Websites are like tatoos

2005 September 5
by Scott

While browsing the other night, I ran across a post by Dan Wood (creator of the fabulous - and currently in limbo - Watson), titled Starting a website is like buying a turtle, in which he discusses the phenomenon created by the Google cache and the Wayback Machine.

To me though, it's more like getting a tattoo when you're young. I sure hope you'll still like what it looks like (and says about you) many, many years from now. Soon after a site is created, it's pretty much a permanent fixture of the web, and there's not much you can do about it, which means be careful what you say, and be ready to stand by it from that point onward.

While it's intriguing that I can see almost every iteration of the first website I ever maintained, it's also quite scary. I look at that archive now and think how temporary I considered all of those pages to be at the time. I keep thinking "did I ever post something on that site I wouldn't like seen now"? Probably not, but oh how easy it would have been at that point in my life. However, just like a tattoo, I'm not sure I would want the same things in public view today that I would have then.

At different points I have developed sites meant only for the eyes of a select group of friends or family. I've had to work hard and be very careful to keep them out of the search engines. Even with all the time researching and implementing robots.txt and such, one late night goof while meaning to submit a different site to google still has the home page to one of those sites in it's database - even with "no-index" and robot exclusions in place. But what if I hadn't been so web-savvy even then, not to mention overly protective of the personal info of me and my friends? All it would have taken was for another friend to have put a link on their site and all of my precautions would have be for nothing (good thing all my friends didn't have their own blog back then).

Recently at work I made one of those goofs. As I was getting ready to leave work one day, my boss IM'ed me to say that the login for a seldom-used portion of our site wasn't working. It seems a change by our hosting company broke the method I had used for password protection. I thought it would be safe enough to remove the password protection for the night and figure out how to fix it in the morning. Well, an extremely busy morning the next day caused me to forget all about it. I discovered my oversight a few weeks later when testing out the search engine placement for a new site we developed for a client. The second and third results for the client's business name were for the comps we showed the clients during development! Several redirects later pointed all traces of those comps to the client's homepage instead. I had to do this for two other clients and their comps as well, but in one of those cases a comp page had been cached by Google already. Not a big deal in this case, but wow could it have been.

I think of all the blogs I've read where people at one point discussed all sorts of opinions and personal topics, only to later decide they didn't like being so open after do they feel about all that info still being out there?

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