The Internet ate my homework. (Or: How to save your published web work)
by Lesley Evans Ogden
When you were a kid in grade school you probably became familiar with the worst excuse ever for losing your homework: the dog ate it. These days, it’s probably not the dog you need to look out for. At some point you’ll likely fall prey to gobbling up of another sort – the swallowing of Internet content, leaving you with a link that takes you to an empty page or error message.
So, here’s a seemingly obvious but useful piece of advice for all freelancers, particularly for those just starting out: Save your work!
A number of times recently, as I’ve been applying for fellowships, awards or professional development opportunities, I’ve set about searching for clips of my work published online, only to find that some of those webpages have disappeared. That’s not so much of an issue now that I have a large number of published pieces to draw from. However if you’re just starting out as a freelance writer, a piece of advice: don’t rely on that web content you wrote being available forever on the original web link.
What can you do to ensure that you have a copy of everything you write or produce? There is no one size fits all strategy, and a number of different options to consider.
For text published on the web, here are a few easy ways to save a copy of your post that preserves any graphics and formatting:
- save it as a PDF file (one easy way to do this is via your print command)
- take a screen capture
- email it to yourself via the online share tools
- save it as a web archive (see “save as” options on your web browser)
- use the web clipping function of Evernote or another archiving app
These are a few options for saving copies of your web work so that you don’t fall prey to hungry web-content-eating monsters.
But what if the web content you seek is already gone? I was excited to learn, while researching this post, that it’s possible that all is not lost. Your “lost” work may have been automatically archived. The Wayback Machine’s Internet Archive boasts an archived 452 billion web pages (at the time of writing). Check it out at:
Of course, I’m not the first to write about the problem of lost web pages and how to avoid this situation. Here are a few other posts to peruse:
- Why You Need an Ultimate Archive of Your Work
- The Best Tools for Saving Web Pages, Forever
- 4 Ways Freelancers Can Protect Their Work From Disappearing
According to this very interesting article about internet archiving in the New Yorker, “the average life of a Web page is about a hundred days.”
I also asked freelancers to share their wisdom and experience on the issue of lost and found web work. Here is a selection of stories from the trenches, as obtained via a Facebook request:
Thomas Hayden Just today I found a ten year old Q and A a reader asked about on the Internet Archive. It ran in US News & World Report, which killed its web archives a while back. (Newsweek did the same thing, which means the bulk of my work is no longer easily available online.) hoping the Wayback Machine might have grabbed it isn’t much of a strategy, but it worked great in this case.
Steven C Threndyle I just screenshot a lot of it…
Randi Winter When it is on a campaign for Microsoft… depending on original rules of contract, you can be out of luck… some I can see text only. Others were separated out into small pages and not allowed to reproduce, copy or save.
Do you have horror stories of lost work, or heroic stories of lost web treasure recoveries? We’re all ears. Speaking of which, audio and video producers, is this a challenge you face too? What do you do to archive your work? We’re curious to know. Thanks for sharing your ideas and experiences!
Lesley Evans Ogden is a nerdy bird scientist turned freelance writer-producer. From the burbs of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, she enjoys being an occasional contributor to Story Board. Her main gigs are with New Scientist, Earth Touch, Natural History, BioScience and BBC Earth, though she writes for many other places too. Say hello on Twitter @ljevanso.