Blogs are a bad choice for non-ephemeral content

Most websites aren't websites, they're blogs. Blogs are fine for some things, but they only show you the newest stuff, and the older stuff may as well not even exist. I argue that blogs and regular websites can and should coexist to fill different niches.

Any website that you see on the Internet these days is most likely some kind of blog. It's kind of hard to pinpoint when the dominant form of a website went from a collection of pages to a collection of short, informal entries presented in reverse chronological order, so I won't bother with it. We'll just accept that blogs exist now1.

Blogs do have a purpose, so I'm not going to just condemn them all as wastes of Internet space2. But, by design, they represent a model of consumption that's really weird. It's kind of like having a book that's attached to the ground or a building or something where you have to go look at it and you can't take it with you3. On some schedule someone or a group of someones adds some number of pages to the front of the book. When you come back by to look at it again, you can read the parts that were added really easily (since they're right on top), and when you get to something you've seen before, you can stop.

This is okay if you start reading it from the beginning, but most people don't read blogs that way. They start reading it whenever it is they hear about it, they read through a few entries until they get a feel for the content or they get bored. When they decide to come back and find that more pages have been tacked on to the front, they read until they get to the pages they've already read, and then they stop, leaving a significant portion of the blog unread. If a blog is particularly active, this can mean that there are thousands or tens of thousands of pages that sit there, unread, forever.

Why is this bad? In the case of 'news' blogs, it could be argued that timeliness is the most important attribute of a story. Old news is generally not as useful as new news, especially if the story is reporting on routine happenings. It's kind of like how newspapers keep their archives around forever even though virtually nobody will ever read about the unexpectedly large turnout at a fish-fry in 1934. So, in the context of reporting on current events, focusing on the 'new' is actually OK.

Personal blogs, too, if they're focused on news, happenings, and random nonsense are similar. If you're writing the kind of content that has a short shelf-life and is less useful after a short period of time, then blogs are great for that, too, for the reasons above.

But what if you write longer-form articles? What if you write things like tutorials or lessons or historical writeups or short stories or any number of things that would be useful or interesting weeks, months, or years from publication? Then blogs are a poor fit. They're a poor fit because if you didn't catch it when it was written and it gets pushed down 'below the fold', then it's effectively invisible unless you took the time to put a link somewhere where someone can find it, like a sidebar. And, no, searching for it is a bad substitute for building proper navigation. It's impossible for me to search for a thing if I don't know the thing exists.

This problem is worse if your blog routinely consists of ephemeral ramblings interspersed with longer-form informative content. If people visit your site for the first time and see ephemera, how are they to know that you have longer, more useful, stuff in the archive? Just throwing a calendar with links to posts on that day doesn't help, virtually nobody uses those to browse archives. Mostly because browsing archives of ephemeral thoughts is almost completely useless.

I guess what I'm saying is: if you're creating content that is only going to be useful or relevant for a short period of time, then a blog is fine. But, if you're creating content that is worth reading more than once, maybe consider putting it in a format more suited to that use case. Like a 'website'


  1. Which, conveniently, they do
  2. As tempting as that is
  3. Okay, it's not a perfect metaphor

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