Your Blog Archives: To Cull or Not to Cull?

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They’re questions that most bloggers will face after they’ve been blogging for a little while and perhaps have evolved or consciously changed their writing style: Do you go back through your archives and weed out the posts that no longer fit your blog’s style? Or do you leave them as a way to show your blog’s growth and evolution?

To cull the archives or not to cull?

Reader Roelant asked me this question the other day:

I maintain a personal website that evolved into a blog, have blogged since 1997, which were my late teen-years. In March 2002 — I considered myself adult by then — I decided not to migrate my older posts when installing (new) blog software. I thought of those posts as childish, unprofessional, etc.

And that’s where the pain is: writing evolves, and some of my older posts just hurt my eyes. But that’s how a weblog works: everything gets archived, everything stays online. Even if the person behind it changes or evolves. So I’d love to see a post on how you would deal with older posts. Is every post you ever written (e.g. on Zen Habits) still online, or have you — later on — removed some of the posts and why? When is a good time to trash, when is a good time to move a specific subject into a blog of its own.

This is a tough question, and I won’t be able to provide a definitive answer, because it really depends on your blog’s purpose. What are you trying to do with your blog? What message are you trying to send to your readers? The answers to these questions will determine your course of action.

I can share what I’ve done with Zen Habits, as this is something I did nearly a year into blogging myself. In the early days of Zen Habits (January and February 2007), I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I experimented with different styles. Long posts and short ones, essays and lists, funny and informative, rants and reviews. Eventually I found a style that I liked, that readers seemed to like, and I ditched some of the styles that didn’t work so well: short posts, rants, a daily tip, etc.

When I looked back into my archives, I was actually a bit embarrassed by some of the early mistakes. I also felt that these posts would detract from the overall message of Zen Habits, and so I took them out of the archives. Did I delete them? Some of them I did, and with others I found a compromise: I just marked them as private, so that only I could see them.

The problem with deleting old posts is that if you have other posts that link to the old ones, you have to go and delete or change all those old links. This was a problem for me, as many of my early posts were interlinked — I actually linked them all manually. So I had to manually delete the links, and that took a long time. For awhile I was getting emails from readers letting me know about broken links, and I had to go fix them. So if you do delete old posts, look out for this.

For Zen Habits, I wanted to send a message of simplicity rather than clutter. That means being consistent throughout, if possible, so I deleted posts that people didn’t seem to enjoy and that only caused clutter. It also made it easier for people to find my best posts, which is always a good thing. I thought it best that if they were going to take the trouble to go through my old posts, they would find my best stuff.

However, not every blog has the same purpose as Zen Habits. Some are more personal, more like a journal than the magazine style I tend to lean toward. That was the purpose of the first blogs, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If your blog is supposed to be a record of your personal journey, then obviously keeping your early posts would be very important. You wouldn’t want to get rid of those early records.

These are just two examples … there are as many variations as there are blogs. I can’t provide an answer for every blog — only my own.

Instead, I’d like to hear from you guys: What are your thoughts on this topic? Should blog archives be decluttered every now and then, or are old blog posts sacred and never to be deleted? How does your blog’s purpose determine your answer? Share in the comments!

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Ghulam

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