Monday, January 17, 2005


Would I be a bad blogger if ...

... I took the links to my archives off of my main page? I'm contemplating replacing these links with links to the posts that I am most satisfied with as representations of what I still think. Here's the deal: I've always been uncomfortable with the archives. I know this makes me suspect as a blogger; there is a strange social psychology of blogging that has developed which seems to make it an ethical requirement that all of your posts be readily available in perpetuity. So before I sin so boldly against the bloggy gods, I wanted the feedback of the many more experienced bloggers who grace these pages with their presence.

First, in my defense, let me point out that removing the archive links would not abolish the archives. My "search bar" at the top of the page makes it possible to pull up any post from the past, and it doesn't take too much thinking to figure out how one could, say, return all the results from "August 2004" by using the search function. Also, because of the way my "Recent Posts" list works, you can work your way in reverse through the entire history of Mode for Caleb by repeatedly clicking the last link in the list. So I'm not deleting the past, only making it accessible in different ways.

I know that archives seem to be a constitutive feature of what makes a blog what it is: a dated series of writings. But although blogs have the appearance of an ordinary time-stamped journal or diary, their visual organization is in fact very synchronous. Blogs screw up my sense of a writer's development of ideas over time. In the first place, this is because they are organized with the most recent posts first, so whenever I click on an archive page, I'm encouraged to read backwards, instead of in the proper chronological order.

The other synchronous feature of blogging has to do with its character as hyper-text. You can leap with abandon from July 2004 to November 2004 in my life, without any sense of the passage of time between these months, or the possible transformation of my moods and thoughts over that period. Of course, you could do the same thing if you were reading a physical diary or volume of correspondence. But there is a difference in the experience of reading a bound book and a blog: if you skip around, the physical weight of the pages before and after the one you are looking at makes it impossible for you to forget that there are many things you are skipping. When you jump to an archive page of a blog, which looks exactly like the main page, these tangible reminders of time's passage are absent. Your eye easily tricks your mind into ignoring the dates, and the past comes to seem every bit as present as the present.

Okay, that's the nerdy philosophical justification for what I'm contemplating. On a practical level, though, I just don't see the need for the archive links. It seems to me that there are two reasons why a reader might use them. First, someone might be looking for an old post that they have read. In that case, the search bar seems like a much better tool. Secondly (and most likely), a new reader might want to get a sense of who I am as a writer and what this blog is about. But in that case, why should I not help them by giving them a list of the posts that I feel most represent me and the blog? That seems more accurate and efficient than the scatter-shot introduction that comes from clicking around the archives.

So ... what do you think? Would I be a very bad blogger if I did this? Would you care? Should I?

Collective Improvisation:
I've never used the archives on anyone's page. If I want an idea of their thinking, I read backwards through their posts/life. As long as the search feature is there, why not get rid of the archives? 

Posted by greg

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 1/17/2005 09:36:00 AM : Permalink  

I use blog archives all the time--sort of like browsing the stacks. While a focused search is good, sometimes you just don't know what you're looking for.

Anyway, why can't you do both? Put "greatest hits" up, and then, below it, the archives. Or put the archives way at the bottom under the blogroll. I for one wouldn't think to troll archives by searching under a month, first b/c who knows how long the blog has been around? And second, b/c it just wouldn't occur to me. 

Posted by bitchphd

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 1/17/2005 09:38:00 AM : Permalink  

You never use archives--until you really like an author (such as Tim Burke or James Lileks) and want to read everything they've done.

Of course, I pulled all of my archives pre-April 2004 off of my site a few months ago, and nobody seems to have noticed. 

Posted by Paul

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 1/17/2005 09:57:00 AM : Permalink  

I love archives. I've stuggled with the same question regarding mine . . . I feel both my writing and character has evolved since I started keeping an online jounral, and that my earlier posts are no longer representative of who I am or what I think. However, for me, at least, this is no reason to pull them. I find something personal and comforting in being able to go back and, say, check out the first few posts of a newly discovered writer, and it's partially for this reason that I leave my own (embarrassing as they might be) archives up. Too, why not stand behind your younger self? This whole site is a testament to how your thinking has grown . . . why not leave it?

Of course, you're free to ignore me. I believe this is the first time I've posted here. (I am, for what it's worth, a tremendous fan. You're a marvelously evocative and insightful writer.) 

Posted by Siona

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 1/17/2005 11:54:00 AM : Permalink  

When I visit a blog for the first time, I'm absolutely frustrated if there aren't archives for me to explore. Using archives is the easiest way (for me, anyway) to learn about the blogger. If there aren't archives, I usually just move on.... 

Posted by Jimmy

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 1/17/2005 01:37:00 PM : Permalink  

i like the idea of a dedicated list of entries i like. been meaning to do something like that but laziness and a weird unwillingness to read anything i wrote 2 months ago has stopped me.
i would keep the archive if only to give a sense of time you have been active. surely, you don't want to silence history? ;) 

Posted by sepoy

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 1/17/2005 04:54:00 PM : Permalink  

When I first come to a blog that looks interesting I usually look for the "about me/this blog" information. If I don't find any I go back to the first month or two of the archives, on the assumption that at least one of those early posts will say something about both the blogger and the reasons for setting up the blog.

If you provide a collection of posts that gives a sense of who you are, then it won't matter so much if you take off the links to the archives. But I would object to getting rid of the links and replacing them with nothing.

My only additional suggestion is this: for some reason I'm always curious to know how long a blogger has been blogging. So maybe you could put an "est. July 2004" note somewhere in the sidebar, if you wanted.

Oh, and another way people can get to the archives without links is simply by typing in the URL: since Blogger uses a standard format for generating URL's on blogspot blogs, it's not that hard to guess what they are. 

Posted by aj

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 1/17/2005 07:39:00 PM : Permalink  

Thanks to everyone for being so generous with your feedback. I definitely have more to ponder. It's interesting that there is such a range of opinion here: some love the archives, some are indifferent. I suppose as long as there are those who love them, I should think carefully before taking them down.

Of course, as I said originally, I would not really be taking them down or silencing them. I admit I would be making the blog less friendly to users who like the archives. Professor B.'s objections seem hard to overrule. On the one hand, the problem of not knowing how far back the archives go could be solved by AJ's suggestion (an "est. July 2004" tag somewhere). On the other hand, even then it is not intuitive for a reader to search for the archives. And as Jimmy warns, the most powerful intuition a new reader has might be just to move on.

So why not simply do both? Keep the archive links and put up a list of representative links, as Professor B. suggests? The fact that I don't immediately agree to this shows that part of my problem with the archives has to do with the issues that Siona raises. Don't we all have posts that we want to make it hard to access? Posts that we don't want friends, family members, potential employers, students, perfect strangers, simply stumbling on, bereft of any additional chronological or critical context with which to interpret how important those particular posts may be?

Siona's probably right that the healthiest thing to do in these cases is to stand by "your younger self." And to get over yourself. Accept that we change over time. Accept that we have moods, and that these moods are sometimes reflected in a post. Accept that we are sometimes wrong. Accept that as authors we cannot completely control how readers perceive us. For all I know, after all, the posts that seem most embarrassing to me may not be the ones that actually raise the eyebrow of someone else. So I should hang up my hang-ups and move on.

Unless my hang-ups with my writing are a central part of me. What if, by giving you my representative list but being reticent about the whole list, I am actually revealing something about my writerly and blogging self -- that there is one side of me that is loud and showy and opinionated (hey, let's face it: all bloggers, all writers have this side), but that there is also a private side of me who is often annoyed and put off by the public side, an introverted side that wants me to nurse a thought for a long time before trying to put it into words, and that consequently laments when a thought is prematurely born.

In other words, I don't know what would be the more honest thing to say to a new reader wanting to know about me: to make it easy to see everything I've said with the click of a button, or to communicate my reluctance to do that. But maybe just having the representative list, in addition to the archives links, would still communicate in an implicit way that the private and public writers in me often do not get along.

But you probably didn't comment on this post thinking it would end up as an overwrought writer's therapy session. I really do appreciate the feedback, and I hope it's clear that I don't intend anything I've said to be taken as normative for everyone. The irony is that I myself often click on archive links, and perhaps that's why I even think about whether people click on mine. 

Posted by Caleb

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 1/17/2005 10:18:00 PM : Permalink  

Caleb, you could take all of my posts, sort out the utterly embarrassing crap, put it all in a pile--and that pile would be more than everything you've written. Mostly that's because I've been at it longer than you have.

The remaining pile would be smaller than what you've written, and mostly not as good. Why on earth are you worried about this?

Posted by Jason Kuznicki

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 1/17/2005 10:54:00 PM : Permalink  

Jason, I doubt you are right about the size of those blog piles (when I put it that way, "blog piles" almost sounds scatological, but I'm rolling with it), since one of my oldest aspirations as a blogger has been to live up to the standard set by Positive Liberty. But you are certainly right that I shouldn't be so worried. Thanks for the kind words and the slap upside-the-head. I'll now return the blog to its regularly scheduled navel gazing. 

Posted by Caleb

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 1/18/2005 08:46:00 AM : Permalink  

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