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re web writing style and mitigating content obsolescense

how I tried to mitigate the obsolence of my web articles over more than 2 decades of self publishing in the tech market

by Zsolt Kerekes - November 2020

In my past writing life I got used to the fact that a web article about computer technology published one day - might still be visible 20 or more years later.

Not so bad if they remained unseen - but sometimes old blogs would spike into popularity ages later - due to search-engine indigestion and algorithmic blips.

These comebacks in visibility presented opportunities to surprise and grab readers by showing them that the original writer of the old web page was still very much alive and caring about all those scratchily written ancient topics and maybe had something new to say too.

Just as in gardening - you might have favourite plants which you go back to every year or so but GQT (Gardener's Question Time) says - dig it out and buy a new one - I wasn't a fan of slash and burn or html 404 errors caused by simply deleting old pages. Because this leads to linkrot - and a lowering in the value of one's web publishing assets. And I didn't like the lazy webmaster alternative of upcycling readers by redirecting them to new web pages which weren't exactly what they had been expecting either. Because that reduces reader trust.

After going back to edit hundreds of past articles in web sites I still owned to insert notes like - "I told you so" or "later:- this is what actually happened " which effectively sprinkled time traveller assisted comments to aid comprehension and make myself look good - I realized this was taking up too much of my daily writing time.

So - to protect my own reputation and my readers' search for reliable narratives - I adopted a defensive style of writing in my tech blogs which - in the very first instance of publication - stated more explicitly the assumed context so as to reduce the need for such future updates.

This "defensive against too rapid obsolescence" writing style warned readers (in a variety of ways) that:- this is the date this web page was created and this is what we're thinking now - but in the past we thought we knew it all too - albeit with a different set of assumptions - and in the future all our cleverest ideas of today will seem like trivial accomplishments and solutions to problems which no longer exist.

I had no illusions.

Writing about chip technology in the 1990s to 201X's would be as relevant to future people as reading about how to optimize the design of Victorian era steam engines. For me the tech writing was an interesting set of activities at the time and an honest way of earning a living. But as writing went - it wasn't going to be the next Iliad of Beowulf. (Except in wordcount.)

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