The online posts that live forever
A couple of weeks ago, something very strange happened on this blog and a couple of readers have been on since to ask what the hell happened. An 18 month-old post found itself at the top of the most read …
A couple of weeks ago, something very strange happened on this blog and a couple of readers have been on since to ask what the hell happened. An 18 month-old post found itself at the top of the most read and most shared charts on irishtimes.com. I certainly wasn’t the only one to go “WTF?” when I looked at the main page of the site first thing in the morning and saw this post hogging the top spots.
There are times when OTR posts appear on these charts – these Bon Jovi and Spotify pieces, for example – but this was a post from June 2011 about U2′s tax affairs. Had something happened overnight? Had U2 re-filed their Form 11s for the last few years with the Revenue Commissioners?
The reason why this old post getting so much attention was Reddit. It turns out that a user had posted a link to the piece in their Today I Learned section and the Reddit effect went into overdrive. You then had the inevitable cycle of clicks as all those Reddit hits made the piece one of the most-read and irishtimes.com users clicked on to see what all the fuss was about to push up the traffic to the piece.
Aside from showing that U2′s tax affairs are always of interest to people out there, it’s also a reminder that blog posts, like all online posts, do live forever. The stats tell me that 2,968 posts have been published on OTR since March 2007 when the blog began. Many of these are what I call the site furniture, the regular posts about new music or now playing or the weekly wraps or Banter. Then, there are the opinion pieces about music, the music business, media, technology and other topics.
Once a piece is published, its shelf-life is usually short. You’ll get comments, social media traffic and occasionally some offline attention on the day or the day after, but that’s largely it. Online attention spans are short and we’re quickly onto the next issue-of-the-day. Sometimes, as in this case, you’ll go back to a piece if the story develops or takes another turn but, by and large, you’ll have forgotten about a piece after a week.
But as the Reddit effect shows, these posts don’t simply disappear and can often have an infinite best-before date. As long as they remain on the archive, they can be accessed by readers until the end of time. Everything which is online and hasn’t been deleted can be found weeks, months and even years after it was published. This applies as much to tweets and Facebook posts as it does blog posts: if you’ve written it and it’s online, it can be accessed relatively easily long after you wrote it. You may have changed your mind about what you said or no longer have the snarky tone you had back then, but the piece is out there representing you.
Privacy advocates might see this as a warning – do you really want prospective employers to find out about that mad night you had in the Twisted Pepper or Roisin Dubh or the Pavilion in 2010? – but it’s also a trend with many positive attributes. If you’re really worried about what people might think about what you say online, don’t say it or take the advice of a sage friend of mine and “think before you tweet”. While there were many ways of documenting our lives and opinions pre-internet, they just didn’t have the same longetivity. I wrote for many publications back in the day, but very few of the pieces survive as those publications were not online ones. Whatever paper copies I had have fallen apart or disappeared over the years and Brand New Retro hasn’t got around to them yet. Online, those pieces and opinions live forever.