Thinking out loud
Tony Finch’s link log is one of the inspirations for this site. That and that it’s New Year’s Day and I’m resolving to write every day, even if it’s in an unstructured way like this. I considered writing a newsletter again, as well as other formats, but I think the simplicity of blogging will increase the likelihood that I live up to my resolution. I’ve long admired the discipline of people like Tyler Cowen and Fred Wilson who blog every single day of the year, and if they can do it, why can’t I?
Blogging is also my way of quietly rejecting social media and its pernicious incentive structure. Here is the first sentence of a recent article that rang very true to me:
I remember the exact moment when the internet turned sour for me. It was July 1, 2013: the day Google Reader was put down by its corporate masters. The death of an RSS reader might not seem like the greatest tragedy to befall the internet over the past decade—it wasn’t—but it had a profound impact on my professional, and thus intellectual, life.
The article is full of inferences that are plain wrong, but the yielding of blogging in the face of social media is real and it can be traced pretty directly back to the death of Reader as much as any other moment. As much as readers, indie writers depended on it to be aggregated and consumed in a (yes) personalized news feed. There were also community feeds like Digg, Hacker News, Slashdot, and Metafilter that are shadows of their former selves. They were “entry points to the network” and it was a network of independents writing on their own homesteads. Today the networks to which Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are entrypoints are proprietary, standardized, and gamified, and we are at best renting our little plots and at worst we’re serfs.
Before I get mail, let me say that I grok all the virtues of these platforms. Indeed I was an early evangelist. But I’m still allowed to be nostalgic for what’s been lost. Perhaps as more people grow disenchanted with the new medium’s limitations, at least some will try to go back to indie and make social media work as an entrypoint for better or worse. Again, if Tyler and Fred can do it, why can’t I?
A final and related inspiration is This Page is Designed to Last: A Manifesto for Preserving Content on the Web by Jeff Huang who laments the scurge of link rot. As he puts it, “the increasing complexity of keeping alive indie content on the web, leading to a reliance on platforms” and he admits he’s as guilty as anyone:
I’ve recommended my students to push websites to Heroku, and publish portfolios on Wix. Yet every platform with irreplaceable content dies off some day. Geocities, LiveJournal, what.cd, now Yahoo Groups. One day, Medium, Twitter, and even hosting services like GitHub Pages will be plundered then discarded when they can no longer grow or cannot find a working business model.
To counteract this he’s developed a list of rules for indie web development, many of which I’m adopting here. Again, following Tony Finch, this one really speaks to me:
Prefer one page over several – several pages are hard to maintain. You can lose track of which pages link to what, and it also leads to some system of page templates to reduce redundancy. How many pages can one person really maintain? Having one file, probably just an index.html, is simple and unforgettable. Make use of that infinite vertical scroll. You never have to dig around your files or grep to see where some content lies.
So I’ve built this little site as one big page. It is actually made of individual Markdown files, one for each day, but there’s only one index.php. I hope you like it. ■