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Understanding Depublishing

An interesting post from Stuart RobinsonRobertson's blog Designmeme on "Depublishing" on the web. (click above to read the whole entry)

Once you publish something online, it soon moves beyond your website to be stored on other people's computers and on various servers around the world. During the depublishing debate with Dave Winer, Mark Pilgrim wrote a script called "Winer Watch" that would monitor Dave's website and make note of changes to blog entries where posts were edited or removed.

Re: Understanding Depublishing

Psst. It's Robertson..

Re: Understanding Depublishing

Joey Manley's picture

I've depublished many, many times in the past -- and I'll do it again!

If I've said something that I regret saying, or that I no longer believe, leaving it up (continuing to power its transmission, anyway) means that I'm still saying it, even if I don't believe it.

I see no problem with removing such things from one's active publishing efforts. If I don't want to say it, I shouldn't be forced to keep saying it, especially since the kinds of things that get depublished, which are usually flaming flashpoints for bitterness from all 'round, are rarely conducive to good, productive conversations.

Besides, that's what Google cache and the Internet Archive are for!

Joey
www.moderntales.com

Re: Understanding Depublishing

The point is, you did say it. Taking it off your website won't change that. A better approach would be not saying bitter, regretful things in the first place. I think the idea that you can say something, and then somehow unsay it is part of the reason people show worse manners online than they would in person.

I think there are different types of publishing, and for some depublishing makes sense. A Wiki entry, an "about our company" or "terms of services" page deserve constant revisions as necessary. Others types of publishing, like blogs and message boards are part of a conversation that goes beyond the individual entry. Would you update your documentary film if you got new material or changed your POV? Sure. Would you re-edit the transcript from a radio call-in show to change what you said, and thus change what the other members of the debate are responding to? No.

Blog and message board entries have dates attached to them. People understand that you may no longer be saying something if it's dated at some point in the past.

Re: Understanding Depublishing

Joey Manley's picture

[quote]A better approach would be not saying bitter, regretful things in the first place. [/quote]

Can't argue with that.

Here's a hypothetical for you that isn't hypothetical. Say you're moving your blog from one server to another, and, in the meantime, upgrading your blogging software. You could spend several hours tweaking and massaging the blog archive so that it fits within the new blog software, or you could just reboot your blog and start posting fresh, as if this were Day One. Is the second choice an unethical choice? (I will grant that it isn't a very reader-friendly choice, and that doing that kind of thing will tend to deflate the overall value of one's blog -- but is it unethical?) By publishing something once, am I obliged to carry it with me forever, a constantly-growing steamer trunk strapped to my back? That's precisely the situation I face right now with joeymanley.com, whose archive doesn't contain anything I'm ashamed of having said, but which I am thinking of scrapping and rebooting, just for the sake of my own convenience and a dreadful lack of time.

I understand that you're talking about a different kind of depublishing: the kind motivated by a desire to avoid having said something controversial. But it boils down to this: am I obliged to always and forever keep everything I've ever said in a blog "in print," or not? If not, then does it matter what my motivation was for removing it? What about situations like Wil Wheaton's, where he "depublishes" certain posts because they are now available in book form?

I just don't believe that maintaining a blog creates the kind of future obligation that an ethics-based disapproval of "depublishing" seems to assume.

But I could be wrong!

Joey
www.moderntales.com

Re: Understanding Depublishing

"Say you're moving your blog from one server to another, and, in the meantime, upgrading your blogging software. You could spend several hours tweaking and massaging the blog archive so that it fits within the new blog software, or you could just reboot your blog and start posting fresh, as if this were Day One. Is the second choice an unethical choice?"

I think you're not depublishing in this case -- at least not in the way we're discussing it. Depublishing isn't the same as stopping or ending publishing. What you're talking about is shutting down a website and starting something new in its place at the same URL. Ideally you would keep your old content online, particularly if you know other people link to and cite your entries... but people have to shut down websites all the time for a variety of reasons including lack of time, money, and motivation.

Removing the transcript of a radio call in show from your website is okay. Selectively removing or changing parts of that transcript to change your part in the discussion... not so much.

I think archiving or removing old, outdated content is different from trying to change what you said in the middle of a debate or discussion. It also has a lot to do with how many people read (and comment on) your material. If you've got no audience, it doesn't matter as much as it would if you have tens of thousands of people reading your blog every day.