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Pick the Right Tool for the Job

Twitter, Pinboard, RSS, and the role of ephemera on the web.

March 17, 2017Filed under Tech#writingMarkdown source

Over the past few years, I’ve been experimenting with publishing microblog posts here on my website as the “canonical” source for them, inspired by some of Manton Reece’s early experiments that way. I have also spent a considerable amount of time trying to come up with a good way to share links, and have been rather stymied by the limitations of the static site generator I use (Pelican): it does not support customizing the link target of RSS items.

Both of these desires, combined with the breadth of my interests, have been motivating factors in my desire to build my own CMS/site generator.

But as of today, I think I am setting aside those two needs, at least for the present (though the underlying information architecture needs for my site are not thereby particularly diminished, so Lightning will still aim for roughly the same goals when i get back to it).

My reasoning here is two-fold.

  1. The simple reality is that the vast majority of my microblogging has zero historical value. It is ephemeral; archiving it is essentially a useless gesture, a “because I can” or perhaps “the internet should be permanent” act of defiance. But in truth, if every one of my tweets vanished… it would not matter one whit. I have been considering this for some time, but it came home to me tonight while considering my second point:

  2. I have been experimenting with Pinboard as a bookmark management service over the past few weeks, spurred on by yet once more needing to dig out if an email from three years ago a particular post. (You can see my public bookmarks here. It’s a work in progress as far as organization goes.) One lovely Pinboard feature (and there are many others, including having a simple, profitable business model! Yes, that is a feature as far as I am concerned) is the option of public RSS feeds for publicly-bookmarked items by author, by tag, etc. This is actually what led me to Pinboard in the first place (thanks, ayjay). My Pinboard RSS feed is, and if you want to follow along and see what I think is worth reading with occasional comments… that’s where it will be.

In the course of writing this post, I also remembered that last night, shut down. I downloaded my archive a few weeks ago… I think. Honestly, I don’t recall, and the truth is that I haven’t looked at old posts there in years, though I amassed some 15,000 in the years I was active there. ADN was beautiful and wonderful. But even the very good conversations I had there are past in much the same way a conversation when physically present with each other would be. We do not suppose we need audio/video recordings of conversations just in case we might want to search them later. I understand why someone might want to archive all of ADN. But I don’t feel that desire myself anymore.

Archival has value. But its value is not ultimate, and its value is not universal.

The somewhat-ephemeral things I care about archiving are, I find, links—not random thoughts or comments or even conversations, but articles and posts I want to be able to come back to later, or quickly find to share with someone.

So no more microblog posts here. If you want them, you can follow me on Twitter. (If I hear from enough people who would prefer to keep getting them via RSS, I will think about setting up some sort of automated RSS mirror of my stream.) But for my own part, I am content to let the ephemeral be ephemeral. And that is easier to countenance now that microblogging isn’t also a poor-man’s bookmarking tool for me.

This takes me around to the meta point I had in mind when I started the post: use tools for what they’re good at and don’t try to force them into roles they’re not well-suited for. Twitter is good for ephemera, bad for permanence, decent for finding content I wouldn’t encounter via RSS, horrible for conversation or substantive commentary. Pinboard is great for bookmarking things, for sharing links via RSS, and for seeing what bookmarks others are sharing; but it is not at all “social” in the modern sense, with no facilities for discussion or interaction other than reading others’ links and copying them to your own board. Twotter for ephemera and trivial conversations. Pinboard for links. Blog for longer content.