21

Giving this question a shot since it's something I'm currently dealing with...

I've been an administrator of a forum/site community for a number of years and for the past couple years the actual founder of the site is less and less active. If I remember right, the last time I've heard from him was months ago. The forum software expired license-wise, so I've lost quite a few functions out of my already limited set as an administrator.

So the question to my fellow administrators: If the owner of the site you've worked to build and assist with seemingly vanished, how do you deal with the resulting community? Many of the moderators have left and I feel the community's spinning its wheels at this point. I'd like not to leave since I've worked hard on developing said community.

Edit: To answer the comment, the owner is not reachable by any means...which is unfortunate.

  • 1
    I love the question, I just would love to have that clarification: do you have the ability to contact the owner, or is the owner completely absent and unreachable? I think it makes a significant difference in the answer (and that they are very different cases). But again, awesome question. – jmac Jul 30 '14 at 13:49
  • @jmac Edited the question. Unfortunately the owner seems to have fallen off the face of the earth in this case. – Nathan C Jul 30 '14 at 13:50
  • Even the whois information is invalid? – AJ Henderson Jul 30 '14 at 21:06
11

Start with doing a data dump of everything you can. If the site administrator is truly off-line, the site going off-line is an immanent threat. Presumably as a moderator you have access to the forum back-end¹. It may or may not prove legal for you to use this data, but stashing it now and figuring that out later will give you the possibility if you determine you have the right to do so and decide to continue where things left off.

Next, get busy researching who owns what. Find out where the site is hosted and try contact avenues associated with that. Sites don't host themselves and somebody pays the electric bills. Also figure out what license the community contributed content has been made available under.

Additionally, start a conversation with as many key members of the community as you can so they are aware of the problem and your desire to fix it. If you do re-locate—whether starting fresh with the same people or importing data and continuing—you will need the support of as many active and influential community members as possible to make a relocated project viable. You might want to get this rolling off-site so if the site does go dark people have an established meeting place from which to coordinate a site-reboot.

¹ I should stress "don't be evil" here. Don't abuse your access to PII or content that is not licensed to you. I'm only suggesting you archive what is public or you might have a right to use in the event the site goes dark, at which point it will be too late. Do figure out what the ethical and legal limits are on you usage of the data before you do anything with it, but possession of a database backup us usually not outside the scope of an administrator's rights if that is your role.

  • Luckily, the community content isn't so much of a worry license-wise. The community grew because of software that was produced by the owner, but with the owner gone...well, that software's gone too and a lot of users went with it. It's something to keep in mind, definitely. – Nathan C Jul 30 '14 at 15:35
5

You might need to propose a site move.

Post in the forum / chat, whatever, explaining the situation, asking for volunteers to donate time to set things up, and/or money if needed for hosting, domain names, etc. Also include a sincere apology to the owner, asking them to give you a yell if they come across the post.

People might even have fun, e.g. choosing a new site name, proposing designs or new rules, etc.

It's possibly the only way to keep the community alive.

  • It seems to be heading that way. I've been trying to get his attention (or anyone's really) by posting about the situation on our staff forums...it may come down to that soon, though. – Nathan C Jul 30 '14 at 14:29
2

I was in a similar situation some years ago. If the owner has truly as you claim, "fallen off the face of the Earth," and you have already attempted to contact them via the WHOIS contact information provided by the registrar of the domain, there may a "nuclear option" available to you.

The Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA) between ICANN and accredited domain registrars contains provisions to ensure the accuracy of the WHOIS contact information and places the burden of verification on the registrar. In particular, the relevant section of the current RAA states the following:

4 - If Registrar has any information suggesting that the contact information specified in Section 1(a) through 1(f) above is incorrect (such as Registrar receiving a bounced email notification or non-delivery notification message in connection with compliance with ICANN's Whois Data Reminder Policy or otherwise) for any Registered Name sponsored by Registrar (whether or not Registrar was previously required to perform the validation and verification requirements set forth in this Specification in respect of such Registered Name), Registrar must verify or re-verify, as applicable, the email address(es) as described in Section 1.f (for example by requiring an affirmative response to a Whois Data Reminder Policy notice). If, within fifteen (15) calendar days after receiving any such information, Registrar does not receive an affirmative response from the Registered Name Holder providing the required verification, Registrar shall either verify the applicable contact information manually or suspend the registration, until such time as Registrar has verified the applicable contact information. If, within fifteen (15) calendar days after receiving any such information, Registrar does not receive an affirmative response from the customer paying for the Registered Name, if applicable, providing the required verification, Registrar shall verify the applicable contact information manually, but is not required to suspend any registration.

5 - Upon the occurrence of a Registered Name Holder's willful provision of inaccurate or unreliable WHOIS information, its willful failure promptly to update information provided to Registrar, or its failure to respond for over fifteen (15) calendar days to inquiries by Registrar concerning the accuracy of contact details associated with the Registered Name Holder's registration, Registrar shall either terminate or suspend the Registered Name Holder's Registered Name or place such registration on clientHold and clientTransferProhibited, until such time as Registrar has validated the information provided by the Registered Name Holder.

This does not require the registrar to let you take over the domain of an AWOL administrator. However, it does provide you with an avenue to pursue. If you're unable to contact the owner via the WHOIS contact information for the domain, you can contact the registrar and ask them to verify the WHOIS contact information. Under the RAA, they are required to investigate. You can also express to the registrar your specific concern and hope that they'll pass it along in the course of verifying the information.

Be aware that if the registrar can't contact the owner, and doesn't feel like going beyond the bare requirements of the Agreement to help you out, this could potentially do more harm than good. That's why I call it a "nuclear option" - if for whatever reason the owner can't be contacted, the registration may eventually be cancelled. Maybe the registrar is willing and able to work with you to take over the domain in that case, or maybe you'll have to fight for it. And that's just the domain - if you don't have access to backup the site itself, you may have to deal with the host as well to avoid losing data.

I can't speak to the likelihood of success, as I've only gone partway through this process. In my case, the registrar was able to verify new contact information, which I used to get in contact with the owner. The site's founder had graduated college, gotten married and had a kid, and his mother was the one paying to renew the domain. Long story short, she transferred the domain, but I never got the data. So, a mixed result.

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