410 Gone - Thoughts on Mark "diveintomark" Pilgrim's and _why's infosuicides
I don't know Mark Pilgrim personally. I only know his work and it's excellent. I knew of him first from his Dive Into Accessibility almost a decade ago and later from his other "Dive Into" books that educated a young generation on Python, and most recently HTML 5.
Mark is alive, but online he's gone. He committed "infosuicide" last week. All of his websites are Gone. That's capital G, Gone. Not 404, Not Found, but the not-often-used HTTP Status 410. And this is where it gets concerning to me.
HTTP Status 410 states per the spec with emphasis mine:
Indicates that the resource requested is no longer available and will not be available again. This should be used when a resource has been intentionally removed and the resource should be purged. Upon receiving a 410 status code, the client should not request the resource again in the future. Clients such as search engines should remove the resource from their indices. Most use cases do not require clients and search engines to purge the resource, and a "404 Not Found" may be used instead.
As it says, most use cases don't call for removal from a search engine, but in this case, Mark literally and figuratively "took his ball and went home," no longer interested in playing.
The first major "infosuicide" of note was that of whytheluckystiff, author of Why's Poignant Guide to Ruby. No one knows why _why left, but a tweet just before he left said:
programming is rather thankless. u see your works become replaced by superior ones in a year. unable to run at all in a few more.
Perhaps one can glean some meaning from that. In a similar vein, in 2008 Mark blogged on minimalism and then before Twitter existed Mark Pilgrim blogged (almost 7 years ago this month) a microblogpost, preserved via the Wayback Machine:
It’s time for me to find a new hobby. Preferably one that doesn’t involve angle brackets. Or computers. Or electricity.
Why do I care? I'm exploring this as someone who has been blogging publically and effectively nonstop since 2002. That's almost a decade, Dear Reader. For me to leave, either willingly or unwillingly, after putting so much useful (presumably, says my ego) information out there would be one thing. But to leave AND remove all that information, declaring it Gone and asking that it no longer be indexed seems, on the surface, to be a selfish act.
I realize it costs money to keep a website up but it's typically not a crushing expense. If one wanted to retreat from online life (as I sometimes do) one could add a banner to their existing sites that says something like "I'm taking a break and teaching high school" or "I've become a non-technical ER nurse" or "I've opened a hair salon" (each has been a one-time fantasy job for me) and setup an email auto-responder. This extraction from being online wouldn't take more than a week of prep and would be perceived as a much classier - although not as dramatic - move than a disappearance hinging on an HTTP status code.
Even so, Erik Meyer quotes Mark in a 2003 post:
"Embracing HTTP error code 410 means embracing the impermanence of all things."
- Mark Pilgrim, March 27, 2003 (diveintomark.com)
That's an accurate albeit mighty metaphysical reading into the HTTP spec. Do bloggers/teachers/infopublishers have the right to leave the community? Of course. Do we have the right to control, and ultimately remove our content? Surely. But to put so much information out and to remove it seems unnecessary. Is it to much to ask to maintain ones own archive, if only for a little while?
I've always said two things. First, respect the permalink. Second, don't give bile a permalink. While a 410 isn't bile, it's not the most respectful way to disappear.
Reading into Mark's blog, it's obvious that being on the web didn't feed his spirit. It does leave one to wonder, when you pass on, will you be mirrored or just 410 Gone?
The requested resource /
is no longer available on this server and there is no forwarding address. Please remove all references to this resource.
I truly wish Mark all the best in his disconnected life, as I do anyone else who wants to disconnect. If they come back, we'll be here.
Mirrors of Mark "diveintomark" Pilgrim's Work
- Dive Into Accessibility
- Dive Into Python
- His GitHub projects have been mirrored: https://github.com/diveintomark
- Dive Into Python 3
- Dive Into HTML5