New Permalink Structure

I changed the WordPress permalink structure for this blog from “/%postname%-%post_id%” to “/%year%/%monthnum%/%postname%/”, after nearly three years with the old URLs. This is what most WordPress blogs use, and I understand the wisdom of using a trailing slash which indicates directory status with non-virtual URLs, implies the end of the URL, and is expected by most users. Including the post ID was a stupid mistake. I was copying what deviantART does in its post URLs, but the month and date are far better than a meaningless number.

This also matches what I did on my new blog, Composer’s Journey.

The hard part was redirecting all the old URLs to the new URLs. I ended up changing the core file /wp-admin/includes/post.php: where it says “posts_per_page=15” I substituted “posts_per_page=500”. Then I opened a copy of my Manage Posts screen with the old URLs, changed permalink structures to the new URLs, opened a new tab with the Manage Post screen, changed back to the old permalinks, and started copying and pasting the permalinks into a CSV file which I imported into the Redirection plugin. I redirected the original posts and the printable version links, but I was not able to get the comment RSS feed links to redirect (got stuck in an endless loop). No one uses those, fortunately. Copying and pasting 848 URLs was no picnic.

Enjoy the new URLs!

Your Blog is a Marching Wiki

When I think of a wiki, I think of a collection of articles that can be edited by anyone. But wikis have another core trait. If you’ve ever looked up an article on Wikipedia, you’ve noticed that practically every other word is a link to related articles in the wiki.

There are no direct links to external sites. All those are footnotes or references, appearing at the bottom of the page. But within the text, there are internal links all over the place. It’s a self-contained Internet.

I think your blog should be the same way. This isn’t reasonable until you’ve built up a good collection of content—perhaps thirty articles at least. But once you’ve done that, you should start linking to them whenever relevant. When I talk about artistic photography, I’ll link to my gallery, and when I talk about happiness, I’ll probably link to How to Be Happy. And when I talk about linking, darn it, I’ll link to The Perils of Redundant Linking. These links are redundant to people who read my whole blog from start to finish, but those people can just ignore the links. The larger majority skims two or three of my articles to take in the essential points, and for them, the links are invaluable, because they connect them with other subjects of interest. Because the links are contextual and manually added by me and me alone, they’re better and more relevant than what any search engine or group of people can offer.

I believe in subjective reality / multiple truths. Wikis are disconcerting because they try in vain to represent an objective reality by synthesizing and representing the beliefs of hundreds of people. Sometimes, it works, but within the whole wiki you always see incongruity. Certain articles read like advertisements, others are comical, others are dead serious. Some use weak language and weasel words like “may have,” “possibly,” and “back in the day,” while others try to be overly-precise, to the point of being inaccurate. I could say John Lennon was killed at 1980-12-08T22:52:52-05, and it would be very precise, but it wouldn’t be accurate. Even if I am accurate, my accuracy is unprovable. The point is, no two people have the same perspective on wording or accuracy. When you merge too many perspectives, you end up with a muddled mess. Sure, like Wikipedia, you can still be informative, but it’s nonetheless a mess. There’s room for someone else to come along with a clear vision and really share expertise with others. Committees don’t do this. One person alone, having synthesized the perspectives of the world in a way more congruent than any collection of people, shares knowledge more compelling and evolved than all else.

Your blog should be a marching wiki, meaning it marches forward without looking back. Ordinary wikis do not march. Old articles are constantly being revised, updated, and perfected. Many bloggers and photographers refuse to let go. They spend so much time revamping old stuff, they never create anything new. If you’re drafting a book, this is fine. But like publishing a book, I consider posting an article to my blog a singular act representing your beliefs and knowledge at a fixed point in time. Unless I find a typo, or a broken link, or I write something new that expounds heavily upon the topic, I don’t update the old post. When I update the old post, it’s just to correct those errors or add a link to the new post.

Substantially changing the content of old articles can be a good thing for your readers, but that doesn’t make it worthwhile. Your time is much better spent putting what you’ve learned into a congruent, fine-tuned, new work of art, rather than adding bells to an old piece. Rewriting your archives can even be a disservice to your readers, because those articles show your history and your beliefs at a previous point in time. Do you dare erase your past? Would you rewrite and dress up an essay from middle school for a college assignment? No—you’d write something new entirely, and it would be much more evolved than your old work.

If you strive for a faster pace of evolution in your persona and your writing, tending to your old work will seem as unusual as tracing your drawings from kindergarten. Sure, tracing your childhood sketches would garner you experience, but the experience of creating anew is far greater than dwelling in the past. Our time is limited in this life, so it is important to optimize our learning processes as far as possible.

Similarly, don’t go back to old articles to add links to new articles, unless it’s something really important. I’ve done it about ten times, and considering I’ve been blogging for eight months and have written hundreds of posts, that isn’t a lot. While I could go back to Investment and Efficiency and add a whole bunch of (relevant) links to newer work, including this article, it would actually distract my readers. Simply put, if I wanted to link to newer stuff in the older article, I would’ve written the newer stuff first. I didn’t, so the older stuff doesn’t need to reference the future.

When you establish yourself as a soldier on the march, you lift a great weight off your shoulders. No longer must you worry about maintaining continuity with the past. In fact, I encourage you to openly contradict your past—should it represent the evolution of your opinions, or a different perspective that is valuable to your readers. Don’t feel you have to explain yourself. Don’t write for the critics. Most people aren’t trying to shoot holes through your work; they want to share in the wealth of your knowledge. They’re just like you. It’s far more important to cater to the important people, rather than a vocal, critical minority.

Abandoning continuity is most important for beliefs, but also includes presentation. In some articles, I highlight key points in italics; in others I use bold. In my school essays, I underline. Sometimes I’ll use inline bold headings like this, while other times I’ll use large headings bounded by line breaks, which really draw the eye. In some articles, I highlight nothing, because everything is important. I don’t have to make a list of rules for myself to govern these processes. I do whatever feels right in the present context. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t match up exactly with my history.

Let your beliefs and standards be fluid like water, changing to meet the demands of different terrain, rather than rigid and inflexible like ice. Your important beliefs may turn to ice, but even ice can melt or break. If this happens, don’t resist it—recognize it as inevitable change: the only way to transcend your current level.

Finally, don’t create lists of rules for yourself. There are plenty of other people who are happy to do this for you; you don’t need even more rules. You are your own boss, and you control your own destiny.

The Perils of Redundant Linking

Sometimes I’ll write a post, and I’ll mention something twice. Often it’s my wonderful camera, a Canon Rebel XTi. And then I wonder: should I make the text a link twice? In the Rebel XTi case, it’s a link to (an evil affiliate link). Sometimes, the link will be with different text, or in an entirely different context than the first, though it goes to the same page. That could be linking to Glass Drops once while talking about night photography, and then again when discussing raindrops, in the same article.

I’ve noticed other people doing this, and I’m finding it ever more annoying. I’ve found there are two approaches to double-linking:

1. Link redundantly, because your readers will be annoyed and confused that your talking about a subject so much but not linking to it, if they missed the first link. Or do it to really get people to click your affiliate link. More commonly, readers scan your content rather than reading closely. Either they scan by default, or find your writing useless. To accommodate that group, you have to mention important stuff as many times as possible and hope it won’t be missed. Your writing for the unengaged rather than the engaged, and your putting the wrong ones first.

2. Don’t link redundantly, because you choose to cater to thorough rather than casual readers. Readers who take in every word and click every link in perfect succession. Readers who will be annoyed and confused if they find the same page twice in their tab bar after a work-out session with the scroll button. I click every link if I like what I’m reading, because I know the author will have good recommendations about the topic. And I’ve been finding it quite disconcerting when a good author is type 1.

I’ve decided to abandon double-linking because my audience should be type 2 rather than type 1. This goes along with blogging selectively and writing insightful, comprehensive articles rather than shallow, fleeting posts. Stuff like Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Value rather than a Quick Post on HDR. Stuff that’s unbelievably useful rather than unbelievably useless. Gold rather than garbage.

I don’t mind redundant links outside of a single post. Even if the same links are in the categories list or header, it’s okay, because that content is generally fixed and largely ignored. A contextual link going to the same place is fine, because it adds to the content of the article, unlike saying “check the sidebar.” The problem also is that the header and sidebar are expensive places, because they show up on every page. I can’t be sure how long a link will stay there. If its value is transient it can’t stay up once the value is gone. There is no space for clutter. A services link is still worthwhile now, but in three months I may stop taking commissions entirely, and “check the header for services” would be out of date. The other problem is that it’s better to show than to tell. A direct link is always better than saying “see here” or “search Google.”

Within a single post, Type 1 linking just doesn’t bode with this style at all. It’s fine if you don’t value your readers’ time and assume they don’t read what you write. If you assume no one’s reading, it will come true, because you’ll start writing stuff that’s valuable to no one. But if you’re writing for the heart first, and profit second, it just doesn’t work. Type 2 is the only way to go.