Why One Keeps Archives

Because seven years after I wrote it, “I Hate Your Politics” is at the moment the most visited part of the site. And in fact this does not surprise me at all; on any given day “Being Poor” or my writing advice to teens is probably in the top ten of entries visited here, and bacon cat is never far behind. Contrary to the popular opinion that everything written in a blog is evanescent, in point of fact, good material is visited constantly no matter its age, and the visitorship of Whatever’s archives have a significant effect on the site’s overall popularity. Call it Whatever’s Long Tail, if you like.

36 thoughts on “Why One Keeps Archives

  1. I kind of wish more blog authors took this into account: a surprisingly large number of blogs have no easy way to access their archives, view topics on their archives, or even to search by keywords.

    I might go a bit overboard on my site (archives by month, plus tags, plus categories, plus a separate “quick reference” page), but heck, I spend a couple of hours per entry to write the things. Why should I want to hide them away where nobody’s going to easily find them again? Besides, my whole goal of the site is to make a ready-reference for common bugs of the upper midwest. The entire purpose of it would be lost if I kept it a secret.

    As it is, searches that hit my archives account for just about half of my total site traffic.

  2. *nodding* It’s the virtual & bite-sized version of an author’s backlist, eh? ~The Small Assassin~ can’t be making Ray Bradbury money these days, but I’m sure he still smiles at every ~Fahrenheit 451~ royalty check that flows in.

  3. Collect them into a book! Seriously. Bruce Schneier and Wil Wheaton turned their blogs into books last year, and while I don’t think they hit the NYTimes bestseller list, I’m guessing they paid for lunch a few times. It could be worth a shot.

  4. I dunno enough about your server backend to know if this is even possible, but if it is, it might be interesting to get the Analog script running and throw up the page of “top ten webpages here ever”, “top ten webpages here over the last month”, and such.

    At the scale of zillions of webserver hits and massive logfiles that go back years, that’s a nontrivial amount of CPU- and disk-grinding, but that’d be some interesting data, and it’d also function as a ‘the internet selects Scalzi’s greatest hits’ links page.

  5. I’m considering discarding a number of years of blogging simply because it is too much of a pain to import to a new CMS (away from the crufty home-brew thingy I’m using now.)

    Really, all have to do is convince myself that no one needs to read another blog post from 8 years ago, especially from me. Which is probably true.

    So there’s an implicit quality direction on the graph of worthiness of old posts. I’m going to assume none of it is really all that interesting, and it is super-easy to let it go.

    And this is why I chose not to write for a living.

    “Being Poor” stands up quite well after all these years. I’m not sure anything of mine does as well.

  6. I agree. My top viewed posts are all old. One is even an old paper I wrote for school about Jordan Baker in “The Great Gatsby” Gee, I hope no one is plagiarizing my work. Part of me would be flattered, but a bigger part of me feels that I worked hard on that 3 page essay from 5 years ago and they should work just as hard for their own interpretation of a classic American novel.
    Another ego-driven part of me wants to keep it there because, hey, it is the number 2 driver of people to my blog. But I also don’t want to enable cheaters. Any thoughts?

  7. I remember reading a bit by L. Sprague DeCamp where he was bewailing the fact that he used up most of his really, really cool ideas early in his career, back when he was still unhappy with his ability as a writer. Then, once he got good at writing, he couldn’t bring himself to re-use the ideas, and so he felt that his later stories were “better” in a technical sense, but sometimes kind of lacking in the old sense-of-wonder department.

    I think this effect is common to most people. Which is why I like to be able to see the old archives in blogs: a lot of the best ideas are back in the early parts, even if they aren’t written well enough for the authors to be completely happy with how they came out.

  8. I frequently look back at the old stuff in my hardly-read-by-anyone-else-in-the-known-universe blog just to relive the times they were written in (or, at least my mood at the time). From reading “I Hate Your Politics”, not much has changed, except that now Liberals are the ones having a little bit more fun and Conservatives are the ones who don’t see much humor in politics anymore.

  9. My modest little blog has one post that gets a couple of hits a week nearly six months after I wrote it. I know of what you speak.

  10. I completely agree. An article I wrote about geek board games in 2007 still is in my top 10 things I’ve ever written and garners 20-25% of my site traffic daily…. even after I’ve moved the URL 2 or 3 times. Google keeps finding it and sending me new visitors.

    It’s insane. I thought it was a pre-Christmas Amazon Affiliate cash grab 2 years ago, but it has legs that I never thought it would.

    http://www.connectorlocal.com/voice/CA/ON/article/11_best_board_games_for_geeks/

    Blog posts are definitely not “one-day-wonders” in many cases.

  11. John Scalzi #17: Well, since I’m not nearly as well-read as I suppose I should be (I had to look up Mr. Sullivan on–horrors!–Wikipedia, to remind myself who he was), you’re right. The Big Elephants would have excommunicated him long ago for all sorts of reasons.

    Doug #18: Us Dougs have gotta stick together. It’s not one of those popular names anymore, though it’s gotta be better than, say, “Wilbur” or “Adolf”.

  12. Being Poor is a regular StumbleUpon hit, at least I’ve started seeing it regularly since the economy went Tango Uniform. Not sure what category it’s index under though, probably politics.

    My biggest archived hit remains a rant about “Konlabos with a K,” which for some bizarre reason ended up being a Wikipedia reference. I get several hundred hits for it a day, and I can always tell where in the world The Rundown is playing.

    The Internet is a weird damned place.

  13. This is somewhat OT, but given the age of the linked post, I have to wonder: JS, did you start out wanting only to blog, and then eventually did SF, or were you the typical wanted-to-write-SF-all-along author, who did blogging (and other writerly work) on the side until your SF took off?

  14. I agree! I stumbled over The Whatever several months ago, having started with OMW. I have greatly enjoyed the ability to wander through your archives, giggling merrily as I go. (Creation Museum, anyone?)

  15. I’m intrigued by traffic patterns to older posts, and how, even years later, new people can find something posted years ago and start a new round of linking. These days, for me, StumbleUpon seems to be a big driver of flash mob visitors.

  16. To me that suggests a potentially interesting approach to monetizing (as they say) a blog. No ads on the first-run material, thus keeping the experience ‘pure’ for the daily readers, but someone coming in for the feline bacon sees a tastefully understated banner. Presuming of course that the traffic to the archives is reliably large enough to interest advertisers.

    Note that I know nothing about blogging or selling web advertising, so this may have been a shockingly ignorant post, but why should I have to clear a higher bar than so many other semi-anonymous internet commenters?

  17. I love reading blog archives… but in most cases it’s far more interesting with comments than without. I’ve been slowly working my way through some of the Whatever archives, starting from links to old posts and going forward, and got frustrated when I started getting redirected to the versions of the posts in the current format (sorry, I’m not up on blogology and don’t really notice what a blog runs on, just whether it looks different) which had the posts but not the comments. I’d read some post and think heh, that must’ve generated a lot of energetic and conversational commentary, and it was hugely disappointing that I couldn’t actually read said commentary that I *knew* had to be around somewhere. Then I managed to pick up the original links again, with comments, and was happy until I hit, what was it, June 2007? I haven’t checked yet to see if I’ve gotten to the posts which are in the current format but with comments visible.

    If all that archive-reading plus comment-reading sounds weird, it shouldn’t; it’s just acquiring context. I started reading regularly because of the political threads having so many viewpoints represented more or less civilly, and originally was directed here via a post elsewhere about a specific comment thread here, so it’s always been a major part of the blog for me.

  18. The site didn’t have comments before March 2003, and there have been a couple times when the software updates didn’t carry over the comments, so there definitely holes there, comment-wise.

  19. A little bird told me about this place today. Then I ate it. Yummy.

    But hell yeah! Fairfield representin! I was born there a few years after you. You? me? Pat Morita? Quite the line-up. Must be sumthin in the water.

  20. Since I noticed this afternoon that the picture on this post is also the profile pic for @scalzi, I’ve been wondering from whence it came. Anyone know?

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