Killing WebMonkey: A Case for the Commons

Word snuck out this past weekend that WebMonkey has been earmarked for closure (again), apparently consigning it to the Big Dustbin of Internet History. If actual events bear out the leaks (and speculation therein) they won’t just be pulling the plug on updates—they’ll be yanking the entire site offline, including its extensive collection of past articles.

Now, honestly, web designers can survive just fine without those articles. But WebMonkey has been around since dinosaurs roamed the Earth and 3.0 browsers first blew your mind. While it’s lagged for some time, it was an important presence in the then-nascent field of web design. A place where scores of designers first figured out how Tab A fit into Slot B. The content stored in its archive forms an historical record about how much of the early Web was made. It’d be a shame if that was blotted out.

Unless the parent company wants to relaunch WebMonkey in earnest or otherwise reuse the content in some way this seems like a textbook case of abandonware. (Yes, I know that term is usually reserved for applications, but this isn’t an “orphaned work” either—the copyright holder is pretty darn easy to find in fact.) If that’s the case, I’d advocate that this content be placed in the public domain.

To be sure, simply pushing something out into the public domain doesn’t solve everything. Somehow that content has to be maintained. Whether it’s bandwidth charges or hard drive space on your Great Aunt Tilly’s iMac, there are associated costs. But at least this way you’ve ensured that the information can still exist in an accessible form somewhere.

There has to be a better way than just blanking out useful knowledge.