1000 links later
Some reflections on life, the universe, and everything after posting 1000 links to inks. I started inks on a lark because one day I was annoyed with HN or Lobsters or something and it seemed easy enough to make my own cooler version, but there wasn’t much of a mission statement. Maybe Daring Fireball but without the fucking Yankees. It’s been a few months and 1000 links is enough to notice some trends and evaluate results.
The site was setup expecting fewer than 20 links per day. Visit once in the afternoon and scroll down and eventually come across a link from yesterday, knowing you’d seen it all. Twenty good links per day is plenty, right? Not always. Some days I’d end up posting considerably more than that without really trying. At a minimum of five minutes per link, that’s easily two hours of reading. Who has time to read all that? Wait, how do I have time to read all that? Not to mention all the links I read and didn’t post, although it’s easier to bail early on a bad article. I never really reflected on how much time I spent just treading information water until there was a timestamped record. Of course, the time wasn’t all exclusively spent on links. I could multitask leisure time watching a season of The X-Files and reading simultaneously.
There was also the question of whether to post popular links seen elsewhere or focus on hidden gems. ICYMI YOLO FOMO. A curated best of list is good for people who want to replace social aggregators, but redundant for those who don’t. Focusing on the underserved link market means the site is less useful as an archive. It feels weird to exclude a link because other people liked it, and being able to flip back and find a link a week later has actually been immensely helpful. Mostly I ended up splitting the difference, a bit of both.
Lots of links never got posted. Despite the emphasis on new content, I tried to apply a rule against posting anything I wouldn’t be interested in reading a week late. This spared me a great many rage links about whether or not some service’s new terms of service were oppressive or what it means to be Turing complete or whatever, where the whole tempest resulted in a half dozen “must read” links but ultimately boiled over before the week was out. Also, I still use my phone a lot for browsing, so lots of things never got posted because I never read them due to technical impediments like viewport locking and scrolljacking.
Initially I was using a paywall tag for content where appropriate, but eventually abandoned it. Sometimes it’s easy to tell if a site has a paywall, but other times not. The Wall Street Journal paywall everybody knows about. The LA Times paywall you may not even be aware of until you hit the free limit. If I subscribe to a site, I have no idea what the limits or workarounds are, so the tag becomes very unreliable. In the end I figure readers will learn which domains they can visit and which they can’t.
A funny thing I noticed with tagging. The better the link, the more tags it got. This surprised me because it’s the opposite of my experience on other sites. If a Lobsters link has 10 tags (or a reddit link is crossposted 10 times), that usually means it’s a fairly shallow article that says nothing about everything. Whereas I noticed my favorite links were consistently getting six or more tags. I think this has a lot to do with the tag hierarchy, since many tags are subtopics of larger tags. A great in depth article, even focused on a narrow topic, is going to tickle all the tags on the way down. Once I became aware of this trend it started influencing me, where I’d find a great link and think it didn’t have enough tags, almost as if they were stars, and try to find more. Sometimes this led to the creation of a new tag.
After about 500 links I started tracking sources, but only the name of the source, not the precise link. In some cases, this is technical. As far as I know, there’s no way to link to a particular retweet of a tweet. Crediting the tweet doesn’t necessarily tell you who to follow to see more tweets like that. This is a limitation of Twitter, but it’s life. Also social. When a source has a particularly insightful commentary on a link, I’ll just link to the source, but otherwise I imagine what’s of interest is that there’s a site with more links like this one. Mostly I imagine all sources as being other instances of inks. While technically possible to link to a particular item, it’s rarely interesting.
Final thoughts. It’s been fun. More time consuming than I thought, but that’s actually just the realization of how much time I was already spending on such matters. The actual posting of links, once read, is very fast. There’s always some proposal or another about how to fix or replace sites like Twitter and HN. One possibility is for everybody to run a little site where they post their favorite links. Subscribe to the people who post good stuff, and boom, all those complaints about clickbait rising to the top disappear. I’m still checking the usual aggregators, but have tried to avoid too much reliance.