How to Delete a Blog

So you want to commit blogicide. Is this a spur-of-the-moment decision, prompted by a sudden attack of self-loathing, morbid shyness, angst or ennui? If so, you’re probably not going to do anything so left-brained as to search the web for instructions like these. On the off chance that you do, however, here’s my first piece of advice:

Back up the blog before deleting

I’m not talking about just saving your work to disk. You should be doing that anyway, unless blogging is some kind of bizarre exercise in egolessness and impermanence for you. What I mean by backing up your blog is saving it so that if at some point you should change your mind and want to reinstate it, or begin another blog and incorporate the archives from your old blog, you can do that. The procedure for doing so varies according to the platform you’re using. For example, with Blogger/Blogspot, click on Export blog in the Settings → Basic tab, and save the XML file onto your computer. This can be imported not only into a new Blogspot blog, but also into blogs on other platforms, such as Typepad and WordPress. WordPress will import not only posts and all associated metadata, but also comments from Blogger (but not from third-party commenting systems).

If you’re using WordPress, you can also export your blog to back it up, but, just as with Blogger, this will not save files. If you’re on WordPress.com, you can contact support and ask them to send you a zipped file of your images and other files you’ve uploaded; self-hosted WordPress.org bloggers can save files themselves via FTP (and can also take advantage of database backup plugins). Typepad users have to save files one by one, but evidently there are some third-party tools than can automate this — see “How do I backup my content?” on the Typepad Knowledge Base. Regardless of the blogging platform, backing up files is a pain in the ass to one degree or another, which brings me to another piece of advice:

Consider hosting images and other files on third-party sites

If you’re only planning to blog for a limited time, or especially if you anticipate moving your blog at some point, it’s a whole lot easier to upload photos to Flickr, Picasa, or some other photo-sharing site and link from there. Free and cheap file-storage services exist for other formats, too — hardly anyone hosts their own video, for example. If privacy is part of the motivation for terminating your blog, remember that photos on sites like Flickr can be marked private there, but still display in your posts if you ever revive your blog. I do advise against using image-sharing sites that don’t require any registration, however: many of the older images on this blog have disappeared because I foolishly stored them at Imageshack, and evidently they periodically clean out old files that no one has viewed for a while.

Going private as an alternative to blogicide

One alternative to deleting a blog is simply making it private. In Blogger, go to Settings → Permissions → Blog Readers and click “only readers I choose.” Blogs hosted at Typepad and WordPress.com can also be made private. (If you want to make just some of your blog posts private, WordPress offers the option of having password-protected posts on otherwise public blogs, which is a feature that seems to be drawing many writers of a more ambitious bent than me, who intend to eventually submit much of their content to publications that don’t consider previously published work.) Private blogs (or password-protected posts) will not be syndicated in feeds and will not be indexed by search engines.

Preventing your content from being perpetuated elsewhere

Again, I realize that most of the time people don’t start blogging with the intention of eventually wiping the slate clean, but if that is your long-term goal, you have to think seriously about whether you want to be indexed by search engines. Google in particular can cache material from dead websites for a very long time, and the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine exists for the stated purpose of preserving copies of the Internet for all time. You may think you’ve deleted your blog, but chances are that at least half of all your content has been preserved at the Internet Archive. They’ll remove it if you write to them and ask, but you can also instruct their spiders not to crawl your site in the first place — and the same goes for Google and other search engines.

On WordPress.com, under Settings → Privacy, there’s an intermediate setting you can check: “I would like to block search engines, but allow normal visitors.” In other blogging platforms where you have direct access to your theme/template files, you can insert code instructing bots not to index or cache your content. If you have access to the root of your domain, you can simply use a robots.txt file. If you want to exclude the Internet Archive from copying your blog for all eternity, but still be accessible to search engines up until the date of deletion, you can do that too.

Cutting the feeds

Feeds are generated automatically by all modern blogging and content management system software. In most if not all systems, you can choose to supply partial rather than full-content feeds consisting of the first several lines of each post (although those of us who subscribe to feeds find this intensely annoying), but making the RSS completely private is quite a bit trickier, from what I gather. You’re better off disabling the feed altogether: Settings → Site Feed → “None” in Blogger; I don’t think this option exists for WordPress.com blogs without making the blog itself completely private. For a self-hosted WordPress blog, you can either edit your theme’s functions.php file or use a plugin.

Once a feed reader or aggregator has syndicated your content, deleting your feed won’t destroy that content. Anyone who happens to have subscribed to your blog at any point will still be able to read your posts indefinitely (and I hesitate to point this out, because in some cases I have saved the contents of deleted blogs I was fond of in this manner). So before disabling your feed or deleting your blog, if you want to be thorough you can republish all your old posts with empty or minimal content, then wait a day or two for feed readers to update all the posts. As long as you don’t change the permalinks in any way, this should overwrite all the old content. Then you can proceed to total blogicide.

Don’t forget about incoming links and readers

When I moved this blog from Blogspot to a self-hosted WordPress installation back in 2006, I initially kept the old blog up with a redirect message. But after a year went by I got tired of having all that duplicate content up, and I deleted the blog. Bad move.

It turned out that Blogger had no problem recycling unused subdomains to new users, so neithernor.blogspot.com quickly turned into a splog, or spam blog, selling some kind of tawdry product — I can’t remember just what. Fortunately, this seems no longer to be the case: Blogger has joined WordPress.com, Typepad, and other reputable hosted blogging services in retiring subdomains after blogs are deleted. This does mean of course that you won’t be able to reuse the subdomain yourself, either — once deleted, it’s gone. So think carefully before you click that Delete button. Even if you back up everything and import into a new blog, you’ll have to start from zero as far as incoming links and readers are concerned.

For domains you register yourself, the problem still remains. Serious sploggers have automated systems to notify them the instant that a domain in use becomes available, and such domains are valuable to them because of the incoming links, which might translate into clicks on ads. So if you’re only planning to blog for a limited time, go with a hosted service where you’ll be mysitename.whatever.com. If you do find yourself in the position of deleting a site with a registered domain, you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth it to continue paying the annual registration fee and just put some sort of “this site is closed” message up, or whether you want to try and contact all the people who were kind enough to link to you and ask them to remove the link so their readers won’t end up on some crappy, possibly virus-ridden site.

One way or another, if people have linked to you, it’s a nice courtesy to let them know that the site has been deleted — nobody likes having dead links. And what about your readers? Surely they deserve a little advance notice of the blog’s impending demise, so they have a chance to catch up on reading if they’ve gotten behind. You can always disable comments if you don’t feel like fielding a bunch of distraught messages. It’s your blog and you can do what you want with it — if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t have written this post — but I do think we have some obligations to our readers and fellow bloggers. As with suicide, it’s grim to contemplate and no one who loves you is going to be happy with your decision, but there is a right way to do it.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave's writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the "share alike" provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

12 Comments


    1. Glad you found the post useful. Usually what prompts this kind of how-to article is the sense that I’ve held forth on the subject once too often, and hey, wouldn’t it be nice just have a post I could link to?

      Reply

  1. Well, I suppose these things have to be talked about. If I ever have to pull the plug, I now have a post to follow. I’m sort of feeling the same way I did when Dr. Kevorkian was practicing: how come no one has given out this advice before?

    Reply

    1. Maybe someone has. Come to think of it, I never really searched.

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  2. Fascinating. And useful. Kind of like a pill a captured spy might need.

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  3. Ai. And just when I’d nearly forgotten that once, in a purist fit, I deleted the whole of one of my own earlier blogs–not even backing it up. There are excerpts still out there, but they tend to underline the not in it’s not a route I’d necessarily recommend. Sometimes I wish I’d just gone underground, or just weathered the drama; writing itself can be a more memorable and powerful act of erasure than wiping a disk.

    How about a follow-up post about what happens when you expire? Does Via Negativa (or any of our blogs) have a will? When you perish, will someone else inherit the password, and instructions for a final note?

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    1. I remember it well — a brilliant recovery journal. I can see why you’d tire of having it out there for anyone to read, but I’m a little shocked that you never even saved your posts. It might’ve made an excellent memoir.

      Good point about the need for bloggers to have wills. I don’t have one. I suppose my parents would put up a notice on my Facebook profile (my computer remembers my password), but they wouldn’t have any idea how to access my various blogs, none of which would stay up unless the domain registration and hosting fees were paid every year. If you want a blog to survive your death, it’s probably best to go with Blogspot, since Google doesn’t ever like to see information lost. The people at Automattic, who run WordPress.com, have made it clear that they will not maintain blogs indefinitely if they aren’t updated.

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  4. Blogicide seems a rather unusual route. I think most old bloggers just fade away and let their sites accumulate spam content. The term “dotsam and netsam” comes to mind. Can’t remember where I heard that.

    The notion of leaving blog instructions in a will is an interesting one. Probably not a bad idea for a site that has a lot of followers.

    Have you seen these social media suicide sites: Web 2.0 Suicide Machine and Seppukkoo both of which will kill off your facebook, twitter and other social accounts.

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    1. “Dotsam and netsam” — love it!

      I have seen those social networking suicide machines, but it I think it would be much more edifying to do it oneself. Automating the process makes it too easy, like jumping off a bridge versus taking up smoking.

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  5. Great post. I wish I would have seen it years ago, before my alembic blog was deleted, not by me, but the hosting company. I can access bits of it on the wayback machine, and I have the posts in Word format, but no links and images as such, alas.

    Reply

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