13

This is the second time I've been hit by an Area 51 site I got really involved in (Productivity.SE), being closed due to "not enough activity" (the first was Startups).

Productivity.SE was active for eight years. I joined after 3 or 4. It had plenty of activity when I was involved. I didn't pay much heed to the "Beta" badge. Had I known all my content could be deleted, I wouldn't have bothered, and would've posted it on my blog.

Today I wanted to point someone to an insightful Q&A I had bookmarked on the site. Gone. I downloaded the dump, found the question (in an XML attribute (not element)🤮), but,

  • I can't map it to URLs, so there's no way to even check if archive.org has a copy.
  • I can't easily figure out where the answers are in the archive and how they're linked to it.
  • Googling for exact strings doesn't find anything - the caches have been purged.

Let's not get into technical details on how to do this. The vast majority of users will have given up way before this point. I'm not going to send my friend some XML dump. I'm not going to try to resurrect the site somewhere (I don't have the time or the brand to not look like yet another SE copycat). I have nothing to show on my resume for my effort.

Is it really that expensive for SE to host a frozen, static, copy of these sites? Wouldn't ads make up for the hosting costs? It pains me to see so much valuable content (that I know of) being simply wiped out. And it pains Jeff Atwood too, and also Shog9. Hundreds (thousands?) of people contributed tens of thousands of person-hours to these sites, and we just delete them? Am I and this user the only ones who find this blatantly disrespectful to the creators of the content the network is built on?

3
  • 2
    Having closed sites stick around as archives has been requested in the past, and de-facto declined. – Sonic the Curiouser Hedgehog Jan 17 at 7:27
  • 1
    Re "I'm not going to try to resurrect the site somewhere": But you can't be the first to have this problem. Haven't somebody else made it easier to create static HTML files from the dump (e.g. by some script)? Hosting static HTML files yourself should not be that difficult. – P.Mort. - forgot Clay Shirky_q Jan 17 at 7:31
  • 2
    @P.Mort - that's not the point. Someone could stand some resurrected mirror somewhere, but they won't have the StackExchange brand. There are all sorts of despicable SE copycat ad farms, and people (hopefully) don't trust them. – Dan Dascalescu Jan 17 at 11:20
7

No, it would not be particularly "expensive" for us to host a read-only version of a site. We already have the utilities in place to convert a site to read-only mode that is used whenever we are doing momentary system maintenance, to keep the sites accessible for at least viewing content while not accepting actual contributions.

The problem is, at least for failed sites, we don't want to. Robert's answer on why is still completely relevant today.

As someone who has worked on support tickets for almost six years now, I can confirm that users get irritated beyond belief to land on dead pages. They get frustrated when a search result appears to be leading them to an answer only to hit a page with no comments, answers, or any information whatsoever that resolves the problem that was advertised. People write to us to complain about that stuff all the time (less so nowadays due to our ramped-up Roomba efforts, but still).

Our releasing all the data for those who want it is our way of preserving those sites. It makes everything available while also not directing a bunch of users to a dead site with outdated information that will never change. Hosting stale information indefinitely would be detrimental to our brand, and there is nothing noble about forever hosting a copy of a site that failed. Removing it from public view and from search engine results is a service to the Internet.

Admittedly that data is not human-readable. It isn't really meant for the average user to just open it up and read everything as if it was a webpage still. It is designed to be manipulated via programming or imported back into a database. But that is all we will ever be doing to make data for failed sites available. Anything else would have to be a community effort without the Stack Exchange branding behind it.


As an aside, I was the CM directly involved in closing down the Personal Productivity site. At the time that process was ongoing, we opted to post a plea on its meta trying to find people who would be interested in moderating the site. It was met with silence. I'm not sure it even got more than a dozen views. Further analysis showed that almost all the questions being asked were just sitting there, unanswered, no votes, nothing happening. The site was completely dead bar one moderator that admitted there was nothing that could revive the site and a couple power users.

That is exactly the kind of content we would never want to preserve indefinitely, exactly the kind of stuff that constantly degraded our reputation and annoyed users flowing into the network in the past.

We are already extremely lenient on sites staying alive these days. Literally the only thing we require is a few people interested in moderating it. If a site cannot even achieve that, then that does not speak much for the content that exists on it or its future of being properly curated.

8
  • This makes perfect sense for sites that get closed today: a site that has no one helping out with moderation and becomes full of broken windows isn't worth preserving at all, as you mention. However, several years ago (before around July 2015), it used to be that sites that weren't making any progress to "graduate" (i.e. become a large, traffic-heavy site) would still be closed down even though there were enough people moderating it and keeping out broken windows. This answer doesn't really refer to those sites. – Sonic the Curiouser Hedgehog Jan 18 at 0:47
  • @Sonic How so? A closed site is still a closed site and everything would styill apply to it. Hosting a site indefinitely in read-only mode is still a bad idea whether users were moderating it before it was closed or not. – animuson Jan 18 at 0:52
  • > "Plea... was met with silence" - I had absolutely no idea this plea was going on. Maybe the way users are notified can be improved? I've searched my GMail inbox for "personal productivity" stackexchange and there were no results after 2011. I'm 99% confident I never received an email about PP being deleted. – Dan Dascalescu Jan 18 at 12:28
  • "a search result appears to be leading them to an answer only to hit a page with no comments, answers, or any information whatsoever that resolves the problem that was advertised" - I don't understand how this is different from unanswered questions on live sites. – Dan Dascalescu Jan 18 at 12:29
  • "dead site with outdated information that will never change" - the vast majority of Reddit threads are exactly like that, dead and will never change, because they're older than 6 months. What if we add the same type of banner Reddit has, "This thread is archived"? Users are used to that. Live SE sites also have locked questions that will never change. All the problems raised in this answer seem to have existing solutions? – Dan Dascalescu Jan 18 at 12:31
  • 4
    "Removing it from public view and from search engine results is a service to the Internet." By that logic, archive.org should not exist. Books shouldn't either - they're dead and there's no discussion on them. I think removing failed betas is a major disservice to all the users who poured countless hours in creating the content, to all the users those creators are trying to point to their work, and to anyone who would enjoy finding an answer. Not all information needs to be brand new or kept up to date; in fact, the majority isn't, and that's better than no information at all. – Dan Dascalescu Jan 18 at 12:36
  • 1
    I've just read Robert's answer after addressing the issues above. That answer was almost completely debunked by Dmitri's. Almost, because he didn't mention Reddit establishing a huge precedent and user behavior. – Dan Dascalescu Jan 18 at 12:39
  • "If a site cannot even achieve that, then that does not speak much for the content that exists on it" - that just doesn't follow. A site can have great content, then experience a period of disinterest, for whatever reason. Maybe the 80/20 of questions have been answered. Maybe the topic isn't as fast-paced as software development to always elicit new questions. Maybe the #1 moderator moved on. Who knows. "its future of being properly curated" - OK, disable curation by archiving the site. Deleting it is like killing a patient who could still enjoy life, albeit more slowly, in a wheelchair. – Dan Dascalescu Jan 18 at 12:59

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .