A couple posts (here and here) on the dailypost.wordpress.com caught my attention. The first post follows its own advice to resurrect the second older post by adding some additional information. The result drove in a point that some blog posts remain interesting and relevant despite being old. Such posts have what they call evergreen content.
What caught my attention was the concept that we need a word to describe old posts that remain relevant in the present. The second link above has stock images of very old libraries containing extremely old books. The idea of getting back into the stacks is to find timeless material that continue to contain value despite being so old and perhaps despite being ignored for ages.
The image of a stack of books in a library or even a well stocked bookstore illustrates something about books that has not been replicated in the electronic age, especially with blogging. Books inspire the collecting of books. A collection of books encourage browsing. Browsing encourages resorting books from chronological by publication date to some kind of categorization based on genre or content. In book collections, two closely related books will sit next to each other: one a fresh printing of a recent copyright and the other an old yellowed tattered book long out of print.
Books have been around for millennia without a need to invoke an analogy to evergreen trees. Books are perpetually green.
At the other end of the spectrum is the electronic instant message exemplified by services like Snapchat that immediately deliver content with an expiration date. The message (or image) may in fact have lasting value but we deliberately destroy it almost immediately. It makes sense to assign a term like evergreen to a snapchat message that has the potential of lasting value.
Twitter is a similar kind of service meant to deliver instant information but to an unlimited audience and apparently the messages are available perpetually. Despite this, generally we will only pay attention to a few authors that we are following, or to those that use a certain key word (hash-tag) or that twitter’s algorithms decide matches our preferences. As I seek interesting authors to follow, I note that many have thousands of tweets and yet I will only look at the most recent two or three. I suppose it is possible to be so interested in one author to browse his entire history of tweets but I haven’t encountered that motivation so far. The number of tweets is evidence of a frequent tweeter and thus could be interesting in providing frequent updates on some current topic.
Again, some of those updates may become enduring in value. Such messages can be made stickier by becoming embedded in news articles or blog posts. There, a tweet will remain prominently presented despite its age and the fact that the author has since tweeted dozens of more recent content.
In the middle between print libraries and the instant messages are the blogs.
Making an analogy to the pre-Internet era, the instant messages may be analogous to phone calls or broadcast radio or TV. Printed books are unchanged, but we now have electronic books that I doubt have fully recreated the evergreen nature of books in library stacks. In the middle are the older mechanisms of newspapers or magazines with daily, weekly, or monthly circulation. The distinction between newspapers and magazines was primarily the durability of the media. Newspapers are intended to be read by a single reader and then discarded while a magazine can sit on tables and encouraged to be re-read many people who sometimes will helpfully ink in comments or highlight passages to annoy future readers.
I would like to think of a blog as like a newspaper or magazine but one that has a very small niche market where the writer, editor, and publisher are the same person. Depending on the author’s personality, the content may be more diligent journalism with appropriate research, or the content may be more editorial and opinion writing. In either case, the content has some lingering value. For example, although nearly all printed copies of newspapers were immediately discarded, a few copies have been preserved. We frequently reference those copies today to research how a historical event was reported as the event became known.
My image of a blog post is like those newspapers or magazines in having two lives: one is immediate update of latest events and opinions about those events, and the other is an enduring reference about a particular topic as it was chronicled over time.
Even though newspapers and magazines are intended for immediate announcements of developing news stories, they have always had a durable quality that encouraged saving old copies. I recall saving papers (especially the fat editions on Sunday) for long past their print dates, and saving every copy of a subscribed magazine. Printed magazines in particular encouraged a collection that includes an unbroken chain of volume and issue numbers.
The most vivid and perhaps widely recognized example are the old National Geographic magazines. They had a timeless quality. While we looked forward to the latest edition, we would spend time re-reading past issues from years ago.
Paper-based media has this evergreen quality to it. Not only do we expect it to be retrievable perpetually, but we expect to go back and browse through older editions and revisit a past favorite or discover something we may have missed earlier. I think we took for granted that the content was enduring even though it was tied to a timestamp of “this is what the author knows at the time of this writing”.
In our zeal of converting everything to electronic and to eliminate paper, we may have overlooked this inherent evergreen quality of printed material being capable of being cataloged and stacked for casual browsing. Personally, I find pleasure in strolling through stacks of books in libraries and bookstores without a particular goal in mind. A title may motivate me to take a look at the book. Perhaps the book is not interesting but the author is intriguing, or the book hints at a more interesting topic. I allow this newfound information to direct me to a different part of the stacks.
I really haven’t experienced that same kind of exploration in the electronic media universe. Even with the electronic books. There is a something missing about being exposed to neighboring volumes of different vintages and authors covering a similar topic. A very old volume can become reinvigorated by the introduction of neighboring newer volume on the same shelf. There is a kind of life energy that passes between printed books in stacks that keep older volumes alive and relevant.
Some old volumes are so delicate they need to be separated from the regular circulation stacks. In these cases, there is a chronological ordering of material sometimes in different restricted access rooms for old, very old, extremely old, etc. However even in these more restricted stacks, the books gain equivalent relevance by proximity of authors separated by vast distances or times.
A few ancient writers survive to popular familiarity due to the reprinting of their works in fresher media so we can find them. For example, I am impressed by the enduring relevance of thoughts on human nature a book by Homer from nearly 3000 years ago. There must have been many writers of his and later ages that could offer some relevance if only we still had access to their works. Certainly we hear of many influential philosophers who wrote prolifically in their time but the tiniest fragments of their works survive today. If there was a technology to resurrect these lost writings, I don’t doubt we would invest whatever it would take to make that recovery happen.
Printed works are inherently different from blogs. There is a presumption of perpetual relevance of printed works that doesn’t exist with blogs. In many cases, the invested mental effort is comparable. I have read many blog authors who demonstrate a great deal of care in writing and the research to support that writing. I admire those authors in contrast to my own lazy writing.
Even my lazy authorship has parallels with historic writers who enjoy at least some audience today. Those historic writers of comparable laziness will continue to have audiences in the future because there works are printed or at least their electronic versions are cataloged like printed works. It doesn’t seem like this will happen with blogs unless they get compiled into some printed volume.
Blog posts never get put into stacks or entered into catalogs. This makes sense because unless the author takes additional effort to have his works printed, the blog posts never had a physical presence on a printed page. We don’t catalog blog posts like we catalog books or even magazines or newspaper volumes and issues.
Blog posts are strictly chronological. I think my experience as a reader of blogs is typical. I find an interesting blogger because of a reference from another work or because it showed up in a search. After reading the interesting post, I will check the blog site and glance at the titles at the top. From that point, I will either bookmark his site or subscribe as follower. In either case, I’ll be informed of his latest contributions.
I recall seeing blogs announce their ten years anniversary of daily blogging with multiple posts per day. I see the latest post. I don’t browse to see what I may have missed in the previous tens of thousands of earlier posts.
The difference between blogs and printed works is the cataloging of content. For blogs, content is cataloged chronologically by author. For books, the are cataloged by content and then by author.
In effect, a blog is more like twitter or snapchat than it is like a magazine or newspaper. We follow blogs to see what the author is up to today. I suppose our assumption is that if the author has something of lasting importance to say, then the author will commit the work to a printed media or at least have it included in the catalog of digital publishers who once were printers. A blog is just a fatter version of a tweet.
My blogging style of having something to write while I sip my morning tea is of a comparable to a tweet. This is what I am thinking about while I am sipping my morning tea. However, my thought are not very time sensitive. For example in this post, I’m not saying anything about current events, what the weather is like, or how high the sun is from the horizon. The closest it comes to being time sensitive is the subject of blogging in the middle-age of blogging: blogging at a time that is long past its initial experimentation but not yet obsolete.
When I encountered the posts mentioned at the top of this post, my reaction was that perhaps 90% of my blog posts are evergreen in the sense of being just as relevant as today’s post. That would be some 180 posts that I would need to re-introduce or make sticky so that people will encounter them. (Forgive me if I have not yet discovered the randomize sort option for the home page configuration). There are some old posts that I really hope that some future person will discover and find interesting.
When I started blogging, I had high hopes that the search engines out there would solve the problem of cataloging blog posts. In truth, I wanted my largest audience from people who would find my work from searches. I am not motivated to optimize my posts for search engines so my content will not appear until deep in a search if at all. I’m not bothered by this because as reader I’m so accustomed to the game of SEO that I ignore the first few pages of search results anyway. The interesting blog posts are deep in the search order.
What I find disappointing is that search engines fail to accomplish the same thing as library catalogs. They index content, but they do not catalog it. I can search for a particular sentence in my blog and have it appear in the top of the search because that unique sentence appears no where else. However, that is not the kind of search a reader will attempt.
An example of a typical search would be to find blog posts talking about morning tea. A search for “morning tea” will produce pages of SEO results before encountering anything from a blogger discussing the experience. On the other hand, I have no doubt that if I scan the list deep enough this particular post will show up even though it has very little relevance (I think) to with drinking tea in the morning.
This post is about the timeless relevance of printed works as opposed to the breaking-news quality of electronic works. Someone seeking this kind of information may find my observations interesting or amusing. I doubt he will ever find it from a search.
This is about the extent of the idea I wanted to write when I started this post. However before starting the first post, I the checked the stats link for my site. Overnight, I had one visitor who read one post without first seeing the home page or using one of the popular search engines. The post was from three months ago. I pay attention to my stats page everyday to see the one or two views per day. The motivation for this post is that I didn’t recall anyone ever finding my old content, but for this one particular day someone did in fact do exactly what I thought never would happen. I have no clue how he found that old post. Perhaps someone cataloged it.