New beginnings


Art is impermanent.

Paintings fade, dances are forgotten, books cease to be published. Did you know that Franz Kafka destroyed more than 90% of his own work (and left instructions for the rest to be burned after his death)? There are extensive Wikipedia articles overflowing with the tragedy of creations lost.

The community that arose on the web in the mid-2000s shared a similar veneration for the preservation of creative output, enshrined in a seminal 1998 article by Tim Berners-Lee, entitled "Cool URIs Don't Change". While Tim was addressing the then-prevalent annoying habit of websites to change the address of your favourite page simply because they had come up with a 'cooler' alternative (or had switched from one server-side language to another), it has since become part of a larger movement aiming to never allow old content to disappear; at the same time, bloggers like Jeremy Keith bang the drum for a "host it yourself" philosophy, wherein it is infinitely preferable to maintain your own website and (presumably) "cool" URI rather than allow another service to host and serve your content.

For a long time, I subscribed to that same philosophy. Every previous incarnation of this blog was carefully archived on a new subdomain, with HTTP 301 redirect status codes ensuring that ten years' worth of writing could forever be found, preserved in pixels. I installed, updated and hacked on Textpattern, ExpressionEngine, WordPress. I taught myself how to use SSH, Git, and bash. It seemed important, and worthwhile.

Lately, though, I've started to feel differently.

Nobody will miss you when you're gone

When I look at my site statistics it is abundantly clear that, when it comes to the preservation of Important Parts Of The Internet, nothing remotely qualifies. Over three-quarters of my traffic is to an article approaching its tenth birthday; not a problem if it was a timeless piece of observational insight, but unfortunately it's a PHP tutorial that, through accidentally fortuitous keyword optimisation, has continued to attract students seeking an easy solution to their first-year programming assignments. (I still receive the occasional email asking for help.)

The rest of my website traffic over the last year has been to similarly out-of-date technical solutions to problems that have been better solved elsewhere (where "elsewhere" is invariably Stack Overflow), plus a handful of views of each new article posted to Twitter, inevitably tailing off rapidly. By any objective measure, I'd be doing the internet a favour if it all just quietly went away.

I don't mean that I want to stop blogging; far from it. But what I want to do is stop pretending that what I write here continues to have value beyond its initial creation. I'm not writing for the benefit of unseen future readers. As Zeldman said, over seven years ago:

Blogging. And blogging again. Writing is fun. Writing is fundamental. If you don't write, you don't know what you think.

I'm writing for me.

Tabula rasa

So the old site is gone, and I'm starting anew. Who knows, I might do this every year—throw out last year's notepad and unwrap a fresh new one, inhale that new book smell.

I've decided to use the Ghost platform and Ghost(Pro) hosting for now, not through any great admiration for their non-profit, open-source approach but because I like the interface and the focus on doing nothing but writing. And because I don't want to have to care about upgrades, security, or accidentally knocking out all of my other sites when I write a database-killing query.

I'll probably still continue to write very occasional longer things on Medium, although I'm not a huge fan of their changes to how collections are curated. Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook—it's third-party all the way down. "But you could lose it all! What if they are acquired and shut down? What if it suddenly goes away and takes all of your precious content with it?" Yes, all of that could happen—but you know what I've realised?

I don't care.

Matthew Pennell

Designer, developer, writer, runner, gamer, devil's advocate, INTP. Senior designer for Founder, Refresh Cambridge.