Connectivity has its price
Whistling past the graveyard, it’s hard not to notice all the tombstones. Sometimes great ideas die fast. Other times, questionable ideas linger for everyone to see. When I surf, I always end up finding all sorts of web pages and journals that sit there like dilapidated shacks, with broken links and forgotten promises.
Though it seems reductive to say that weblogs are “timestamps, permalinks, and comments”— it is precisely this quality that allows you to tell at a glance that a site is alive, rather than dead. XML feeds and updating make it easier to find the living, in the vast fields of the dead. Without these, the desire to sustain a relatively static page or archive wanes quickly. There are lots of abandoned dwellings on the web. It takes a hook-up of some sort, to separate the peppercorns from the dung-heap.
I find it amazing how many online magazines I find from 1999-2001 that remain static and unchanged. Issues #1-3 are available, but as the owners get distracted or shift focus, the wonderful ideas lay fallow.
Most theoretical articles on web writing in the graveyard are dated 1995-98, before the flock to journal sites. The Compleat Webster's is a good one, filled with broken links and 17th century fishing metaphors. Just being “connected” to the web isn't enough to sustain an idea, however good. It takes an audience, however small, to make working on a site worthwhile. And it takes some color and style— a hook to keep it going.
Improvements in indexing have made old link collections bob to the surface. Like a wall of stuffed trophies, they are completely useless. Sites that frequently update, catching links and letting them pass away are now more standard. I think perhaps we’ve entered an era of “catch and release.” Lots of small fish out there, who flash on the hook and then disappear quickly as they lose interest. The real reward is catching those that have stuck around long enough to grow. Still, perhaps it’s best to just admire them for a moment, and then let them go. The more fish there are in the pond, the easier it is to catch a few.