Publishing Has Perished: Long Live the Personal Cloud

The best reality TV show playing on the Internet this season is The Cornell Herons, brought to you by a webcam at the top of a tree in a swamp in Ithaca, NY, courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I tuned in on April 28, just in time to see the third of five chicks hatch, and was hooked. Since then I’ve often kept the Cornell Herons going in a window on my secondary monitor. Now you can see the chicks (if that’s the right word for these gawky adolescents) bustling around most of the time, but in the early days it was mostly mom and dad sitting on them, punctuated by the occasional — and always entertaining — feeding ritual.

I soon noticed that the soundtrack was a reliable way to monitor the feedings. It’s also just a nice thing to listen to. So nice, in fact, that the Lab has done this with it:

Many of you who watch our heron nest cam remark on how pretty the audio feed is — the cries of blackbirds, geese, orioles, and more. Those are the sounds of Sapsucker Woods, and as a special thank-you we’d like to offer a sampler from “Voices of Sapsucker Woods” as a free download. You can also purchase the full 75-track set at a discount, for just $2.99.

I found out about that by way of fellow heron watcher @sarahbourne. We’d been chatting about a network monitoring system I remembered from years ago that turned communication traffic into birdsong. The idea was that you’d normally hear a pleasant chorus, but when the birds got really excited you’d know there was something to investigate. I realized this was exactly what the Cornell Herons soundtrack was doing for me. The baseline sounds were pleasant background noise. When the feedings happened, though, the talkative chicks drew my attention.

I’d written about this idea in a 2003 column for InfoWorld, but when I found the link, and clicked it, no joy. It was 404. I had to dig it out of the Wayback Machine. This happens to me a lot. And ironically, it happens most often when what I’ve written was published not by me, but instead by an actual publisher. Getting published, it turns out, is a lousy way to stay published. Back in the day my stuff at the original was lost, years later the same thing happened to my stuff at With all due respect to this venue I will be pleasantly surprised if the URL at which you are reading this is alive in 2020.

What I do, therefore, for writing that’s published elsewhere than on my own blog, is migrate it to my own personal cloud when the publisher loses interest. They’re my lifebits, after all. Publishers may have a temporary interest in them, but they’ll always matter to me. Unfortunately I didn’t always realize this, and didn’t always do a good job of archiving my stuff for later use. That’s why I had to dig that 2003 InfoWorld column out of the Wayback Machine. I’ve got a complete record of the blog I wrote for InfoWorld, but just links to the articles I wrote for the magazine. Many still work, some don’t, I should haul all that stuff back into my personal cloud, but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.

I wish things worked the other way around. Everything would be published canonically to my personal cloud. Items used by publishers would syndicate to their sites. If used on exclusive terms I might need to tell my personal cloud not to display them. But when the publisher later drops my bits on the floor, I’d open up access again to the canonical items.

Even that arrangement wouldn’t be ideal, though. When a publisher abandons an article of mine, it also abandons links to it from any page that referred to the article. In the scientific and academic realms, digital object identifiers (DOIs) are used to mint namespaces that can transcend the lifetimes (or attention spans) of individual publishers. That technology hasn’t yet trickled down to the rest of us, but I’d love to have my personal cloud implement such a scheme and be the resolver of last resort for my published work.