Our new website and the ghosts of old ones
Everywhere in the world we have a crisis of old technology waste: computers, games consoles, appliances… all piling up, slowly choking life out of the planet. Replaced unnecessarily by new things that will soon join the pile as well.
Sadly, those discard-spots are not as fun as the great song on the subject, Broken Household Appliance National Forest by Granddaddy, where the technology becomes a home for frogs, owls, deer and other wildlife. It’s mostly left to rot the world with it, taking up space and resource. Sometimes it’s not even broken.
But that’s hardware, what about software? This is the third Octophin Digital website. We’ve been around for four years. The first website was built in our own content management system, something I spent two years building hoping for it to overtake WordPress, Drupal and more. It didn’t. Those two years sit abandoned on a forgotten open source repository. The second was built in Jekyll and lots of custom code. I blogged about how exciting some of the things we did to it were. But we never updated it.
This site is built using something you might have heard of: WordPress. It’s very easy to update and works pretty well. It’s an old technology, but one built with lots of community hours, lots of love, lots of real-world experience, usability.
But thinking of the two old websites we’ve built made me think of the few projects we’ve worked on at Octophin that have suddenly lost their funding, or otherwise been abandoned. I’ve previously expressed shock at things like the BBC’s £100m archive system that was scrapped before it launched, but having built similar abandoned things makes you realise that it’s not just a waste of money, it’s often a waste of good work and ideas. Maybe we should spend more time not just learning from the mistakes of those projects when we hastily reinvent them, but looking at what they got right?
One of my favourite talks was at the 2013 New Adventures in Web Design conference where Steph Troeth discussed wabi-sabi, a Japanese concept of beauty in wear and tear and time-battering. Appreciating the old, the slightly torn, the used.
Aside from rare examples such as the often referenced 1996 Space Jam website (here’s a great interview / article on how it was built), we hardly ever let things last or grow on the web. We like scrapping them or reinventing when they get a bit old or don’t quite work. The archive.org afterlife is great, but shouldn’t we also let some of this stuff live?
Maybe there should be a competition for websites that last the longest time without much change. Old beautiful designs.
When moving the content from the old Octophin website I faced many cases where it seemed silly to move something to the new one. But that’s part of the problem, erasing the old when it seems irrelevant. But how can we learn from it if we sweep it under the carpet, throw it in the bin?
We recently got an email to ask for permission to use something we built four years ago in a classroom across the world. It was long abandoned. If we hadn’t kept it linked on our website no one would have found it. It’s using out of date technologies, sure. But it works.
I’d like this website to last longer than the previous ones. I’m going to try to keep blogging on it regularly. And I’m going to keep checking our 404s list to make sure there’s not something we’ve forgotten to move over to this new home.