Elephants never forget Nickel Plate Archives; illustration by Luis Mendo

Archiving Our Online Communities

On the closing and archiving of Hi.co

We’re closing Hi.co on September 1, 2016. But, paradoxically, there’s never been a more meaningful moment to join. We’re making a “book.” We’re printing — using a microscopic ion-etching process — the entire website upon a 2" × 2" nickel plate, giving it a fire- and saltwater-resistant shelf life of 10,000 years.[¹] At least five plates will be produced, to be held by five stewards — museums and libraries — around the world. A seed bank of our moments as connected to place. We met with the collections director and preservation specialists at the Library of Congress in early April of 2016, and the Library has agreed to be our first official steward. (More on that sorcery and stewardship below.)

First: What is Hi.co? We assume most of you have never heard of it. It’s a location-aware publishing platform for writing stories about places. It’s built on the open web and is completely free and optimized to work on almost any smartphone in the world. We call the output “narrative mapping,” and you can read extensively about it in our overwrought obligatory manifesto.

Over 2,000,000 words and 14,000 photographs have been published about 3,000 cities around the world. Hi.co is read by over 200,000 people a month. Some recent cities that popped up include: Ahmedabad, Mill Valley, London, Toronto, Marseille, Accra (Ghana), Philadelphia, Tallinn (Estonia), Antwerp, Dubai, and New Delhi. And that’s just from a single day.

Hi.co has also been used in workshops and classrooms around the world.

Web projects often lack hard edges. They begin with clarity but end without. We want to close Hi.co with clarity. To properly bookend the website. Sometimes web projects exhaust themselves. Outlive themselves. Are allowed to stagnate, be forgotten. Resources dry up and then one day — poof — they’re gone. This has happened countless times, Geocities being one of the foremost examples. We don’t want this to happen with Hi.co.

At the same time we understand the moral duty we took on in creating Hi.co — in opening it up to submissions and user generated content. There was an implicit pact: You give us your stories about place, and we’ll give you a place to put your stories. This was not an ephemeral pact. Hi.co is not Snapchat.

And so we do not take this moral duty lightly. In part of upholding this duty, we’re making the nickel-plate “book” of the entirety of Hi.co. Everything on the site will be archived — all 2 million words as written about 3,000 cities, plus everything else submitted from now until September 1, 2016.

In historical web terms, Hi.co occupies a curious position in the transition between desktops and mobile devices. Hi.co is one of the first web-only publishing platforms to act as a bridge between mobile and desktop, and is one of the first writing platforms designed for writing to start in the field and be fleshed out in the home. Moments (a snippet of text, a photograph, location) on Hi.co are captured live on the smartphone. The writer can then return to that moment later (on mobile or desktop). The result is what we call full-stack publishing. That is: All pieces of the publishing process (capture, write, distribute, converse) are supported on all devices and in all contexts.

Illustration by Luis Mendo

There are nuggets of gold from Kevin Kelly (co-founder of Wired Magazine), Elle Luna (artist and author of the bestselling book The Crossroads of Should and Must), Conor MacNeill and Dan Rubin (award-winning photographers), Stephanie Marie (U.S. Olympic Team sprinter), Kristen Taylor (co-founder of Saucy Magazine, ex-producer at Al Jazeera), Samuel Alomenu documenting life in Accra, Ghana, and tens of thousands of other writers around the world.

Hi.co. accounts are free. And while it’s strange to say this as we announce the closing of the project: There’s never been a more meaningful moment to join. Everyone is invited to contribute to these archives. In fact, if you’ve written on Hi.co, you’ve already contributed. We want these final months of Hi.co to be the project’s most vibrant and active yet.

Nickel-plate archive contents

We pledge to you three promises:

  1. We will keep an online archive of all of the content of Hi.co up for at least ten years (with a much longer aim, but a minimum of ten).
  2. We will produce (at least) five hard copies of the nickel’d Hi.co to be kept by five public institutions/stewards (museums and libraries) around the world, like a seed bank of moments.
  3. We will make available a full export/archive of all of your individual Hi contributions (in fact, you can already export your archive at http://hi.co/people/{yourname}/export).

The nickel-plate book we’re making is unlike any other book you’ve seen. We’ve partnered with Norsam Technologies and Los Alamos Laboratories to utilize a special ion-etching process, capable of printing tens of thousands of pages onto a 2" × 2" plate.

The process does not produce “data.” It is not like a CD. It is not a composition of 0's and 1's representing the information. It is the information itself. The nickel plate is a medium, not media. And everything printed on the plate will be readable with an optical microscope.

The nickel plates have an estimated life span of 10,000 years. They’re fire resistant. They deal well with salt water. And because they’re printed with our pictures and words — assuming contemporary language is decipherable in the future — anyone who finds this and has access to fairly elementary technology (an optical microscope) will be able to read our thoughts and experiences as mapped to city and place.

We’re calling the online and nickel-plate archives the Hitotoki Archives. Hi.co was descendent from a project called Hitotoki that began in 2007. Hitotoki means “one” (hito) and “moment” (toki) in Japanese, which is precisely what we’ve been collecting with Hi.co: moments big and small. We shortened the name to Hi to make it more universally accessible to anyone around the world with a smartphone, for whom deciphering “Hitotoki” might have been too confusing.

The Hitotoki Archives have antecedents in other projects. To name a few: There is the Voyager Golden Record from 1977, as well as the Long Now Foundation’s Rosetta Disc from 2006, and Trevor Paglen’s 2012 The Last Pictures project.

Voyager’s Golden Record, Trevor Paglen’s The Last Pictures

The Hitotoki Archives differ mainly and most importantly in that they’re completely user generated, and contributions are totally open. Anyone in the world with a smartphone and data can create a free account and take part in the Hitotoki Archives before September 1, 2016.

Because these archival plans are so ambitious, we can only fund them by selling the domain hi.co. We fully understand the irony of this situation.[²] The online archives will live at hitotoki.org, with all directory structures remaining identical after the top level domain. We’re working with the Internet Archive (archive.org) to ensure that http://hi.co is 100 percent fully archived under the hi.co url within their archives for the years 2013–2016.

Hi.co will continue to function as is until September 1, 2016, at which time we’ll cease to accept new submissions and begin to start the Hitotoki archival process. We expect the nickel plates to be finished by December of 2016.

We will announce the stewards of these plates in the coming weeks. If you’re a representative of a library or museum and are interested in becoming a steward, please email us at hi@hi.co.

Working on and building Hi over the last few years has been a joy. And although we’re sad to see Hi close, we’re doubly excited to give it a proper home — one that will outlive us all.

September 1, 2016 is the submission deadline. There are a few months left to contribute our moments, our memories as mapped to place, to the Hitotoki Archives. We hope you’ll add one or two (more) of your own.

We thank you for being a participant in this project, and hope you enjoyed being part of this community as much as we feel honored to have been, and continue to be, stewards of it.

— The Hi Team (Craig Mod, Chris Palmieri, Paul Baron, Christine Herrin, Amal, Alban)

[¹] Does this read like a parody? Yes — and that’s part of the point. The goal of this project was to hunt down the most maximal version of an archival process we could reasonably find. 10,000 years and resistance to fire and salt-water seemed like a pretty unassailable baseline. Compounding those qualities with stewards around the world — that just seemed like an extra level of maximality. We love how indiscriminate this archive is; it is an archive equally full of beauty and banality and profundity the like, and we consider it our moral duty as platform creator to treat each with equal respect.

[²] Is it less than ideal to move the archives from hi.co to hitotoki.org? Definitely. Do we wish we had a better solution? Absolutely. Unfortunately, Hi.co has never excelled at generating money, and even if we tapped the community, it’s unlikely we’d come up with enough to pay for these archival plans. We think the impact and power of this kind of physical archive, combined with proper redirects (including negotiating with the buyer to indefinitely mass redirect all hi.co/moments/* urls to hitotoki.org/moments/*), is the best compromise. If you wish to fund our archival plans — allowing us to keep everything at hi.co — by all means email us at hi@hi.co.