What Storify Shutting Down Means to Us

The Storify logo.

You may have heard that popular social media story platform Storify will be shutting down on May 16, 2018. Open to the public since 2011, it has hosted everything from academic conference tweet round-ups to “Dear David”, the ongoing saga of Buzzfeed writer Adam Ellis and the ghost that haunts his apartment. So it shocked long-time users in December when Storify suddenly announced that it would be shutting down in just a few months.

Already, Storify is no longer allowing new accounts to be created, and by May 1st, users won’t be able to create new stories. On May 16th, everything disappears. Storify will continue on with Storify 2, a feature of Livefyre, but will require you to purchase a Livefyre license for access. But the fact is that many users cannot or will not pay for Livefyre. Essentially, Storify will cease to exist on May 16th to most people.

So… what does this mean?

Of course, it means that you need to export anything that you have stored on Storify and want to save. (They provide instructions for exporting content on their shutting down FAQ.) More than that, however, we need to talk about how we are relying on services to archive our materials online and how that is a dangerous long-term preservation strategy.

The fact is, free Internet services can change in an instant, and without consulting their user base. As we have seen with Storify — as well as other services like Google Reader — what seems permanent can disappear quickly. When it comes to long-term digital preservation, we cannot solely depend on them as our only means of preservation.

That is not to say that we cannot use free digital tools like Storify. Storify was a great way to collect Tweets, present stories, and get information out to the public. And if you or your institution did not have the funds or support to create a long-term preservation plan, Storify was a great stop-gap until then. But digital preservation is a marathon, not a race, and we will need to continue to find new, innovative ways to ensure that digital material remains accessible.

When I heard Storify was shutting down, I went to our Scholarly Commons intern Matt Pitchford, whose research is on social media and who has a real stake in maintaining digital preservation, for his take on the issue. (You can read about Matt’s research here and here.) Here’s what Matt had to say:

Thinking about [Storify shutting down] from a preservation perspective, I think it reinforces the need to develop better archival tools along two dimensions: first, along the lines of navigating the huge amounts of data and information online (like how the Library of Congress has that huge Twitter archive, but no means to access it, and which they recently announced they will stop adding to). Just having all of Storify’s data wouldn’t make it navigable. Second, that archival tools need to be able to “get back” to older forms of data. There is no such thing as a “universally constant” medium. PDFs, twitter, Facebook posts, or word documents all may disappear over time too, despite how important they seem to our lives right now. Floppy disks, older computer games or programs, and even recently CDs, aren’t “accessible” in the way they used to be. I think the same is eventually going to be true of social media.
Matt brings up some great issues here. Storify shutting down could simply be a harbinger of more change online. Social media spaces come and go (who else remembers MySpace and LiveJournal?), and even the nature of posts change (who else remembers when Tweets were just 140 characters?). As archivists, librarians, and scholars, we will have to adopt, adapt, and think quickly in order to stay ahead of forces that are out of our control.
And most importantly, we’ll have to save backups of everything we do.
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