Monday, March 05, 2012

The Internet of the Present

On this blog we rarely get non-spam comments on posts more than a few days old. Sometimes I can bring up a topic I had posted on just a few months ago and no one will notice. When people said they enjoyed my blog I used to ask them what posts they liked. I would just get a blank stare. I don't ask anymore.

In theory you can look at our old posts through the "Blog Archive" section on the left column (if you are reading this on the blog website). I doubt anyone actually does. Occasionally people get to old posts via Google searches but I've come to the realization that most posts I wrote more than a few weeks ago will never be read again.

That's too bad. Many of them are still quite relevant. But we live in the present. I'm just as guilty as everyone else. Sometimes I'll discover a great new blog and subscribe to its posts. But I'll never go back and read the old posts.

Blogs seem to be going out of style. Twitter don't even try, one cannot easily see someone's old tweets, and any brilliant tweet I make will expire in usefulness in a just a few hours. Google+ is similar. Interestingly Facebook with their new Timeline makes it possible to explore someone's early posts. The past remains there just in case someone cares.

I have no great insights or solutions to this problem. But what does it matter. A week from now you'll forget this post even existed. 


  1. I agree that blogs are going out of style, but I don't think it's really an issue. As you say, the information is available by search to anyone who has interest in the right keywords. Perhaps instead of blog posts organized by date, a wikipedia-style site organized by category might be more useful.

  2. I definitely look at old posts — within the last week or two I had reason to refer to one of yours from 2003 on the Berman Hartmanis conjecture.

    Another contributor to the problem (and maybe I'm also getting to be a curmudgeon but I do see this as a problem) is Google's search engine, which used to prioritize results based on a difficult-to-change and long-term measure of their value (pagerank) and now increasingly seems to prioritize freshness instead.

    Incidentally, most or all of the options for commenting on your blog appear to be broken. Using Chrome as my browser, pushing either the preview or publish button causes one's comment to disappear without any other effect. I'm switching to Safari to see whether that works any better...

  3. I have looked through old posts here. Many remain relevant. With respect to blogs in general, I have ton of old posts on Lipton's blog bookmarked.

    One reason new comments on old posts is a poor proxy for how often they're being looked at is that there is cultural pressure not to "necro" old threads.

  4. With blogger (and with wordpress) you can organize posts in pages, to help with the categorization. I've done that for a few topics.

  5. I thought, Whew! I have the full-content RSS feed tucked away on my computer so I can always search and find these. But no, I don't. Problem fixed. I now have all of the posts back to 2011-06-20 at my fingertips and trust the archives will last for any earlier.

  6. If you want people to look at some particular old posts then you can always tweet about them again as "One from the archives". Some bloggers do this and I find it useful, particularly when the old post is relevant to some topic of current interest.

  7. 1) Whenever I look up an old post because I need some link
    and the link is broken I think `I am the only one who has
    visited this page in years' (I report it to Lance and we try
    to fix it.)

    2) In my review of Lipton's Book that was his Blog I point out
    that with a blog you may think `I'll look at that later'
    but you (or at least I) never seem to. A BOOK on your desk
    calls to me in a way a blog cannot. (I suspect that my
    great nieces and nephews have not idea what I mean.)

  8. A lot of the "mega-blogs" such as the Gawker media blogs deal with this by copiously linking to old posts within all new posts and automatically generating a selection of "related posts" for each new post and I think its actually pretty effective in getting people to click back into the archives.

    Another idea is to prominently display a list of all time popular posts which is something I've seen on other blogs.

    So these are all variations of Matt Leifer's idea of constantly reminding people about the old content otherwise they'll forget about it.

    Which reminds me that I started reading your blog in the fall of 2002 when I started grad school, I can't believe it'll soon be 10 years and all the great results and controversies that have been covered since then. This is one of the few one or two people blogs that has been going strong for such a long time.

  9. Yogi explained what's going on. Hopefully it's not chronic/global, but rather localized/temporary.

  10. Also, asking which posts people like when they say they like your blog is a bit of a weird question, something akin to going up to an author of a novel, saying, "I liked your book," and getting back, "yeah? Which chapters?"

  11. Your "Favorite Theorems" posts in the archives are very useful.

  12. Centralizing Lance's thoughts on a blog is ineffective.

    There should be a way for Lance to annotate whatever he wants on the web, and then for me to retrieve Lance's comments as I am reading something that he has commented on.

    Lance is a clever fella, and I would always want to hear his opinion, BUT only for the right things at the right time.

    This issue is similar to TV broadcasting vs video on-demand.

  13. I couldn't disagree more. At my blog, the vast majority of my traffic is from search. A well-aged blog is an institution. If you want more search traffic, you should choose your blog titles better. This one, for example, could just as well have been given a title like "Do people read blog archives?" Instead, the current name "The Internet of the Present"... well... nobody's going to be googling that or anything like it, unless intentionally trying to find the post after already knowing it exists! This isn't black magic blackhat SEO or anything, it's just common sense. Looking back at some past titles recently...

    "Turing's Titanic Machine!" Nope, nobody's ever going to search for that. How about "Is there a serious debate about the nature of computation"?

    "The Erdos- de Bruijn theorem" GOOD! Bill Gasarch seems to have this mastered

    "Nash and the NSA" Not bad, great, so you DO have it in you

    "Is 99.8% Secure Secure?" Not very good. Totally generic title-- is it a post about home security? Actually, by coincidence, another blogger (cant remember who) pointed out that the Lenstra article ITSELF ("Ron was wrong Whit is right") is horribly named, and that in future years, people will have huge difficulty finding it. So what you should've done here was give the blog article a title which would suck in future searchers looking for the Lenstra article.

    "The Envelope Please" It would be difficult to come up with a worse title if I tried. How about "27th Conference on Computational Complexity List of Accepted Papers"?

    "Presidents Day Poll- what does the youth of american think about...." GOOD. Bill Gasarch is on a roll! All I'd change is remove the "Presidents Day Poll" initial segment.

    "Aggie for a Day" Terrible. And it's a tragedy because this is a very content-full post, a real break from the usual genericness of blogs. How about "Disaster City" or "My Trip to Disaster City"? Nobrainer here.

    That's enough for now. Also keep in mind, people are a LOT less likely to comment on old posts, but it doesn't mean they're not reading them. Of the people on the internet, probably less than 1% ever comment.

    Your blog has google analytics installed, I see from viewing the source. Why not use that instead of speculate idly?

  14. When I find a blog I'm particularly interested in, I usually just read through the archive in more or less one sitting and then forget about it for another couple of years. :)

    (This, of course, is about blogs on a specific topic, not just a personal blog of an acquaintance.)

  15. I'm not sure that it's so bad. Reading a blog is like reading a newspaper or a magazine. It helps to broaden your general knowledge (on technical and other posts) and to form your opinions. I don't reread old CACM and SIGACT magazine, but I still gain a lot by reading them once.

  16. I wouldn't say blogging is dead at all! So many fun blogs today compared to even a few years ago! It does seem that the phenonmenon of every teenager writing a blog has died down though.

    1. I actually used the search two weeks ago, was looking for the topic of "posters". Our university wants us to have posters that describe our research (complexity) to a large audience. I could write one from scratch but thought this has already been done >100 times.

      There was an actual post on this but only one link to one poster (by K. Regan) which is great but a bit too involved for a large audience.
      Google was not of much help. Any one has a simple enough poster on complexity they wish to link to?
      [end thread jacking]

  17. When I started my job as a PhD student two years ago, I set myself the task of reading one month's worth of complexity blog archive each day. Not only did it improve my background in computational complexity, it also gave me some insights in what goes on "behind the scenes" in research. So the archives are definitely being used!

    1. You must be careful or your head will become a part of David Keller's "The Cerebral Library" (well your brain at least).

  18. The search doesn't really help either though. I've been searching for a very long time for an old post that contained a comment that pointed to a short story. It was a sci-fi satire that described how information and data became so vast that entire galaxies were filled with a file system at the atomic level. The punchline at the end was that the primary key to all other data had been lost among all the other data and so the entirety of human knowledge was lost due to an inability to look up anything.

    The search feature has not yet been able to pull this up no matter what keywords I use.


      "The Library of Babel" by Jorge Luis Borges (1956)

    2. Anonymous, the story you seek is plausibly Hal Draper's ultra-obscure 1961 short story MS Fnd in a Lbry &helllip; a story that (incredibly!) nowadays even has its own Wikipedia page

      How do I know? Uhhh ... it's fairly likely that the original poster here on Computational Complexity was me! This was a story that I read as a kid, remembered as a fragment, and was trying to locate.

      Anonymous, thank you for inspiring me to finish the quest. And thank you, Wikipedia, for ending this multi-year quest! :)

    3. LOL ... the full text of MS Fnd in a Lbry. Still fun after five decades! :)

    4. John, that story isn't the one the poster asked about. The poster before you had the right one.

    5. Anonymous, many good stories have been written about libraries. Within the realm of SF, and further restricting the topic to complexity-theoretic themes with a mathematical flavor, we find that Jorge Luis Borges' "The Library of Babel" (1956), Isaac Asimov's "The Last Question", and Hal Draper's "MS Fnd in a Lbry" (1961) all are celebrated sufficiently to have Wikipedia pages specifically devoted to them.

      But of these stories, only Draper's (which is the most satirical and least-anthologized of the three) combines all of the key narrative elements that the poster stipulated, in particular the punchline that "the primary key to all other data was lost."

      Whereas the other two stories are (literally) dramatically different.

      Therefore, Draper's "MS Fnd in a Lbry" is the story sought  … and You Could Look It Up ! :)

  19. (The irony of the previous comment is cracking me up.)

    Like someone else said, I also tweet "classics" from our blog -- Messy Matters -- at

    Final comment: I don't know if "blogging" is going out of style (much as I like portmanteaus, that one always struck me as over the top, until I got used to it) but writing essays, articles, and missives on the internet seems like it's here to stay.

  20. I agree with an earlier poster: I tend to read my favorite archived internet content straight through every couple years or so, maybe once a year (for, say, Lance's blog). I really like that the archives are around, because I don't keep up with current stuff very well, and I almost always find something new and interesting on re-reads, from either stuff I missed or stuff that I see in a new way from the past.

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  22. March 13. A week since publishing. 5 days since the last comment. The post appears to be lost in time.

    Why am I here now? Because a week ago I opened this post and left it unread in my browser. Just like a book on my desk :-)


    In my opinion, blogs were never supposed to be a convenient form of organising information. Blogs are linear, they are good for bringing news, updates. They are like clocks. Ticking clocks.

    Why would anyone re-read last year's news?

    Twitter and Facebook's timeline are essentially the same.

    Hierarchy and wiki are better ways of organising information. Their structure is more complex and requires a lot more effort to create and maintain than just adding another blog post to a timeline.

  23. just providing a counterexample; nothing to see here.

  24. Spent a couple of minutes looking for this post, as I generally agree with the point, and was trying to relate to a friend why I feel sillier referring people to two-year-old blog posts than five-year-old papers.

    Just simmering in the rich, tasty irony, of course.