Why Developers Should Archive Their Old Content
How to link rot impacts content over time
Earlier today I came across the below tweet on my timeline. A journalist reported having their work completely removed from the Reuters website and is unable to access their old articles. This happens a lot more often than we realize. It's happened to me, too!
When many writers create content for external publications (including company blogs), the only artifact they keep is the URL to the article, and maybe an old draft. Over time, we link back to that article and reference it whenever someone wants to see a writing sample. But one day, we or someone else will click the URL and get an error: the site no longer exists, or the link 404s because the article was removed from the still-existing site.
Why does this happen?
When we write for other publications (like InfoQ, DZone, freeCodeCamp) or our employer's company blog, we're actually giving them (the publisher) the right to distribute our content on their platform. If you're writing for a tech publication, you'll probably get a contract that outlines which rights you keep as the writer and which you're granting to the publication; read this carefully. You may not realize you're signing certain rights away, so it's important to review the contract and ask the publication questions if you're not sure what something means. If you're writing for your employer's company blog in your capacity as an employee, it's safe to assume that your employer owns all the rights to your content. This also means you can't republish your content elsewhere unless you ask the publisher for permission and get explicit approval from them, even if the "elsewhere" is your personal blog.
If a publisher goes out of business, gets sold, or if your article is unpublished due to a new branding or content strategy, they are usually under no obligation to tell you about it. This means that you won't find out that your article was removed until you or someone else tries to visit the URL. (When a URL no longer points to its originally intended source because a page was removed, it's called "link rot".)
What should I do to save my work?
Save a copy of the finished article in any format you wish (it can be a Markdown file, Google Doc, you name it), store it somewhere safe, and save a version in PDF.
Why PDF? Because the PDF version will display the original URL, the publisher logo, your byline (where it says "by Stephanie Morillo"), and the original publish date. It's useful if you want to keep a record of your writing on the internet. But it's especially helpful if you need to share a writing sample in the future. Also, save any press mentions of you and your work. If you were quoted in an article or a journalist wrote a profile about you, save a PDF of the article when it goes live and archive it.
For example: let's say you're pitching an article to The New Cool Tech Publication. The New Cool Tech Publication likes your pitch, and they want you to send in a writing sample that showcases your work. You remember writing a blog post for My Cool Company tech blog eight years ago. But you left the company six years ago, and they went under three years ago. The site is no longer available, and searching the Wayback Machine doesn't yield any results for your old blog post. You also didn't save a copy of the blog post, so now you have to find something else. If you'd saved a PDF of the blog post after it was published and archived it, you could've sent The New Cool Tech Publication the PDF, prefacing it by saying the company is no longer in existence but the article is reflective of your writing style.
In conclusion, saving and archiving your writing ensures you can access your old content at any time.
Want to learn more about pitching third-party publications or maximizing your content creation process? Purchase The Developer's Guide to Content Creation for more content-related tips, exercises, and templates.