To me, an Archive stores things that have been created or received in the past, that are no longer necessary to keep close at hand. Items in an archive don’t need to be referenced quickly, but have value enough that they might be useful again in the future.

I’ve noticed Frank Chimero having a few thoughts about all this content we’re constantly churning out, creating, documenting and sharing online. Particularly, the way our archives gather dust – there are minimal mechanisms available to resurface hidden archival gems1.

Tonight, I’ve taken a tour through the archives of my Tumblr blog. And I’ve learned a few things in that little journey.

In just shy of three years, my posts have gone through “phases”. Periods of many frenzied posts, quiet periods, image-heavy periods, music leaden months.

Early content contained such strange contributions as my favorite lipgloss and what Lily Allen had been wearing. Posts at that time reflect what I had been reading – screeds of posts from Refinery29.

As more people started to follow and interact with my blog, the content started to change. I became more aware of who was watching, and of how my posts created a picture of me as a person. The lipgloss and handbag posts dribbled to a stop.

Genuinely, posts have always been for me first, but I can’t help but consider who might see them and how they might be perceived.

On Tumblr, it’s perplexing to watch users scramble for “blue candies” – those little nuggets of validation when someone likes or reblogs your post. Those things can be addictive, and give an inflated sense of influence or self worth, it’s like the other kids in the playground laughing at your joke. Perplexing, because I hate it – the empowering of others to influence your behaviour, but also because I’m guilty of enjoying the attention too.

I know I’m not alone – the term “blue candies” isn’t my own, and came from a fellow tumblr-using friend of mine. My eyebrow was firmly raised when another friend described “Buchanan Bait” (!) – content posted specifically with a particular user’s tastes in mind (Hi Matt!), in the hopes that they might reblog it and share your post with their larger following.

Such a playground.

My blog archive shows that there came a time, within the last year, where reposting or reblogging content became far less attractive. There has been more value to me in capturing things I have been personally creating or appreciating, rather than regurgitating the sentiments of someone else.

Also, I think that within a community as fast moving as this one, I’m not the first to see anything I haven’t created myself. There are others sitting with their mouths open constantly waiting for the next spoonful of content, just to be the first to swallow it into their blog and be the “winner”. And so rather than reblog to show my appreciation, I dish out likes.

The browsing of my blog archive was less soul crushing than I expected. In my experience leafing through old diaries and reading letters from years past usually makes my toes curl in embarrassment at my younger self, but with my blog I was pleasantly surprised.

Some diamonds re-emerged, like the post about “How to be Alone”, and the crowd-favorite water pistol fight video, Hecq Vs Exillion – Spheres Of Fury. But overall, scrolling through what’s come before I’m surprisingly proud of what’s here – it’s the kind of content I want to read, that makes me happy and inspired and curious and passionate and comfortable.

If only we were to take the time a little more often to look back at what’s been done rather than what is next to come.

There is actually a wonderful Photojojo service called Timecapsule which emails you once a month, photos from your Flickr account from that month one year ago. It’s surprising and delightful and I would love to have something like that for my blog.

Are we the worst kind of web user?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what a web snob I am.

Bad website design? Tweet about it. Difficult user interface? Toss hands in the air and refuse to proceed (probably Tweet about it). A friend’s recently released site not “up to standard”? Snigger quietly and feel superior.

I’m not the first, or the only guilty party. You only have to float around the Twitter streams of other online or web professionals for moments before you find criticisms and complaints.

But are we the only ones? Does our expert knowledge of the medium make us “bad” users?

Expert Infotech here in New Zealand have a shopping cart which gives you a “confirmed” message before the order process is actually complete. I bought a scanner through them recently and completely missed the final button in the process because I thought I was at the end – and the button wasn’t where I expected.

Expected is the key – as someone who analyses and provides feedback on design for interaction on a daily basis, I expected the button to be in a particular place and I missed it because it wasn’t there.

In another experience with a “bad” website design (by my standards) I struggled to find the “Contact” information for a company – I looked for something big, something in the footer, something on the right hand side, all in frustration.

It only took my “non-web” friend a glance to spot that the Contact link was actually near the top left of the page – the last place I would expect to look for that information.

Those outside our industry seem to persevere a whole lot more when dealing with a website, they’re not clouded by the judgements and expectations we have of a website – and lead perfectly fulfilling online lives.

These experiences serve as a reminder:

  1. Is “Best Practice" really best? Who says so? Do they apply for your user? Are you using your own preferences or assumptions? Challenge the rules.
  2. We all know how important user testing is – and how surprising the results can be. Don’t make assumptions about needs and habits, others may see the web differently. You are not your user.

As a web professional you’re likely to frequent many carefully and well designed websites so it can be a shock to stumble across something outside that bubble, it’s grounding to realise how small your web bubble really is.