Associative trails

Matt wrote recently about how different writers keep notes:

I’m also reminded of how writers I love and respect maintain their own reservoirs of knowledge, complete with migratory paths down from the mountains.

I have a section of my site called “notes” but the truth is that every single thing I post on here—whether it’s a link, a blog post, or anything else—is really a “note to self.”

When it comes to retrieving information from this online memex of mine, I use tags. I’ve got search forms on my site, but usually I’ll go to the address bar in my browser instead and think “now, what would past me have tagged that with…” as I type (or, if I want to be more specific, or

It’s very satisfying to use my website as a back-up brain like this. I can get stuff out of my head and squirreled away, but still have it available for quick recall when I want it. It’s especially satisfying when I’m talking to someone else and something they say reminds me of something relevant, and I can go “Oh, let me send you this link…” as I retrieve the tagged item in question.

But I don’t think about other people when I’m adding something to my website. My audience is myself.

I know there’s lots of advice out there about considering your audience when you write, but when it comes to my personal site, I’d find that crippling. It would be one more admonishment from the inner critic whispering “no one’s interested in that”, “you have nothing new to add to this topic”, and “you’re not quailified to write about this.” If I’m writing for myself, then it’s easier to have fewer inhibitions. By treating everything as a scrappy note-to-self, I can avoid agonising about quality control …although I still spend far too long trying to come up with titles for posts.

I’ve noticed—and other bloggers have corroborated this—there’s no correlation whatsover between the amount of time you put into something and how much it’s going to resonate with people. You might spend days putting together a thoroughly-researched article only to have it met with tumbleweeds when you finally publish it. Or you might bash something out late at night after a few beers only to find it on the front page of various aggregators the next morning.

If someone else gets some value from a quick blog post that I dash off here, that’s always a pleasant surprise. It’s a bonus. But it’s not my reason for writing. My website is primarily a tool and a library for myself. It just happens to also be public.

I’m pretty sure that nobody but me uses the tags I add to my links and blog posts, and that’s fine with me. It’s very much a folksonomy.

Likewise, there’s a feature I added to my blog posts recently that is probably only of interest to me. Under each blog post, there’s a heading saying “Previously on this day” followed by links to any blog posts published on the same date in previous years. I find it absolutely fascinating to spelunk down those hyperlink potholes, but I’m sure for anyone else it’s about as interesting as a slideshow of holiday photos.

Matt took this further by adding an “on this day” URL to his site. What a great idea! I’ve now done the same here:

That URL is almost certainly only of interest to me. And that’s fine.

Have you published a response to this? :


Ever one to jump on a bandwagon, I’ve added an on this day archive too. And it’s immediately proven its utility by reminding me of a lovely memory from this day last year.

# Sunday, February 14th, 2021 at 12:17am

Con­tin­u­ing the theme from the oth­er day, I def­i­nite­ly agree with Jere­my Kei­th here:

I know there’s lots of advice out there about con­sid­er­ing your audi­ence when you write, but when it comes to my per­son­al site, I’d find that crip­pling. It would be one more admon­ish­ment from the inner crit­ic whis­per­ing ​“no one’s inter­est­ed in that”, ​“you have noth­ing new to add to this top­ic”, and ​“you’re not quail­i­fied to write about this.” If I’m writ­ing for myself, then it’s eas­i­er to have few­er inhi­bi­tions. By treat­ing every­thing as a scrap­py note-to-self, I can avoid ago­nis­ing about qual­i­ty con­trol …although I still spend far too long try­ing to come up with titles for posts.

Maybe I’ll make an ​“on this day” archive too 🤔

# Sunday, February 14th, 2021 at 5:31am

1 Like

# Liked by Dominik Schwind on Sunday, February 14th, 2021 at 11:22am

Previously on this day

4 years ago I wrote Teaching in Porto, day one

Monday: how the web works.

8 years ago I wrote A question of style

The only correct coding style is the one everyone is agreeing to use.

14 years ago I wrote I’d twit that

Love it or hate it but you’ve got to have an opinion on Twitter.

14 years ago I wrote Gillian McKeith is not a doctor

Bless the Bad Science column.

15 years ago I wrote Winding down

The last few days have been a whirlwind of geeky goodness.

17 years ago I wrote Adopt, adapt and improve

My JavaScript Image Gallery script has been embraced and extended to produce this very neat image gallery which uses some nifty DHTML to provide three "pages" of thumbnails without any page refreshes.

18 years ago I wrote Jedi Town

I sense a disturbance in The Force. Census data released today shows an unusually high concentration of Jedi in a certain seaside city: