If everything never stops happening, then it must become impossible to get a proper sense of when anything in particular started, or ended, or was going on, or whatever.
This is context collapse all over again. Tom Whyman explores how feeds are distorting our perception of time. He concludes that we should clock to the feed, which is absurd. Evolutionary biology disagrees, thanks.
I’ve considered checking Wikipedia for my news. Attempting to be a coherent canonical source is useful. Much more than stating this person talked to that person, but policy won’t be decided for six months.
But really, today I want to talk about blogs. Personal websites and online presences also exist on a continuum between drip feed to static content.
Amy Hoy laments about the death of the homepage:
A well-organized homepage was a sign of personal and professional pride — even if it was nothing but a collection of fun gifs, or instructions on how to make the best potato guns, or homebrew research on gerbil genetics.
Dates didn’t matter all that much. Content lasted longer; there was less of it. Older content remained in view, too, because the dominant metaphor was table of contents rather than diary entry.
And that there were very few blogs. Until Moveable Type, the first popular CMS, defaulted to reverse chronological order.
Oh, sure, you could customize your Movable Type site. All you had to do was program the templates. It was more difficult than HTML, but not hugely so for someone who already maintained their own site. And if you couldn’t program yourself, well, you could copy and paste snippets. It seemed like the whole (tiny) blogosphere was sharing their favorites. Calendar sidebars for everyone!
There was just one problem…
It was a trap.
Those little sidebar calendars were bait.
But once you are given a tool that operates effortlessly — but only in a certain way — every choice that deviates from the standard represents a major cost.
And the damn reverse chronology bias — once called into creation, it hungers eternally — sought its next victim. Myspace. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Pinterest, of all things. Today these social publishing tools are beginning to buck reverse chronological sort; they’re introducing algorithm sort, to surface content not by time posted but by popularity, or expected interactions, based on individual and group history. There is even less control than ever before.
There are no more quirky homepages.
There are no more amateur research librarians.
All thanks to a quirky bit of software produced to alleviate the pain of a tiny subset of a very small audience.
That’s not cool at all.
This seems quite antithetical to Weeknotes, doesn’t it. Amy’s writing comes from an "evergreen content marketing" standpoint. If you’re sharing something, why not make it important. And, if it’s important then it should be easy to find.
Weeknotes falls into a category of thinking in public. Rather than presenting a conclusion, it’s showing your working and seeking collaboration in progressing an idea. "Everything I know about X" is useful, but so is "What I’ve Just Learned About X". The timeliness is an invitation for dialog.
Tom Critchlow makes a distinction between feeds, campfires and gardens. Twitter gives you the feed. It’s all you get. Traditional blogging, and Weeknotes, provides a campfire. It’s a social object around which things can emerge. It’ll always be there, and you can find it again, but it represents a point in time. And then there’s the digital garden. Which is a tended space that accumulates bits and pieces that are useful. It’s not a homepage for everything, but a web for anything.
The site where I discovered Amy’s piece refers to itself as a Digital Garden:
The phrase "digital garden" is a metaphor for thinking about writing and creating that focuses less on the resulting showpiece and more on the process, care, and craft it takes to get there.
If you visit the root of this site you’ll notice that you are welcomed with a small "best of" selection and a few other topics that I wanted to surface for you because they are interesting to me and I’d like to share them with you.
Curation comes before a chronological list. The chronological list is still there, but when you click "all articles" instead of numbered pages, all of the articles on that page are visible. If I had thousands of posts that might be a problem, but with my fairly small catalog the pages loads fast and you can scroll through it easily.
Tom Critchlow references Robin Sloan and the idea of turning Flow into Stock
Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that reminds people you exist.
Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.
There’s something in this, and I’ve been seeing them all over the place. (I think I’ve found the scene, if such a thing exists.) Andy Matuschak’s notes are the canonical example right now. The page flow, of seeing multiple notes side by side blew my mind.
The one thing that many of the dedicated sites are lacking, imo, is RSS. If I miss them talking about it on the feed, then the edge of their thinking is lost. And so is the opportunity for the shared experience.
Weeknotes for flow, Digital Garden for stock?
I’m thinking of rebuilding this site in a format that’s Digital Garden native. Alongside point in time updates and more polished articles. There’s a raft of innovation and a buzz of curiosity about this at the moment. I lurked on the Interhackt hackathon this week. I didn’t have the opportunity to get my hands dirty, but a modest markdown to web project could be on the horizon.
📍 A Point on the Timeline
We’re reorganising some of our space. Particularly for work, but that’s having a cascading effect. The new desk takes up more space than the old one, and I’ve moved my one downstairs.
The second smaller delivery happened this week. Putting that desk in the back room has reminded me how much stuff we need to get out of there.
There’s a couple charity shop runs to come. This week I managed to freecycle some of our stuff. It’s much getter to get things to a good home than to refuse.
Shape as well as size matters with furniture. We’ve replace a couple of tall items with ones that are waist height but wide. It really opens up the space. Removing the tall bookshelf from the living room has made way more of a difference than I expected. Even though there’s a desk in that space.