Pricing Out Your Legacy

The company behind WordPress decided to offer a service that promises to pay for your web hosting for a century, long after you die. Sticker shock aside, I don’t hate the idea.

By Ernie Smith

So here’s a question: On the grand scale, does a service that ensures your legacy stays online for a hundred years make sense?

How do you price that? Everyone involved in making that decision, if you hit the purchase button today, is going to be gone by the time the deal runs out.

But the server costs mean something. And so, when I see the news that WordPress parent Automattic has announced that it is going to charge $38,000 to keep your website online for 100 years, something they call the “100 Year Plan,” I immediately am compelled to do the math on that equation. And even though that is a tough pill to swallow for a lot of people, it breaks down to just over $30 a month—which, honestly, is about the price it costs to purchase solid web hosting these days.

Now, the thing is, if done well, the actual literal cost of this service would not be anywhere near what Automattic has pledged. Text-based web content is very cheap, and with smart caching software and well-considered storage, it is unlikely to cost them more than a couple of dollars a month to host this content. You are, in many ways, paying Automattic not to do the hosting but for the promise that in 60 years, they won’t leave you high and dry. That is a difficult promise for many companies to make, but Automattic is one of the few that could make it that I would trust, given their utter dominance in the CMS market over the last 20 years.

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But it does reflect something that I think we absolutely need to talk about right now: In the internet era, there is absolutely zero guarantee that our words will outlive us. While not to be morbid, I have literally said to my wife that this would actually be important to me, to have the knowledge that my thoughts would continue to be online, even after my passing. That’s not a small ask. I have done a lot of work on my end to simplify my content management approach, but hosting costs between various services would add up to more than $30 a month. (And then there’s inflation to think about. Odds are, $30 a month for hosting will stretch far less in 2123 than 2023.)

So, seeing someone actually price out this service, and offering the realization that it would basically be the price of a mid-sized SUV, honestly is a strange thing to put into relief. People will absolutely pay for it, just like the estates of celebrities have for 3D-printed urns. I think WordPress should come up with a less expensive version of this model that cuts some of the corners and takes a snapshot, not unlike what the Internet Archive does.

I also think that there needs to be more thought put into this overall approach. There is clearly going to be an audience for this—anyone with the money is going to want to ensure that their words are kept online long-term. And considering many of us are self-hosting content, or hosting on platforms with relatively modest track records in the grand scheme (and yes, I do include companies like Substack in this category), this is a real problem that Automattic has identified, and one that I want to see other companies have strategies for. A static-site-favoring host like Netlify, for example, would be able to do a version of this for static sites that might look way more reasonable.

I also want to see a version of this that has a price comparable to (again, not to be morbid) a casket. There should be a version of this offered to the masses, not the classes. And I think, more fundamentally, that the W3C should seriously talk about offering the capability to permanently buy out domains on the Domain Name Service, because the yearly fee is honestly a factor as to why this costs so much, as well as why this is a risk factor in the first place.

But if WordPress is going to charge $38,000 for this service, they should do things to make it valuable as a public resource. They should promote this content! From what we know of history, people often find success after their passing, and sometimes, stories resurface with just a little spark. If it leads to a licensing deal, it could help support both estates of those who have passed and maybe even those who don’t have $38,000 but deserve a home in this archive. Automattic should consider just offering this service to important cultural figures for free as a way to help broaden interest in the endeavor.

But more importantly, they should hire people to professionally curate this content, promote it, and offer strategies for people to research it. I think a guarantee that you’re going to have your content online for a long time is great. But what I think would be even better is a guarantee that efforts will be made to ensure it can still find an audience over time.

It may or may not find one. But for $38,000 paid upfront, that would be one hell of a service to offer.

Even if it doesn’t work, even if nobody takes up Matt Mullenweg on this admittedly unusual offer, I admire the fact that he started the conversation. Someone had to.

Saturday Links

I’ve gained an appreciation for the work of Phil Edwards, a YouTuber who covers some of the same interesting niches I do. I appreciate the work he did to talk about Pantone and color standardization here.

More people should quit their job like Sterling Morrison of The Velvet Underground did. He intentionally left his luggage in his hotel room, carrying a bunch of Yellow Pages instead, so he couldn’t leave Texas, where he planned to go to college. (He later became a tugboat operator, because why not?)

Speaking of artists with deep legacies, Elliott Smith’s XO turned 25 this week, which is a wild phrase to write.

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Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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