An email exchange I had with Woodge a week or two ago has had me thinking about some of the traditional “fundamentals” of blogs and blogging. You see, Woodge doesn’t have comments on his site. He doesn’t archive his old posts, either. Once you get to the bottom of his home page, you’re confronted with the declaration:
“Archives? There ain’t no stinkin’ archives! Older entries are just plain GONE. Too bad if you didn’t get a chance to read ’em. They were really good, too. Not like the crap posted above.”
The first time I read this, I felt a twinge of panic. I’ve ventured into the abyss of catastrophic data loss on two occasions, and both times I was lucky to make it back with only minor injuries. The thought of deliberately throwing away blog postings makes me twitchy.
But this isn’t what Woodge does. He said that he does keep his own archives of (at least some of) the things he has written. They’re just not available as traditional on-line blog archives.
Hmm. Let’s think about this for a moment.
All the main blogging tools take care of archiving automatically. When you write a new entry, it gets its own permalink at the same time it appears on your front page. From that point on, that particular entry has a unique and stable URL that you can bookmark, link to, or email to others. For blogs and sites that have a certain amount of focus, this can be immensely valuable. The abreviation “URL” stands for Uniform Resource Locator. News items, announcements, technical articles, handy tips and tricks, can all be said to be useful resources on the web.
But what about all the fluffy little entries that litter unfocused, personal blogs like mine? “Today I went to the park with Alex. We had a nice time.” Entries like this are of interest to my friends and family, but only for a limited time. They can’t really be said to be a permanent resource to anyone but myself (as souvenir memories), my kids (when they’re older and want to see what daddy was doing back then in the old days) and crazy blog stalkers who want to obsessively research the minutiae of my everyday life.
I’m starting to think that permalinking everything in sight isn’t a particularly good strategy in the long term. I definitely want to keep writing new blog entries, and I want my personal content management system to store them in a permanent archive, but that doesn’t mean these entries should be permanently visible and Google-able to the rest of the world.
There are blogging tools available that allow you to make a distinction between simple “posts” and longer “articles” (e.g. .Text and Radio Userland). With Movable Type, creating this distinction takes a bit more effort: you can set up two blogs, one for articles and one for postings, and then interleave with with a technique such as the one I described last year. You could then set the “articles” blog to generate entry archives as normal, and tell the “postings” blog to only ever show entries on the front page.
It might be a nice feature, though, if Movable Type had more options available for your “Post Status”. At the moment, you’ve got “Draft” and “Publish”. If I want to remove a published entry from my visible archives once it has outlived its usefulness, then I can set its status back to “Draft”, but that doesn’t capture my intention. Also, MT won’t actually delete the static page that had been created when the entry was originally published, so if anyone has its URL, they can still get at it. Better would be if there was a status of “Retired”, which could remove the page on disk, or could tell your web server to generate an HTTP 410: Gone message.
(Note to self: the MT3 developer contest is still open. Could I slap together a plugin in time for the deadline? Nnngggngngn….Perl…ggahhgg…)
A similar argument can be made about comments. Blogs with a strong subject focus, or with a strong community can generate lots of interesting and on-topic comments. The majority of blog comments I see, however (both here on my own blog and elsewhere), are “me too” posts, or thinly veiled pleas for a reciprocal visit or linkback. “Community” and “discussion” don’t arise on their own–they’re things you have to cultivate. And if you don’t have the time to cultivate and encourage them, and spend the associated time weeding out trolls, rubbish, and spam, then why have the comments form on your blog in the first place? Why not just show your email address, so that anyone who wants to discuss the entry can do so in a more direct manner? And if you want to run a disussion group, why not use bulletin board software?
Taking this line of thinking even further leads to the inevitable question: why am I blogging at all? If I don’t want people link to or comment on something I’ve written, why say it in public in the first place? Why not just scribble in a journal, or rant at Abi over dinner every evening?
The answer for me is at least partly laziness: I find it easier and quicker to write blog entries than to write emails to keep in touch with friends and family. Anyone who wants to know what I’m up to can check the blog. The second part of the answer is that I do occasionally have thoughts or information that I like to think other people might want to share. I put them up here, search engines index them, and sooner or later people start showing up. I don’t aspire to blogging fame, and a readership that hangs on my every word. Fame might sound like fun, but I think it would get rather stressful and annoying after a while.
Finally, I blog because I enjoy it. I like working with blogging tools, in particular Movable Type. Noodling around with HTML and CSS is fun. I like having a corner of the web that is just me, or at least an extension of myself in virtual space. If I meet someone in real life or online, I can point them over here so they can learn a little bit more about me. It’s a calling card and a playground all in one.
Is this reason enough to carry on blogging? I think so. But it might be time to change the format.