How to freeze-dry a website

Technologizer's dependence on creaky 2008 technology threatened to be its undoing. Now it's safe—even though it's hardly changed at all.
DALL-E 3 gets most of the credit (or blame?) for this.

It hardly seems possible that it’s been nearly sixteen years since I pressed publish on my first Technologizer post. Back then, the iPhone had been on sale for less than a year. Android phones, Chrome, Bitcoin, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Oculus, and the iPad didn’t exist yet. The current version of Windows was Vista, Circuit City and CompUSA were still in business, and Elon Musk was not yet CEO of Tesla, let alone Twitter.

Another thing that’s happened since 2008 is that the some of the software I used to build the site—and later to update it—have long since tumbled into the abyss of obsolesence. It’s not just that the WordPress theme I chose and customized in 2008 no longer works with modern versions of PHP. Even the more modern one I used for new posts from 2014 onward won’t.

My webhost has been letting me use an ancient version of PHP, but they now charge me a monthly fee for the privilege and their dunning letters have grown only more urgent. Along with knowing my themes were obsolete, I also grew worried that the site’s many venerable plugins might stop working, which led me to put off critical WordPress updates.

The most recent email from my patient webhost.

Now, it’s been 12 years since Technologizer was my main outlet, and for a long time it was largely dormant. But I never saw the site as a relic, and last year I even began writing the occasional post for it again. Keeping it extant mattered to me. So recently, I decided to rid the site of its crushing technical debt forever—a process I think of as freeze-drying it.

Using an excellent Mac app called SiteSucker, I converted the 6,500-plus posts we published between May 2008 and earlier this month into flat HTML pages that no longer require WordPress, plugins, PHP, a MySQL database, or any other special software. For new posts such as this one, I started fresh with a new install of WordPress, a new theme that should keep ticking for years, and a modest selection of current plugins. I figured out how to jimmy together the flat-HTML old pages and the new WordPress site without breaking the links. Using Google Programmable Search, I even got the search feature to continue working and support both Old Freeze-Dried Technologizer and Shiny New Technologizer.

(Side note: Several times, as I was futzing around with all this, ChatGPT amazed me by providing clear instructions for solving an arcane technical problem that had confounded me. It’s one of my best experiences with generative AI so far.)

The old posts didn’t really lose anything by being flattened into static HTML, in part because I’d already closed the comments sections on most of them. There are still a few ways in which these pages remain reliant on external services, such as their use of hosted fonts. Maybe I’ll free them of those dependencies someday, but even if any of them become problematic, they shouldn’t keep the site from working.

2008 Technologizer post
I did some minor redesigns in the early years, so this doesn’t look exactly like it did in the early years. But it’s quite close.

In their new flat form, the archived Technologizer posts won’t be easy to edit; easy editing, after all, is one of the principal reasons to use a content management system like WordPress. That forced me to make some basic decisions, such as: Before I freeze-dried old posts, should I eliminate their plugs for our now-defunct Google+ presence? I decided to leave them as is, figuring that the old pages’ stuck-in-time aspects are actually kind of cool. After all, we don’t expect print magazines from thirty, forty, or more years ago to mysteriously lose their anachronisms. Instead, we’re often charmed by them.

(Rather than tampering with my original template, I also left the ads on the old pages intact even though they make me almost nothing these days.I stopped running ads on new posts back in 2014.)

I’m still wrapping up work on certain pages, and I can’t tell you that absolutely everything we ever did has survived in minty condition. One or two obscure sections of Technologizer have long been broken. I didn’t try to fix them, since I can’t remember what they were like in the first place. We used to have quite a lot of fun stuff going on in the sidebar, such as daily links from around the web; most of that got deprecated in past redesigns. Some material involving embeded services is lost forever: I deeply regret using a liveblogging product called CoverItLive, which nuked a lot of our event coverage, including my updates from the Apple events where Steve Jobs answered my questions. But 99.435921% of Technologizer history is here, including many fabulous stories by people other than me, including Benj Edwards, Jared Newman, Ed Oswald, David Worthington, and others. There’s even an otherwise unpublished interview with Steve Jobs by Laura Locke.

Along with preventing the site from collapsing in a cloud of dust right now, extricating most of it from WordPress gives me some confidence it will remain accessible in some form for as long as anyone cares to read it. I could even stick everything we’ve done up until now on a thumb drive, and it would work. Whether anyone will want to revisit vintage tech blogs a few generations from now is up to posterity. But for an itty-bitty site, we did okay. We got quoted by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker, cited by Walter Isaacson in Steve Jobs, and footnoted by Steve Ballmer in a CES keynote presentation. I’m still stumbling across new references to our old stories. I think it would be a shame if something as mundane as software incompatibilities took the site offline.

From the Wayback Machine: Technologizer’s Digital Media Central, which I took down at some point for reasons that now escape me.

Technologizer is also the only repository of my writing about technology that I could rescue on my own. I see that as a responsibility as well as an opportunity, especially since keeping old web content available is not exactly a priority for many media companies. I’m happy to report that everything I’ve written for Fast Company since 2014 remains online and intact. But strange things have happened to the templates on some of the stories I wrote for TIME, including the more than two years’ worth of Technologizer posts I wrote when the blog was part of One of my favorite pieces for that publication—a new introduction to an iPad reissue of the 1983 Machine of the Year issue—got deleted years ago in a purge of all of TIME‘s tablet editions. Worst of all, I think it’s possible that the entirety of my contributions to PC World as a staffer—for 13 years, people!—was long ago eradicated from

It’s not just stuff I wrote and/or edited that I’m worried about. My late friend Don Brockway had a wonderful pop-culture blog called Isn’t Life Terrible? After he died in 2011, it lost its domain name. Many of its images, videos, and audio clips disappeared, and it eventually got hacked. Nobody even knew how to log into any of his accounts to try to repair things. With the help of Don’s family and friends, I created a restored version at—a rewarding experience that was way more involved than de-WordPressing the Technologizer archive. (I’m still looking for some of the missing media that Don embedded—if the video of the original Mouseketeers’ 1975 reunion on Tom Snyder’s Tomorrow show ever resurfaces, it will be a great day.)

There are unimaginable quantities of worthwhile stuff on the World Wide Web that will eventually fall victim to the ravages of time in one way or another. As wonderful as the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine is, it doesn’t capture everything or store it with perfect fidelity, and it can be tough to find stuff unless you already know it’s there. Having freeze-dried two sites in standalone form, I heartily recommend such acts of preservation to everyone else in a position to seize the opportunity. The web is all too fragile, but we have the power to make it at least slightly more permanent.

Bonus material for anyone who’s still reading: Here’s a slightly fuzzy version of my aforementioned introduction to TIME’s 1983 Machine of the Year reissue. (I was smart enough to screen-grab it on my iPad before it went bye-bye.)

TIME magazine essay on Machine of the Year issue by Harry McCracken
TIME magazine essay on Machine of the Year issue by Harry McCracken
TIME magazine essay on Machine of the Year issue by Harry McCracken

3 comments on “How to freeze-dry a website”

  1. I too have lost PC World stories — one that I wrote in 2013 was unpublished long before their migration to their current CMS. I have no idea why. Nice to know it wasn’t personal, though.

    I’d much rather stuff stay online forever. I was recently tasked with updating a WordPress website with 20 years of content that was relying on a theme and a PHP version from 2006; per the notice you received, it was no longer functional on a modern DreamHost environment. It was a lot of work to get everything updated, but totally worth it to see the archives be restored and fully accessible and responsive.

    1. The majority of Technologizer posts ever published will remain frozen in their non-responsive template forever. But since I wrote this post, I’ve been doing more tinkering with the archive, fixing some old and new glitches and adding additional pages, such as obscure index pages created on the fly by WordPress, that my initial SiteSucker dump didn’t find. I also managed to create an archive page that seamlessly lists new posts and all the old stuff even though WordPress has no idea the old pages even exist, a bit of trickery I’m pretty proud to have figured out.

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