Does chronology matter in a virtual space?
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The word ‘blog’ just means web log, a collection of posts that are unrelated, except for the author or authors who composed them. The word is temporal — a log is a collection of entries. So “how to organize a blog” (or any website, really) is an open question because the format provides no default answer, really, other than ‘read in the order in which they were written.’
I didn’t choose the tagline “a blog is just an autobiography that you’re reading as it’s being written” by accident. What is a personal blog but a reflection of the person? So I think I will steer clear of too many fussy features for organizing and reading the content. A simple feed of posts is very appealing to me.
But in thinking about providing a permanent home for my writing on the web, this kind of chronology isn’t very useful. Who cares that I wrote this post in 2015, and this one in 2017? Organizing posts that way is only useful if someone is reading along as the collection is being written. For a permanent writing home, with writing from a year ago as well as writing from ten years ago, chronological order isn’t that useful. Who’s going to sift through a hundred pages of old posts? No, we need a better system.
Categories? An incomplete answer
Categories and tags are, for the most part, overkill on a personal blog. I’m thinking a few very basic filters:
- what kind of writing to expect (an article, essay, poetry, short story, etc)
- what area of interest this post falls under (web design, writing, board gaming, TCK life, etc)
That’s probably the full list of what those categories will be. A minimal feature on the homepage that gives you access to these particular ways to browse the content is sufficient. Thinking of the present-day viewer, this would allow people to subscribe to only the interests they are actually interested in (for example, only the web design posts, or, heaven forbid, only the poetry).
Categories and tags are useful for both present readers and future readers, but they’re not a complete feature for future readers. Let’s think ten years in the future when there are hundreds of posts on here — sure, you can filter by category, but then you are still facing that dreaded reverse-chronological scroll.
A chronology of my life
We don’t read many things in the order in which they were written. The first book of the Bible isn’t Job, even though it is the earliest. We start with the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, even though The Magician’s Nephew takes place “first.”
Similarly, what if I write an essay in 2025 about something that happened in 2005? Or, as I actually have, write an essay in 2020 about events that took place ten years earlier, in 2010? Reverse chronology does us no good here, because this writing is relevant to two dates. For current readers, it’s unquestionably a 2020 essay. But for future readers (say, my grandkids, which is the hypothetical audience I keep holding up in my head), 2010 is definitely the more relevant date. Twenty years in the future, the fact that I wrote the essay in 2020 is only mildly interesting — more interesting will be the period of my life it covers, which is 2010.
So, in keeping with the autobiographical theme, I’m toying with the idea of attaching two dates to a post: a compose date, which is when the post was composed, and a timeline date, which anchors the post to the ‘true’ time in which the events took place. We’re balancing two demands here: current readers will still want to read posts as they’re written, but future readers who stumble upon the site when it is no longer being actively maintained will be more interested in the timeline, chronological order.
Let’s look at my essay about my Great-Nana. Yes, I composed this in 2019, but it doesn’t quite fit in 2019, either, even though 2019 is when we at last said goodbye to her.
Where this writing fits is an editorial decision that I would like to surface on the website. Does the essay belong. . .
- . . .when her life began, in the early 20th century, anchoring the beginning of my story by stretching back years before I was born?
- . . . in 2015, when I was married, with Great Nana in attendance, and my own adult life story began?
- . . . in 2019, which is when we attended the funeral, I wrote down the thoughts, and finally mixed these two spheres of my life.
My point is, this is an interesting question — a content question — and I want the ultimate decision to be viewable by this blog’s readers, whatever of the three above it is. In the spirit of posts that are designed to last, I have visions (delusions, maybe), of someone discovering a mostly-intact home of all my writing, reflections, and work. Will they be most interested in reading it chronologically, as I composed it? No, I suspect the timeline order will be far more interesting twenty years from now.
To read through my life, even as an incomplete picture, fits the permanence I’m envisioning for the site. I would like this to be a home for all my writing: from the stuff I wrote as a teenager, which was influential in my life, albeit embarrassing; to everything I’ve written as an adult, to the pieces I have yet to write, in the future.
This raises an interesting question about writing — do I get to editorialize myself? I wrote some truly interesting stuff in high school, alongside stuff I’d rather burn. Do I present it as-is, hoping that my audience understands and forgives me for being a stupid high schooler? Do I ‘update’ the work, and present it as a piece of me today (which shows how old writing has influenced my life, perhaps)? Do I include the old work as-is, with an addendum that explains where I’m at today?
How does writing reflect life change, when a website presents everything the same? If all we have is the reverse chronological option, does everything receive equal importance? Should the design be shabbier, perhaps, on posts that I agree less with. Maybe I can alter the opacity of a link based on how much or little I’d like you to interact with it.
This is the beauty of a blog in 2020 — no one cares! I’m free to do what I want because this isn’t for professional development, or brand building, or anything. This is a creative outlet and my vision of a home for all of my writing that I’ve accumulated in the last ten or fifteen years. I’d like to be writing for another ten or fifteen or twenty or fifty years, and I’m envisioning this as a home for that writing, too. As far as the internet goes, if someone asks, “Who is/was Andrew Joyce?” the definitive answer will and should always be, “At intothebook.net.”
Next time I sit down to write, I promise you there will be actual redesign happening, and maybe a more web-related post. For now, enjoy this rambling on content organization.