WCLAX ’15: Sustainable WordPress

Sustainable WordPress

What are the chances that your grandchildren will be able to read your blog?

Any unmaintained website is going down. Period.

Daniel Walmsley, WCLAX’15, Saturday 26 Sept

No one wants to die and discover that all you have to pass on to the next generation is your Facebook page.

Stephanie Savage, writer-producer, 2010
Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh, June 1889, Oil on canvas, 73.7 cm Γ— 92.1 cm, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Ars longa, vita brevis

Art is long, life is short.

Hello. I’m an artist. I’ve worked with Portraits, Video, Robots, and Avatars. Sometimes in art it seems like all we ever do is talk about the archival properties of the materials we work with. So it’s strange to be a part of a new media community where archival properties are so often overlooked. Indeed it is almost the mark of success in Silicon Valley to have your startup bought and send the infamous email to all your users that you’ve cashed in, are retiring to a tropical island, and will be deleting all their content in 36 hours.

When you go to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and look at a painting like Starry Night, you aren’t just looking at an inspired depiction by a sensitive artist, you’re also looking at a precise historical document, a rendering of the positions of the stars in the night sky in June, 1889 from a vantage point in Southern France.

When you go to the Louvre in Paris and look at a painting like the Mona Lisa you’re looking at a small painting on a piece of rotting wood that we care so deeply about the preservation of that we delicately try to preserve that bit of wood, and house it lovingly behind 1.52-inch-thick bullet-proof glass, and at a permanent temperature of 43 degrees Fahrenheit and 50 percent humidity.

The crowd at the Mona Lisa at The Louvre in Paris stands behind a huge wooden rail.
Image from Citizen Kane showing the “Rosebud” sled

Is your blog worth preserving? Without history aren’t we all just unidentified “Rosebud” sleds burning in the furnace of the future?

Some of My Dad’s Photos of Mom

Kodachrome Slides circa 1965.

Dad’s Last Request

  • Joseph Zucman, June 25, 1929 – July 3, 2008
  • The Eastman Kodak Company
  • Dad’s Kodachromes
Glenn & Mom, by Dad, Kaiser Hospital on Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, on the day of my birth.

Wither WordPress?

Could our WordPress future be the opposite of Dad’s Kodak experience?

  • πŸ‘ Robust Open Source project
  • πŸ‘ Vast developer community
  • πŸ‘ Solid, stable, secure platform
  • πŸ‘Ž Millions of individual sites that may or may not be updated
  • πŸ‘Ž Individual sites filled with Themes & Plugins that may develop vulnerabilities sooner or later

The Eastman Kodak Company no longer exists. But Dad’s Kodachromes are still rich and vivid and vibrant. Could it be the case that WordPress the platform is solid for years to come, but that our individual blogs and websites go down within a year of the end of vigilant maintenance?

Socrates, Charlie Hebdo & Me

If you turn out to be the next Socrates, go you! You don’t have to worry about maintaining your website at all! You win the culture lottery! The world cares about your powerful ideas and lots of people will post and maintain your work.

But life and human culture isn’t only about the rare and unusual. It’s not only about assassinations, about Julius Caesar and John F. Kennedy and Charlie Hebdo. It’s also about I went somewhere, I met someone. Sometimes maybe I never see that person again, but it was still one ebullient day. Other times that person might turn out to be your great-grandmother.

Lunch with Marie Dodson, Editor of Torque Magazine, on Day 1 of WordCampLA ’15

Blogging with Dementia

I had lunch with Marie Dodson, Editor of Torque Magazine and she told me about Kate Swaffer who uses WordPress blogging as her “memory bank” in her battle with Younger Onset Dementia. Swaffer and others are gaining value from her writing now, but this is a resource that our culture ought to have even years after her passing.

Torque magazine article on Kate Swaffer who suffers from “Younger Onset Dementia” and uses WordPress as a personal memory bank and also to share her experience with others.

About that theme I bought…

A few Christmases back I bought a “cool” theme from Envato Market / Themeforest…

An example of what happens when your WordPress Theme develops a vulnerability

Dear Web Hosts:
Maybe your take-down pages could be worded slightly differently? So when my mom’s friends from church try to look at the family Easter pictures on her website they see something like, Technical Difficulties – we hope to have this website back up soon! Instead of This account has been suspended leaving my mom’s friends to wonder if she’s secretly a terrorist.


You can’t just tell us all our sites are going down and then end your talk leaving us hanging!
You have to give us the answer!
— Marie Dodson, WCLAX’15, Saturday 26 Sept

Free Advice

A little advice from WCLAX ’15 Sponsors, Web Hosts, and Attendees:

  • Try managed hosting instead of a VPS
  • HTML & the URL are core now. They won’t go away.
  • WordPress or any dynamic content won’t survive. Use static HTML on Amazon EC2
  • Use Plugins that are updated frequently
  • Use large web hosts that will probably stick around
  • Do everything on WP Codex > Hardening WordPress
  • A complicated password will not help you, but 2-factor authentication is essential
  • MySQL is rock solid. Even if a site does go down, in the future someone could take that database, put a theme on it, and it might not look exactly as it did, but it would be live again.
  • Maybe WordPress.com is cooler than you think

What do WordPress Developers use?

A very small, very non-scientific survey of what platform WordPress Developers choose for their personal blogs and websites:

Helen Hou-SandΓ­ uses self-hosted WordPress, aka “WordPress.org”
Konstantin Obenland uses WordPress.com
Andrew Nacin uses self-hosted WordPress.
Ryan Cowles uses both!

Digital Afterlife

This is a new question! One that will come up more in the coming years. We make lots of provisions for a physical estates, and increasingly our “virtual estates” are rivaling and surpassing physical materials in significance and importance.

How are other platforms starting to think about this space?



When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting

Setting up Google Inactive Account Manager

Google Inactive Account Manager

Yahoo Ending

Facebook memorialization request

Facebook Account Memorialization

Facebook Lookback Videos

California AB-691

California AB-691

Managing Your Digital Afterlife

Questions & Solutions

Periscope screen cap of a Giant Jenga game

SiteGround had a GIANT Jenga game where the blocks were printed with the elements of a stable website – remove too many… crash!

We’ve got to stop people from saying “WordPress is a blogging platform. WordPress is a CMS now.”
— overheard

If you’re using WordPress as a CMS, it may well be in a business context. In that case there’s a budget to maintain your site. If the business ever comes to an end, then the site can probably be taken down and no one will be unhappy. Problem solved! Or no problem at all. You can go home now!

If you still think WordPress is a blogging platform, a place to express the ideas and moments of your life, large and small, then it’s a little more complicated.


  • USE: What am I using WordPress for?
  • HOPE: If for any reason I stop maintaining my site — It can go down and I’m fine with that.
  • HOPE: If for any reason I stop maintaining my site — I still want it to stay up.
  • COMPROMISE: Maybe a platform like WordPress.com is a middle way between the proprietary constraints of a Facebook, and the freedom & risk of a self-hosted WordPress installation.
  • CHOICES: If you aren’t going to be around to maintain your site(s) – set up a trust fund to do it for you.
  • CHOICES: If you aren’t going to be around to maintain your site(s) – let someone like Automattic do it for you.
  • CHOICES: If you aren’t going to be around to maintain your site(s) – trust that The Internet Archive or The NSA will archive for you.
  • PLUGINS: Even a well-maintained plugin today might be poorly maintained in the future
  • PLUGINS: A WP Plugin repository search for “Google Maps” yields 553 results. Maybe the Google Maps embed code would be safer.

Your Turn

  • What are your tips for a site that might live long enough for your grandkids to read it?
Sheila & Glenn Zucman by Joe Zucman

Thank You!

I’m sure by now you’ve realized that the actual purpose of this talk was to trick a room full of strangers into watching a few of my dad’s slides. Thank you for helping me fulfill my father’s last wish.

Hotel staff in Shenzhen, China giving the three-finger “International Sustainability Symbol.” Photo: Philip McMaster, Creative Commons, Flickr

Word Long & Prosper!

It’s so Star Trekian that the International Sustainability Symbol is also a “W”! Let’s make WordPress blogs and websites that live long and prosper!

Evaluate this talk!