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The Archival and Ephemeral Properties of Blogging and Twitter

Posted on 19 September 2010

For whatever reason, a cough that was better today than it had been for the last few days and had been pretty much MIA returned with a vengeance and interrupted my (and my significant other’s) sleep. So I’m up drinking some niocitrin and decided to change the way my blog’s Twitter digest works.

Regular readers (ha!) will notice that over about the last couple of weeks I’ve had two nearly-daily posts called “links for d-m-y” and “my day in twitter updates for d-m-y”. These are both minimalist ways for me to take content I create elsewhere (my Delicious bookmarks account and my Twitter account) and automatically import them into my blog. Part of what compelled me to do that was this post by Scott Rosenberg:

“Everything we put on the Web is both ephemeral and archival — ephemeral in the sense that so much of what we post is only fleetingly relevant, archival in the sense that the things we post tend to stay where we put them so we can find them years later.

“Is there any way to find what you wrote on Facebook last year? I hope so, for the sake of the millions of people who are chronicling their lives on Mark Zuckerberg’s servers. But I’ve certainly never been able to find it.”

This is true. Go ahead and try to find your first post on Facebook. Or even a specific one from a few months back. It’s time-consuming at best. Search functionality is minimal, permalinks are tough to find– for all intents and purposes, that information is lost. If you think there’s any value to what you’re saying on the web, even just in the personal-diary or personal-correspondence sense, this can be problematic. Essentially, Facebook cares about what’s going on now and nothing else.

I tend to think of online activity as a little bit more than that. To me, it’s both a means of communicating what’s going on now, but also a fantastic tool for chronicling what was going on then. I can go into my Flickr account or my blog and search by date, letting me have a view of where I was and what I was doing at specific points in time. In this sense, it acts as a daily log, no different than the personal journals kept by people for ages, except that it also happens to be available for others to see, if they so choose. There’s other things at play, of course, but for me it’s these archival properties that are useful.

It was thinking about it in this way that made me decide to start importing my Tweets into this blog. First, Twitter has spotty archival ability and second, who wants to go through the process of finding individual tweets when it would make more sense to have them be sorted by day using the more-refined search capabilities attributed to a blog? So I started using Twitter Digest to import my daily status updates and conversations. Not only did this give me more ownership and protection, it gave me an easy way to update my blog.

But having done this for a couple of weeks, I don’t like the effect it’s having on my blog’s readability. Since I post a couple of times a week, at most, my longer-form essays are being drowned out in a sea of status updates. There are other solutions to this, such as removing the “Tweet” category from the front page or changing the layout, but ultimately I think the best solution is scaling-back the digest to be updated/imported once a week, rather than once a day. If anyone really wants to know what I’m doing in the last 24 hours, they’d be following me on Twitter. If they’re only mildly curious, they can check in on my blog once a week to see the digest alongside whatever else I’ve written. It solves my primary problem without sacrificing the readability of my blog.

As a side note, I’m keeping the daily links update. I have a constant pull between a main blog that consists solely of my own, longer-form content and a more Tumblr-style blog that includes my content and content I’ve found elsewhere. The daily links helps me achieve a happy medium, allowing me to share (and archive) things I’ve found interesting on a daily basis without creating multiple “re-blogged” posts a day.

If you are a reader of this blog, I would appreciate some feedback on what you find makes for a better/more interesting reading experience, but otherwise, I think I’m happy with what I’ve got.

Filed under: ideas, meta, social media

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