with me. In that sense, it's not like real estate - no one thinks that the person who lives in my old house is me. If URLs had a temporal notation this would be less of an issue.

Remember the mantra - "Cool URLs don't change". If the root of the namespace relies on someone being alive and active, then URLs are going to change unless they're passed off to another institution designed to outlive its founders. This isn't impossible - there are plenty of endowments and family foundations, but I think it's asking too much for every person to start a foundation and endow it with enough money to last "forever" just to keep their webpages online.

Instead, we should solve this once. Here's one way, but there are certainly others: get a library to serve as a domain name registrar. I'd probably strike it as a deal that once you stop paying for it, it's done and it doesn't point to anything but their own servers. There'd be some window at the beginning where you can upload material, or you can add to a live "backup" while your domain is active, and once it ceases to be active, that's the site you're left with.

We'd make a policy change at the ICANN level to say this registrar can buy at a discounted wholesale for any domains it's holding in trust - basically, we just need to be sure that the registry is fairly compensated for the cost of answering queries at the root level to point back to the library, and for the initial bit flips to say "this domain is in trust" but that's not strictly necessary. We could fund it through taxes, or probably better a service fee associated with active registrations because this crosses too many governments.

(Another approach to solving a lot of this is with a content-addressable system and just scrap the central registry. It leaves out Aaron and everyone else who's already died, but if it was a better solution for everyone going forward, I don't think Aaron would mind)

While the idea is novel, domains are virtual real estate. I don't think it's in anyone's best interest to retire domains/addresses. There are many more sane ways to make all of the content easily accessible indefinitely.

Well with "real" real estate, there are properties that we say as a society are too important/notable/what-have-you to allow to simply be bought and sold like chattel. Between war graves, historical monuments, disaster memorials, etc. there are lots of ways we've found to set aside property to commemorate.

Despite the giant asshole I must sound like in the other threads I have really enjoyed the aaronsw writings I've been pointed to in the fallout from all of this, and I think that Winer's proposal could make a fine start to a suitable online memorial for Aaron.

If we can deliver IP over pigeon there has to be a way to at least set aside a DNS entry and coordinate hosting amongst the many who would volunteer for it.

Isn't that exactly what a grave site is? Real estate permanently set aside for a deceased person.

Moving or simply paving over cemeteries may be more common than you think.

It's a good idea. I'd say there are a number of options; at the very least a mirroring setup would be sufficient - I'm certain that there are people that are able to do this quite easily with wget.

Even I have servers that I'd be willing to provide that could certainly handle the load his now-static mostly-text sites. I'd even be happy to hold the domains and pay the registration into the future. I think Aaron already had a post about who would be handling his assets if he "got hit by a bus".

For the domain name, aaronsw.com . It's currently not possible to register domains for more than ten years.

You could envisage some sort of way have putting the domain in a trust fund. Where there would be funds to renew the domain, you could potential show how much is in the fund, on the trusts's page. And as long as there is money in the fund, the domain would be renewed. The domain technical contacts, and possibly the other contacts too would need to be put in the trusts name so that they can renew with the registrar, and possibly change the DNS if needed.

As for the hosting, you could probably run a script that would take a static snapshot, and save the files in plain HTML. This of course gets more complicated for sites that use things dynamically with database backends.

It depends on what arrangement he had with/for his heirs, and with his registrar.

"The Internet is just software."

ah, just noticed your comment :)

( cf: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5066250 )

I've often thought that the Internet Archive would be a good entity for this. I would happily pay a large one-off fee to cover domain name renewals and static hosting in perpetuity. I don't know how such a fee would be calculated - the cost of 100 years of .com renewals at the lowest negotiable fee perhaps?

You could just start your own domain name registrar. Family can transfer the name after death or you could transfer there before you die. Add a small link to the bottom of the page to donate to support re-registering the name ad-infinitum. The registrar collects donations to keep it going. Maybe add hosting too. Unfortunately getting your own registrar company would cost $50-100K from what I've read plus $8K annual dues.

I'm surprised there are no virtual cemetaries. A company (a known Internet entity like Archive.org, WikiMedia or W3C would be best, not a startup that will pivot away in 3 years) could offer for a fixed fee to take your blog, freeze it in time, and publish it online forever.

> I'm surprised there are no virtual cemetaries.

There are several obituary sites, they're one step away from that. And in a sense portions of http://reocities.com/ are exactly that, for instance: http://reocities.com/SunsetStrip/1838/ I'm committed to keeping that alive as long as I can afford it. So far so good.

Why would a porn site ever choose aaronsw.com as their domain? We aren't going to run out of strings.

traffic and backlinks are a valuable commodity, that's why.

>The Internet is just software.

wait, what ?

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