Good Content Is Too Valuable To Die

When I started developing websites back in the day, I was lucky to have hundreds of valuable, practical articles that would help me become better at what I did. I could learn day and night, and whenever I discovered a new tool or technique, I would bookmark it on Delicious for future reference. I knew the value of each article and of each bookmark, and I kept revisiting and carefully tagging them for months and months — almost every day.

Years have passed. The landscape has changed. Blogs have emerged and new publications have appeared. Some magazines were discontinued yet remained fully available online (Pingmag1 and good ol’ Digital-Web, for example). At that point, maintaining a backup of online articles obviously didn’t even cross my mind. For a year or so, I even stopped bookmarking articles since I could always find them via Google, of course. I was naive and stupid.

As the time was progressing, every now and again I kept revisiting my bookmarks just to realize that all this fantastic, valuable content was slowly fading away from me, leaving nothing but a breath of disappointment and sadness every time I wanted to quickly look something up and had to consult the fantastic Web.archive.org2 first to drag the living parts of the article from the incomplete cached version.

Good Content Is Too Valuable To Die

Yesterday over 9,500 articles published throughout the years on .net magazine disappeared over night. Sadly, only the top 500 articles were moved to a new home3 while others just vanished from the Web within a couple of seconds. And so, another4 portion5 of my bookmarks died silently and abruptly.

Good Content Is Too Valuable To Die6
Over 9,500 .net mag articles disappeared over night; users are redirected to the “Welcome”-post on Creative Bloq7.

I loved how detailed and practical articles published on .net magazine used to be. I loved Dan Oliver’s and Oliver Lindberg’s fantastic editorial work on hundreds of articles I’ve bookmarked over the years — many of them now gone due to the simple fact that they didn’t get enough attention over the years. Those articles were good, very good in fact; valuable, helpful, worth reading and rereading, worth tweeting and sharing, worth keeping as PDFs in a special local folder.

The remainders of those articles still exist out there, in Google Cache or Web Archive cache. They are accessible and can be found if you know what you are looking for and know where to look for them. But what if you don’t? A couple of months from now, they will disappear from the Google index for good. The content that was thoroughly edited and skillfully prepared over years will not be there anymore. If I started developing websites today, I wouldn’t be able to find them anymore. That’s bad — very, very bad.

We know it because we’ve been there: Good content is time-consuming. It’s expensive, requires patience and damn hard work. Good content is very difficult to produce and hard to maintain, and it’s way too valuable to die like this. One thought keeps crossing my mind and that is: “This should not be happening.”

.net magazine has been working on fixing bugs in regard to their server move, and while they’ve been very responsive on Twitter, it looks like those articles aren’t going to be published again soon:

Unfortunately, Smashing Magazine has experienced this, too. We recently had to move thousands of articles to a new install and know how expensive and time consuming this challenge can be. I sincerely applaud .net magazine‘s developers for moving 500 articles to the new site, but why was removing the articles from the Web necessary in the first place? Why not provide an online backup with advertising and everything necessary to keep these articles online?

Today I can’t help but wonder what would have happened to me if I had started off in the Web design industry a couple of years later and those fantastic articles spread across CSS blogs and online magazines just didn’t exist any longer.

Today is the day when I start keeping PDF backups of valuable online articles because at the end of the day, the Web does forget. And way too often what it forgets is the quality content that is so difficult to create in the first place.

I hope from the very bottom of my heart that .net magazine articles will be brought back to life and will be available online; perhaps with pop-ups, numerous ads and blinking GIFs. That content is just too valuable to die. It should stay online.

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Vitaly Friedman loves beautiful content and doesn’t like to give in easily. Vitaly is writer, speaker, author and editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine. He runs responsive Web design workshops and loves solving complex problems in large companies. Get in touch.

  1. 1

    Lesson should be taken from how BBC News handle legacy articles. They continue to serve the article using the style and design of the time.

    For example:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/7171051.stm

    vs

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-24159801

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  2. 2

    Style them all up wasn’t an option? That doesn’t sound right at this point of web development.

    Like Vitaly, I too hope they find a way to put them back online in the near future, it would be a huge lost to the internet.

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  3. 3

    I have no association with them other than being a happy customer, but Pinboard.in is a bookmarking site modelled after Delicious and has a service where they’ll keep a copy of every page you bookmark.

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  4. 5

    I’ve saved articles of value for this reason for some time—always nice to quickly refer back to them, and you never know when online articles will disappear. Thanks for writing on this; more people should consider it.

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  5. 6

    This is why I’ll typically save an article in my Evernote account using their “Clearly” browser extension, which grabs all of the text in an article and saves it as a note. In case the website goes under or the article is lost, I will always have a backup copy saved for later reference.

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  6. 8

    I am with you. I’m sure even just 500 was a huge task, but that seems like such a small fraction out of the 10,000 as to be somewhat shameful. The fact that even relatively recent articles are gone too is an odd choice. Your site and .net Magazine are two of the sites that I aspire to in my own site, so a choice like this by them is sad.

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  7. 9

    Years ago I printed most of the good articles, so I could read them while commuting home. Paper doesn’t require a laptop or tablet (which simply didn’t exist back then). I never stopped printing interesting articles, now I print them as a pdf. It is good to have some bookmarks (I have about 10.000) but it is better to have most of the important infos directly at hand.

    Don’t rely on others, take care of yourself for your own knowlege. That means keep good articles, too. And sometimes: buy books, because they summarize good informations.

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    • 10

      1. How do you handle articles which have a terrible print css and are just horrible to save as PDF?
      2. And how do you organize your PDFs?

      That was always my biggest problem. Any good solutions?

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      • 11

        No, I don’t have a good solution. I sort all PDFs – mostly presentations – in folders. And if they have a horrible print-css – or none at all – it is not nice, but the content is saved anyway. That’s my primary concern.

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        • 12

          Do you know Paparazzi ? It’s a nice little utility for Mac OS that lets you save web sites as editable PDFs. Donation ware from derailer.org

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  8. 13

    Vitaly, thanks for the kind (and honest) words. We still have a back-up of the site, and will be adding to the content we moved over in this first phase of migration.

    Here are a few points to note:

    - We can’t simply place all the content in an archive, as it would not be maintained. Part of this move to a single site is so we can pool our resources, and produce more great, and relevant content.

    - As a result of this move, the content on Creative Bloq is going to change. Much as the content on Smashing Magazine has developed since it launched.

    - And, as I’m sure you’ll appreciate being a publisher yourself, rights considerations mean that we can’t simply offer up the site to a third party (parties) to maintain.

    If people have favourite articles they want to see reinstated, we’d love to put them back online. (Just email contact@creativebloq.com. Or, if you’ve dealt with a member of the team directly, email them.) We’re already receiving requests, and will be acting on them. And beyond that, we’re concentrating on delivering the great content the .net audience is accustomed to (working with the .net team, to deliver web content via http://www.creativebloq.com).

    So, we’ll be delivering more .net-related content online than we ever have before, and we also have some very exciting developments taking place in our print and digital editions of the magazine. This on top of our move into events, which kicked off with the recent Generate Conference in London.

    The last thing I’d like to mention is the current state of the Creative Bloq site. We’re still ironing out a number of bugs, both in presentation and UX, and this annoys me just as much as it annoys everyone else. But we’re doing our best to fix them. And we will.

    I’ve been involved with .net for the last 15 years, and all the decisions we’ve made have been about ensuring that we can focus our efforts in the best and most necessary places. I’m sure the recent move has angered many, but I just wanted to reassure people that this isn’t the end of a process, it’s the beginning. And it’s actually a very exciting time for the magazine. And I’m excited to be part of it.

    Cheers,

    Dan

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  9. 14

    The biggest tragedy is that the team cannot seem to comprehend why it has bothered people at all. I find the whole thing bizarre and possibly the biggest gaff since the Gap logo redesign.

    I think its very irresponsible to say the least. I am sure the team will start a PR exercise to fix everything but the damage I fear has been done.

    If the reason is that the articles weren’t getting enough traffic and therefore deemed not as valuable as the fluff on CB, well that’s a pity. I suspect the value of quality over quantity has been missed by the people controlling the purse strings.

    All in all, big shame. Still, there are still plenty of good quality web design blogs around to choose from in future.

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  10. 15

    In the last year or so, I’ve been going through all my old “design” bookmarks and RSS feeds in my reader and clipping them to Evernote. While it seems like if a site goes offline or at least pulls something like .net’s done, at the very least, I’ll still have the text. While I’m sure it will bug me down the road not having pictures to go with the text, at least the text should be good.

    Of course, there’s always the concern that Evernote goes belly up or pulls a Google. ;-)

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  11. 16

    Sadly yes the web does forget! I can’t help but wonder what is so complicated to migrate even thousand of articles from one install to an other… Even from one CMS to an other? Ok. It is time consuming but it can be easily automated.

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  12. 17

    Sad day it is today, when so many excellent articles simply vanished from the new .net website… :-(

    I wonder why? Laziness? Lack of vision? “I don’t care, this stuff is oooold”?… :-(

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  13. 18

    This seems just plain stupid: 9’500 very good articles gone, all PDFs of the printed mags gone… does .net magazine want to get rid of all their loyal customers?
    I have been a subscriber of this magazine for the last five years, visited their web site almost every day, and cannot image something worse to happen…

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  14. 19

    Well, they just lost this writer. I publish outside my blog as I expect more reach, more professional editorial and being part of something great on the web and the publishing space. Paper fades, PDFs are a pain to search. If my content falls in between the cracks of a rebranding or redesign I might as well publish wherever on the web where I can ensure the URLs don’t break.

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  15. 20

    I’ve long used Evernote to clip and archive useful or interesting web content for later reference, just in case said content becomes unavailable. I’m glad I did, though there’s no pleasure in being right this time. .NET Magazine has had a lot of good content in the past.

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  16. 21

    A lot of commenters have been saying how they archive the articles they find useful themselves; apparently that’s something I should be doing.

    But that’s not the entire story. Many people are going to be clicking links (as I did from Google) only to find dead content. The new generation of designers and developers, who are Googling the issues that .net magazine has been writing for years, are not going to have the benefit of archived content. Instead, they’re going to be left empty when the content they’ve searched for is no longer there.

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  17. 22

    “Future” is evil…I’m so angry and sad .net disappeared…

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  18. 23

    There is also the other side of the coin: All the useless and incorrect information that is still available on the Internet, at the click of a Google search button, to confuse newbies – or anyone, really. How long does even good information remain relevant with technology changing so fast?

    I sometimes dream of a “delete” button somewhere that removes all Internet content older than, say, 5 years. Content creators would receive a a few months’ warning and if they cared about their content, they would curate and republish it, taking only the best and polishing it (in a perfect world). If they don’t care or couldn’t be bothered to republish, it’s likely the content wasn’t that good anyway, and it can disappear silently into the ether.

    And all Internet users would be aware that they have to save the content they like.

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    • 24

      Captain Beatty, Fire Chief

      September 20, 2013 5:41 pm

      Hmmmm! Guy Montag and the fireman looking more likely now. It would seem that Rad Bradbury’s books are not being read or referenced anymore? In that case can I refer you to the tweet of the review of the summary of the Cliff notes of the book? Is that even available anymore as it was taking up space and no one read it anyway.

      OH GOD! you don’t catch the reference or the irony?

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    • 25

      Sorry but “I sometimes dream of a “delete” button somewhere that removes all Internet content older than, say, 5 years” is one of the dumbest comments I’ve ever read and is the antithesis of what the internet is about.

      I agree that there will be a lot of web-related content that is no longer relevant, nobody should be doing layouts in tables any more, for example. However, Don’t Make Me Think was first published 13 years ago and is constantly referenced and read by designers. There are many, many great articles published well over 5 years ago that still offer very valuable advice and are far from being “useless”.

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  19. 26

    Wow, everyone seems to be doing something wrong nowadays.

    It’s not like .net have pulled the plug and closed down, THEN you’d be able to get into a strop about what is missing and never coming back, but they’re simply migrating content.

    They’ve stated they want to hear from you if there’s something you wanted missing, what more can they do?

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  20. 27

    I’ve been Evernoting useful webpages for years (when it was an app on a memory stick) so I have loads of searchable information in one place. There’s no CSS issues with this method and fortunately I have some ‘ownership’ over that collected knowledge.

    It’s a real shame that .net have lost the drive to keep their valuable resource online, more so because this is who and what they are and should know better.

    As comments mention above, it is perplexing that the people at .net seemingly do not understand the size of the reaction they are getting. As a business decision, I can understand, but it doesn’t appear to be a very responsible thing to do considering what .net magazine is all about.

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  21. 28

    Mr Fatuous (@sickpuppysoftwa)

    September 20, 2013 11:27 am

    The data is gone for exactly the same reason as why the old .net forums went.

    Future see the cost in maintaining websites but not the long-term benefit in attracting and keeping people returning to their sites. Adverts and magazine sales are the driving forces at play. I’m sure the .net staff would love to keep their work available but Future don’t want to pay to do so.

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  22. 29

    My first ever article published..and that too for .net magazine…vanished! I am so sad!

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  23. 31

    Any Content on web may be die cause of company policy and whatever factor is there…no one can say there content will how longer appear online..

    But I add to something If you want to contain these information for future then not depend on the only one source..(bookmarking is a option But we can save also that artical in our local drive)

    As I preferred just make pdf of that page and save it to my local drive.

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  24. 32

    I wondered a while back whether Creative Bloq had/has the pull that Future anticipated, given the lack of comments on the site. They seem to publish high volumes of articles that prompt little or no interaction. Whether that is down to the content itself or a lack of traffic, I don’t know, but the cynic in me thinks that the move may be a last ditch attempt to raise the profile of Creative Bloq.

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  25. 33

    Captain Beatty, Fire Chief

    September 20, 2013 5:13 pm

    Hmmmm! Guy Montag and the fireman looking more likely now. It would seem that Rad Bradbury’s books are not being read or referenced anymore? In that case can I refer you to the tweet of the review of the summary of the Cliff notes of the book? Is that even available anymore as it was taking up space and no one read it anyway.

    OH GOD! you don’t catch the reference or the irony?

    0
  26. 34

    Vitaly, you are throwing stones in your own glass house. its time to put up …..

    I agree with you on the loss of all these wonderful threads and tracks and hints and knowledge, and with Dan regarding the pragmatic issues to be addressed but that is why we say opportunity rather than roadblock correct? …

    BTW: Ri scares the S**t out of me ….

    Get with Dan Oliver and figure out a way to keep all the content (no matter how bad, contentious or just plain ugly) available for reasonable effort and cost in some fashion and set an example to all other online publishers no matter how big or small. ( hint: Doesn’t the Library of Congress dabble in archiving?
    “http://eresources.loc.gov/search~S9/m?SEARCH=Computer+Science” )

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  27. 35

    Right along with this problem we have the overwhelmingly prevalent problem of developers writing good articles on the web and then closing them for comments only about 2 weeks later. When they do so they are practically saying that their article has no more than a 2 week lifespan. Or at least that it’s not worth discussing after 2 weeks.

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  28. 36

    I know what you mean. The truth is, most people – even devout followers of a blog.

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  29. 37

    a great way to save articles quickly and conveniently is using Evernote + Clearly. I am in no way affiliated with either of those products, but have been using them to archive good articles.

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  30. 38

    Thanks god I’ve found out about Pocket and Read it later services, It makes every nice tutorial I’ve found easily accessible and safe from site owner removal. Back in the day, the only option is to save / print the website to pdf and it takes a lot of time.

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  31. 39

    Thanks for writing this, Vitaly. The speed of the internet tends to focus human beings on the ephemeral passing moment; relatively little attention is paid to preservation, archiving, and deep storage. This is a phenomenon I regard as criminal: it’s as if we’re building libraries and then setting fire to them every few years, destroying our own history through neglect. And unlike physical libraries of the past, there’s no guarantee that copies will at least be preserved elsewhere: there _is_ no “elsewhere” on the web, outside of the heroic and unsung efforts of people like Jason Scott and institutions like as archive.org and the US Library of Congress.

    But from the practical perspective of web development. we do want the equivalent of underbrush-clearing fires every so often: otherwise, old, out-of-date and irrelevant information will litter Google searches for years to come, making research much harder. There’s no one solution: it has to come from several directions at once:

    - better archiving of work by CMS’s, down to the level of preserving editing changes in individual documents. (It’s nice to see that the latest version of WordPress is leading the way in this).
    - building a model for the internet that automatically mirrors information on clients: peer-to-peer preservation of the web. In particular, Tim Berners-Lee deserves credit for trying to push this in recent meetings and proposals.
    - a resolution by bloggers, writers and publishers to update old code samples, or link through to contemporary solutions.
    - better options for long-term domain and web hosting services: the ability to pay in advance for years or decades, rather than month-to-month.
    - establishing archiving and data preservation policies for sites – especially sites that engage with social media – as an industry standard.
    - more money and time invested in preserving internet data as a whole. Our lives are almost entirely digital: right now, we’re literally destroying our history daily.

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  32. 40

    While I respect their decision, seeing as how they get to say what they do with their resources, it is a bit shocking. I work for a 90-year-old publishing company, with seven website properties, and through the course of our redesigns and recodes, you can be assured that every article, over 88k as of today, will be available. Some may have internal styling problems but all our data lives on.

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  33. 41

    I visit Net Magazine quite often. At least I did before the recent change. Now, I can’t even view the site properly. I am waiting for them to get done with their changes or move or whatever.

    For me, there are only a handful of sites I visit for interesting and informative articles on web development. For any site of this kind to lose articles, rather popular or not, is a misfortune. New developers are always popping up and may have a need for such learning material. This is why I like when old information is renewed even if others may find it old and out-of-date.

    Looking at a topic twice or three times may reveal something missed, especially if given from the perspective of another writer.

    Net Magazine may have lost some articles, but the opportunity lives on for other sites to push out more informative, clean, and up-to-date articles of the same topics.

    Case in point: I have read the XHTML specification over and over. I did not realize that the IFRAME tag was not valid in version 1.1 as it is in 1.0 until I read a recent article on the matter.

    There is a big lesson to be learned from Net Magazine’s unfortunate situation.

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  34. 42

    Very good read. Yet the idea of downloading stuff into PDFs seem so backward, file-based, rather than being the free-flowing, dynamic majestic that is Internet. We shouldn’t waste time downloading PDFs. Perhaps we need to create a solution where we can archive the content online and have it made available to everybody — just the content. As if it was a Pocket/Instapaper account. We could tag it, remember the googling intent behind the article, and go on.

    We don’t need another archiving platform. We need a native tagging solution. We need something that is permanent. PDFs are a good way to do it, but it is like photocopying. It is messy, awkward at best, and we lose this dynamic ability to share/link articles and content.

    We need to realize that all content, once online, does not truly belong to the publisher anymore. It belongs to this great community: the internet community. The content providers and all of us need to remember this.

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  35. 43

    As a magazine who caters to the web crowd, it seems like a real copout to write about best practices and trends but fail when it comes to actually doing the work yourself—kind of like health care practitioners who tell you not to smoke but they’re the first ones on break, lighting one up.

    The whole point of writing good markup with CSS is so when your presentation changes your *content* doesn’t. In the real world, we know it doesn’t always work like that but there’s no reason not to keep the old URIs active. Cool URIs don’t change—I guess that best practice died as well?

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  36. 44

    Vitaly, good content is too valuable to die. I had the same problem when programming tutorials disappeared that I had bookmarked. I spent the last year solving this problem, and created link-reliability for bookmarking with Permamarks. It might be exactly what you are looking for. Hope this is helpful.

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  37. 45

    Articles that have proper mark-up should be easy to style.
    And seriously, since when is 10,000 too big a number for today’s databases?

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  38. 46

    What we all want is better standards for preservation of content, media, and metadata.
    Evernote, Scrapbook and the other solutions just scratch the surface of everyone needs.
    Students, Writers, Researchers, Developers all run into the same problems and there is not a silver bullet for our communities.

    RSS feeds were a start to a solution for content, but browser companies like Google MS and Mozilla have dropped the ball. Having RSS feeds on a site should have affected the SEO scores. But instead marketing, search and econ drivers seem to be preventing the preservation of good content.

    God I want a free, open source, cross browser set of standards, that let me use RSS intuitively in and across the browsers. To be able to bookmark pages, and cache the content in bite size pieces. One set of standard that lets me make quote, create references, and save notes without an lock-in with a browser plugin.

    For website migration I have used drupal.org/project/feeds_tamper on websites to pull old content into a new re-branded sites.

    But offline I have a miss mash of PDFs, code snippets, scrapbooked html pages, bookmarks and data dumps from cloud services like the rip google reader. Sigh.

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  39. 47

    Don´t know what you got till it´s gone… I was using an article called “Save the planet through sustainable web design” and now it´s gone like many other very interesting and valuable ones… I asked them about the article at twitter but I haven´t had an answer yet.

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  40. 48

    “A legacy site still requires support. And to move more than 10,000 articles and style them all up wasn’t an option”

    What an incredibly poor excuse for deleting some of the best web-development content available on the web. If you were not competent enough to look after these articles then the web community and open source would have offered a solution I’m sure.

    Imagine if you did this kind of thing in a physical sense! “Oh, well most of the books from the old library didn’t fit on the shelves in the new library so we burnt them.”
    WTF?!

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