What To Do With Old Websites – Retire or Realign…
A few years ago, a friend of mine announced she might retire as an artist, at the ripe old age of 36. Another friend back East made a similar pronouncement, although he was a few years older than her. Neither have retired, but both took a hiatus. I recently remembered their dramatic statements and started thinking about retirement of a different sort.
For just over 10 years, from 1999-2010 I was very active in the net-art community, producing dozens of art websites. If the lifespan of a website is akin to the doggie years metaphor (1 dog year = 7 human years ), then these sites are seriously out of date. Last year, in 2012 I created a year-long daily photographic blog [The Obsolescence Project], considering things that were out of date, but I (gasp) used a free wordpress.com site and thus didn’t design the site, so I exclude it from these musings.
Currently I have about six public web projects that are still active online (there are more, but they were produced anonymously, which is another story, so they can choose their own blissful retirement). Almost all of the sites rely partially on Flash, some completely. Flash is basically obsolete. While not technically so, especially where compiled code (as opposed to visible html5 code) is desired, and for games, for projects I’m referring to it is done and dusted. Those sites just aren’t viewable on the iPhone, iPad and who knows where else. So I have to make a decision. Do I retire these sites completely – press delete – and leave documentation (screenshots/text) behind, or is there a way to re-align them with today’s contemporary web standards?
3 Case Studies:
Excerpts from An Archive, 2001) is partly related to how one searched the web in 2001. Excerpts considers the nature of digital archives, history and fiction. Hand-coded with HTML using tables! At that time I used to get emails from folks asking me for information about their relatives – it was quite touching. The site only uses a wee bit of Flash, so it still hangs together. But it’s not mobile-responsive, it’s looks quite small – in those days you had to be quite conservative with images, dial-up internet might have even still be around, can’t remember.
Translations/Traductions – produced as a result of a residency at La Chambre Blanche in Quebec City, a series of Flash vignettes created from open source archival movies and texts. Texts translated in google, imagery ‘translated’ (vectorized) in Flash. Blend of interactive and non-interactive animations. 2007 launch date. This one is all Flash – hence invisible on many (read Apple) mobile platforms (including the iPad).
Bird (2004) – A petit homage to Dizzy Gillespie + Charlie Bird Parker. This one is all Flash too. Looking back, I have a fondness for the effort that it took to create. The excerpt from the song repeats and the archival video that has been modified shifts each time. Does nostalgia merit a redesign?
Excerpts from An Archive – This site gets a lot of traction. It has been featured in two books, one grad thesis, and various festivals. It merits a re-design/re-alignment to bring it up to speed. However, some of the little nifty (in 2001 terms) features that were part of it will just have to be lost. This also means a loss (which is already there) of some of the internal logic. C’est la vie.
Translations/Traductions: There are five animations which each are their own story. I still like them.
The non-interactive ones I will look at converting to video. The interactive ones, like the one I featured will, alas, have to stay as is. I don’t see how html5 can handle it all. Of course, I’m open to suggestion. Put up stills for those who can’t see Flash.
Bird: Given this one is all Flash, but non-interactive, it could easily be reborn as a video. The only loss would be the full scalability that the vector format allows. There would a gain too – in that viewers could pause to actually read the text that scrolls by, I didn’t fully recognize the speed then.
The three other still live sites I haven’t mentioned are probably going to shift towards documentation only, as their internal logic involved a process of getting input from the public and that process is done.
My rationale for choosing to resuscitate, to whatever degree, these sites has a lot to do with perceived value. Do I still think these works have any value to me as an artist? With the Archives, given that it is still out there, and receives active traffic, it’s not really a question of should, but of when and how.
For TT and Bird, it’s more of a personal reason – ie: I like them, they stay.
For the rest, if I had more time/energy/_______, I might revamp them. But probably it’s best to document, archive and let them gracefully fade away.
If you have old (or ancient) sites that you are wondering if they should be re-purposed for the “mobile web”, here are three questions to ask to help you decide:
- Does the site still receive any traffic?
- Does it still speak to the heart of your practice/business?
- What technologies does it use and how challenging would it be to migrate them?
If the answer to 1 is zero, it’s probably easiest to delete. It’s done, then it’s no longer clutter. Documentation is always a good idea (copy as text, or take screen shots).
If it’s yes, that’s a good hint to bring it up to speed.
If the answer to 2 is no, then I vote for document and delete. Again, why have stuff out there that is attracting people who are interested in content that is obsolete to you.
If it’s yes, that’s probably the most important reason to import it to a new format.
For number 3, technologies: Depending on the type of content, you’re either in for a fairly easy, smooth transition or in for a rocky ride if the content is video in some archaic format and you no longer have the original files (or the original files are no longer readable!) or if it uses Flash animations etc, then the amount of time it will take to re-format creeps up and up. Then you have to ask yourself if you really have the time / money / interest in this thing they call the mobile web.
p.s. Always document.