Publishing platform WordPress.com raised eyebrows earlier this year when it debuted a new century-long domain registration plan available for a one-time payment of $38,000. It’s a way to secure your online legacy, wrote the hosting platform in an August blog post that additionally referred to the plan as “an investment in tomorrow.” Thus far, no one has purchased one of the pricey 100-year plans, but that may not matter.
“Part of the idea is to get more people thinking long-term,” Matt Mullenweg, CEO and founder of the publishing platform’s parent company Automattic, told Observer. “We started the conversation.”
The plan is being marketed to families interested in preserving their digital legacies for future generations, founders hoping to document the evolution of their companies and individuals looking for an online home that will adapt to future technological changes. There are three stages of life in which people can benefit from the 100-Year Plan, according to Mullenweg. “You might want to do it at the beginning of life, as a gift to someone,” he said, by way of an easy-to-grasp example. Recording one’s digital presence could also be useful for middle-aged people looking to archive their life’s work, while those nearing the ends of their lives might want to distill and preserve their online footprint for their progeny.
Preserving a digital record for future civilizations
This isn’t the first tech initiative focused on digital longevity. In 2019, Github, the code repository owned by Microsoft (MSFT), began storing snapshots of its active public repositories in an Artic cave in a project that aims to preserve open-source software on archival film reels for generations. The nonprofit Permanent Legacy Foundation applies curatorial models to create digital archives for individuals. And the Internet Archive has been preserving time-based snapshots of websites since the 1990s.
Mullenweg is a fan of the Long Now Foundation, a nonprofit that fosters long-term thinking through projects like a clock designed to keep accurate time for the next 10,000 years and the creation of a permanent archive of languages at risk of going extinct. “When we start thinking more fundamentally bigger than ourselves, that’s when things start to get good,” said Mullenweg.
The importance of preserving the content found on WordPress,com sites shouldn’t be understated, according to Michael Nelson, a computer science professor at Old Dominion University. “Any one blog might not be important, but an aggregate is important,” he told Observer. “It captures what we are, what we’re thinking—it captures the zeitgeist,” added Nelson, whose work with digital archiving includes creating NASA’s first web-based digital library.
The plan’s price tag is indeed steep, admitted Mullenweg on a panel. “But in some ways, I wonder if it’s too low,” added the CEO, noting factors like inflation and the cost of technological change. “What does it look like to provide this service, including with support, 50 years, 80 years from now? Will we have to use VR support, metaverse support?”
The low likelihood of WordPress.com surviving for a century challenges the project’s feasibility. “Will WordPress be here in 100 years? Probably not, so this is likely a promise they can’t honor,” said Nelson. But the 100-Year Plan does raise several questions about what happens to websites after their users lose interest or pass away. “These are exciting and important things to consider,” he said. “And this is the best method of raising awareness that I currently know of.”
This is especially important today, as new technological advances prompt rapid and near-constant change, according to Nelson. “We’re infatuated with the latest and greatest,” he said. “But holding onto all the stuff that we have produced—there’s tremendous value in that.”