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Your Blog Archives: To Cull or Not to Cull?

Photo courtesy of striatic

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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38 thoughts on “Your Blog Archives: To Cull or Not to Cull?

  • Deb

    This is an issue that has been on my mind for a while. I jumped into blogging because trying to make a bunch of decisions in advance was too much of an obstacle to just getting to write.

    Over the past few months I have been contemplating how much my blog writing has grown and the direction I seem to be moving. I too feel there are some posts that are just clutter because I pushed myself to write. I also feel with my blog taking on a character and maybe a niche that some posts are too far off the mark and confusing to readers.

    I am glad to see a more advanced blogger address this and be somewhat transparent about the process of choosing what to do with content that doesn’t contribute to the current or becoming framework of the blog. And I had completely forgotten about internal links, so thanks for mentioning those.

    I was thinking about waiting until I decide where I will move my blog but I might go ahead and start removing the most offending posts for the present. Thanks.

  • Brad V.

    I generally like to keep older posts up for people to find/read. Then again, my blog is only a year old, so I don’t have a lot of archives to my name just yet.

    However, I have been blogging for several years now, going through several blogs that covered a wide array of subjects. When I stopped updating them I’d usually let the old blog fester for a while before deleting the entire thing.

    I do try to keep my old posts alive by linking to them in more current posts. I also keep a “Top Posts” page that I throw in some old posts as well. Some of them aren’t very good, but there’s always a few gems.

    Great post!

  • Debra

    My blog is still in its infancy, so I haven’t had to face this decision yet, but I guess I should probably start thinking about it.

    Right now, my instinct is to keep old posts, since the blog chronicles my evolution as a writer. Although, like you, I definitely experimented with a few ideas and styles that didn’t work for me.

    Luckily, I’m mechanically incompetent and haven’t figured out how to do internal links yet, so that won’t be a problem when, and if, I decide to delete any entries.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  • John Ratcliffe-Lee

    I just wrestled with this:

    http://jratlee.com/post/28691184

    Since I created breaks in writing style by physically moving content location…I was posed with two different problems: Do I keep everything for posterity and where do I keep it? In one functional place or many disjointed places? If I was starting this now, where CMS and content aggregation is much more fleshed out, I obviously wouldn’t mind writing in multiple places and voices and having one locale act as an aggregator (lifestream, if you will).

    I decided that, the best I can, I will consolidate to the point of efficiency and keep all (or as much as I can) of my history in one place. After all, if someone really wanted to find it, they eventually would be able to.

  • Hope Wilbanks

    I have culled old posts that no longer seemed to fit into my blog. Sometimes when you’re starting out, there’s a tendency to veer off topic or generate posts that aren’t really informative or productive. I’d rather just clean it up and leave the best, like you suggest. This isn’t something I obsess over, though. I might go through a blog once or maybe twice a year, but not much more than that.

  • Ian McKenzie

    This month will mark 7 years of blogging for me. Just over a year ago, at the beginning of 2007, I made a major shift in what I posted, by narrowing the focus of my blog. I have a lot of content which doesn’t fit with what I am doing now. However, I haven’t gotten around to deleting just yet.

    One of my concerns is how deleting old posts will affect the way search engines “see” Ian’s Messy Desk. By deleting archived material, I create errors for search engine indexes. I can submit a request to have deleted pages removed from the index, but it’s a manual process and somewhat time consuming.

  • an9ie

    I was just thinking about this the other day! Funny how things in the universe seem to synchronise up :)

    My blog is my online identity, and I’ve been questioning what my identity is now, how my style has changed, and so forth.

    Superfluous posts like “Blogger was down today, sorry about that” etc. have been deleted in a big cull, and posts that I would still like to keep (just not on show), I save as an html file, including the comments, and then I delete the post itself from the blog.

  • Niles Gibbs

    I’ve done all of the above. I started blogging back when all blogs were like today’s tumblelogs, just links with no post titles. I would post 100’s of links a day.

    When I migrated to a journal style blog, I originally kept all of those posts, but eventually deleted them as the links expired (ahem Yahoo! News), and they only attracted spam.

    However once those were gone, I kept everything else, even old posts, and made a point of regularly going though old posts for inspiration, or to link to from new posts (back before automated related posts code was accurate).

    I eventually killed that blog all together, but I say that don’t let old posts become lost in archives, the more interlinking you do, I feel the more useful your site becomes, because rarely will I sit and browse someone’s 1000 item archive page, but I can get lost for hours clicking from link to related link (the Wikipedia vortex).

    I say link to old content to make your blog more useful, and don’t rely too heavily on “related posts” functionality because I’ve yet to find code that does it really well (other then making long lists of “possibly related” posts).

    Put links in the text to old material, so people can divert if they want to, or come back later, so that they see that you’ve written more elsewhere as they’re actually reading the text, instead of relying on long boring laundry lists of “possibly related posts”.

  • Kelly@SHE-POWER

    This is a really original and useful post. Thanks Leo

    I haven’t been blogging long at all and am still figuring out where I’m trying to go with http://she-power.

    Originally my idea for the site was much more serious, but then I found it too hard to write appropriate articles because I didn’t enjoy writing them and they didn’t seem to work with my natural “voice”. So, I have already deleted some old posts.

    As you say, I think it all comes down to why you blog. A big motivation for me has been to undo the sales voice which was created by years of copy writing and marketing. I really want to find my natural voice and writing style, so awkward past posts are worth keeping, but they’ll stay private I think.

    Great discussion topic
    :) Kelly

  • Kacper

    I’m starting with my blog (I run it for since February), so it is possible that my approach will be different in future. But right now, I think I will keep all my posts on-line. I write about success, and I think that every post is another step toward my goal. Even if some steps would be poor or in wrong direction, it makes sense to me, to keep everything.

  • Joanna

    Hi … thought-provoking post, and lots of interesting comments to chew over too.

    Just to go slightly off-message: you say you used to put your links in by hand … that’s what I do, and although I’ve been blogging three years, I don’t know any other way … any chance you could explain??

    Thanks
    Joanna

  • ChrisB

    I think it depends on what you see your blog as. If it’s an online journal, it makes sense to keep the old stuff — to, as was said, chronical your growth.

    If your blog is a tool or a business, you’re going to want to put your best foot forward. I wouldn’t worry about drifting styles so much, but if the writing was just bad, then I’d delete it.

  • J.L. Munn

    First, thank you for this article. It is a topic that I have been considering myself for the last few months as I struggle through how exactly I want to use this wonderful medium.

    My opinion as a writer: I think it is our responsibility as writers to make available quality content. If we decide, at any point, that something does not reflect our idea of quality, it is our responsibility to act accordingly; by culling, revising or even re-writing (I am in the process of doing all three). In the print world, editions go out of print or are revised as needed. The old versions remain in libraries and the used and second-hand markets, just as our original electronic content remains in circulation in one form or another.

    My opinion as a reader: Although it can be interesting to see the progression of a writer, for the most part I look for the best quality content I can find. When I first encounter your site, I don’t want to (and I won’t) scan through thousands of “finding my style” entries to find the gems you really wanted me to find. Imagine that my first encounter with your writing is what you think to be your worst. Haven’t you already lost me?

    Enjoy!
    J.L. Munn

  • Stamford Talk

    I completely disagree with every person who has posted so far.
    A blog is a web log- a continuous record over time. It is disingenuous and almost dishonest to delete the posts that you no longer think are good enough, or show different opinions than you hold now.

    There are posts that I want to delete, and I admit, I did delete one post where I ripped apart a restaurant and then thought, This is a really popular restaurant, and maybe I’ll want them to advertise with me one day. Now that I am coming out so strongly about this, I should probably go put it back up so I’m not a self-righteous hypocrite.

    I think it is a perfectionist tendency to think that our blog archives should be perfect! One of the great things about a blog is that it shows our growth as writers and bloggers. Sometimes it’s painful to see how naive or stupid we sound, but people read our blogs because they like our voice and opinions- we’re cheating them if we remove the records, and we’re being harder on ourselves than any reader would be.

    I do respect everyone’s opinions, though- I just disagree, at least for myself as a blogger. I don’t think I would hold the opinion that I do unless my husband had chastised me for wanting to delete the post I mentioned… he’s far more- what’s the word- realistic? than me. He’s also less worried about pleasing people. Maybe bloggers that delete old posts could let readers know they are culling- sort of like a full disclosure.

  • --Deb

    It’s interesting you should ask that. It’s something I never really considered–I LIKE my archives. There’s something satisfying about having months or years of content sitting there, guarding your back, and it’s interesting looking through the archives to see the evolution of the current style. And yet … I recently moved my knitting blog from Typepad to WordPress and in the (endless) process of updating all the photos and internal links, I’ve been reading my old entries, and it’s true. Some just don’t “fit” any more … yet I hate to get rid of them. It’s not like they’re hurting anything, or taking up space I can’t afford. They’re not cluttering anything I need to unclutter, not really. I suppose that if they were truly awful, I’d consider getting rid of them, but that’s three years of my knitting life I want to hold on to.

  • Peg Thompson

    I am a beginning blogger, so I don’t have enough posts to have this problem. But I was reminded when I read your post of a time when I learned to make dovetail joints in woodworking. I made three practice joints before I used the technique for a project. The first one had big gaps in it, and I learned that I had to be much more precise with the saw and chisel. The second was better; the third was better yet. In each, I learned a bit more and centered my energy a bit more.

    I kept those practice joints for many years as a metaphor for learning. I think my inclination would be the same for my early posts, even though some of them I already see as being improvable. But they show where I’ve been and what I’ve been learning, and might even offer encouragement for others when they’re just starting to blog.

    Thanks for your post. I enjoyed the question and look forward to seeing what others think.

  • Daniel Terhorst

    Add a notice at the top of the old post. Write an up-to-date post and link to it, if the topic is important. The fresh treatment will likely be appreciated, but some may prefer the old post.

    It might be okay to clean up the archives and Google, but please keep everything available to direct links.

  • Craig

    If you want to publish your blog as a book sometime, don’t cull.

    If, on the other hand, your oldest posts turn your stomach with their immaturity and you really don’t like re-reading them, cull them.

    I recently began my own blog/website, and I have no intention of culling.

    Eventually, in a year or two or three, I would like to publish a book from the blog. Who knows what will happen?

  • JJ

    Good question, Roelant. I’m new to blogging, but I already find myself editing and deleting previous posts. I guess it’s just my nature.

  • asrai

    Instead of seeing them as a failure or embarassment, see them as a measuring stick of how have grown as a person. It’s like an evaluation in school at the beginning of the year vs. the end of the year.

    I have a personal LJ account I’ve had for nearly 10 years I think. And I hate looking back at what an immature person I was 10 years ago, the mistakes I made etc. But those are also a written record for the future me of how far I’ve come as a person and a reminder of mistakes NOT to make again. Things like that.

    Don’t cull. Look back on the past as the past, not as an embarassment of who you were, but as who you have become.

  • Rick

    I too am starting a new blog and Leo’s writing has been a great inspiration. It wasn’t until reading Leo’s blog that I began looking towards my own ideas and what I could offer. That being said I do not see any reason not to “cull” after some time has passed. As Leo mentioned, it depends on the blog’s intent. is it a public diary? Is it a site that provides tips and tricks when it comes to Mac computers? Posts become outdated and a blog may evolve over time into something different (just like we do). An old post written in the blog’s infancy may no longer be relevant. I would never suggest deleting it forever but do what Leo does and make it private. Like an old child hood snapshot. It may mean alot to the “parent/writer” but not the rest of the world.

  • L Soderman

    I go back and forth on this issue, never really taking action. Which of course means I’m not culling.

    I think that for me it is a hybrid. A post that I spent time writing, or that I have created links to, should stay. But some posts, like the “Check this out!” variety we all tend to start with, are fine to delete, if you don’t seem to be getting significant traffic. If you are still getting hits on a post a year after you wrote it, you may want to keep that post up regardless, and even link back to it.

    One idea for these log-running posts is to create a meta-post, like a greatest hits. They may not have been your greatest works, but they are yours.

  • Wendi Lynn

    First of all, have you been looking at my bookshelves? That photo looked very familiar, I’m looking at a very similiar mess as I type.

    *shudder*.

    I find this very interesting to hear all the different opinions. As a new blogger, I am still trying to figure out how to organize and catagorize posts in a way that will make the most sense down the road without having to come back and re-do everything once I figure out what I am doing.

    This was an aspect I hadn’t even considered. Thanks for bring
    ing it to my attention.

    I guess my first thought is that my blog isn’t a history book. It is a compilation of my thoughts and opinions to the readers. If they have changed, then the readers should know that, and not stumble on old ideas that I no longer feel are relevant for whatever reason. I think I would go back and add an updated note, or pull the post.

    However, this is an example of talking on my first impression of a topic.
    I may have a different opinion if I have to pull hundreds of posts or go write updates. Heck, I don’t do chores like seasonally update my closet or clear out the basement of the junk down there. What makes me think I’d do it to my blog?

  • Laura Spencer

    Rather than culling old posts, why not recategorize them? You could add a category like “Off Topic” or “Early Posts?”

    I also like the idea of adding a few sentences at the top of an old post – maybe something like, “I used to feel this way, but now I realize…” and link to whatever your current position is.

    That being said, I’ve only been blogging a little over a year. I have not gone through my old posts.

  • Chase March

    The very second you press “publish” on a blog post is the moment you decided that your post was good enough for the world. Blog posts are public and viewable by anyone. If you publish something, I don’t think you can take it back.

    Authors don’t run into book stores and take back early work that they feel that have moved away from. Actors don’t do it with their filmography. Musicians don’t do it with their discography. Writers shouldn’t do it either.

    Once you clicked “publish” it is out there and should stay there, unless it is offensive or will hurt someone.

  • Tonya

    I blogged for almost 10 years before taking a five-month break, but when I thought about coming back, I felt like I needed to trim the old one down to the barest of favorite posts/memories before starting again. I was nervous I’d be sorry, but I’m glad I did it. Made a fresh start exactly that.

  • barbex

    Have you ever found an old letter, an old journal? Wasn’t it fascinating to read those old thoughts?

    Just imagine going over the old posts in 15 years, all the memories! Don’t delete those memories, move them to an archive or just start a new blog and keep the old one locked down.

  • Roelant

    Thanks Leo for writing this article and thanks everyone for the helpful replies. It’s comforting to read that I’m not the only one struggling with this matter. And after reading the post and its reply, it finally helped me straighten things out and get to a point where I have a clear vision about how I’m going to handle my older posts.

    The problem with my blog starts with the very essence of Leo’s first question: to determine what the message is you want to send with your blog. There’s several, and that’s probably not a good thing. The message I’m sending differs per post. My blog is in Dutch, so I won’t bother giving examples here, but I’ll try to explain. :-)

    Some are just “maintenance messages”, e.g. informing the reader about a new layout and an explanation of what motivated me to change the things I did. These are hardly relevant nor interesting for anyone by now, since the “new” layout from 2002 has been replaced itself. Already I’d hidden some of these posts (made them “private”), as they only have potential value to me, and I’ve decided that this is what I’ll be continuing to do with these kind of posts.

    Others are what I used to call “ruminations”: things I felt or thought about things going on in my life, the country I live (the Netherlands) or the Internet even. These are pieces that I’ll probably leave untouched (maybe correct some bad spelling), but most important: never considered trashing in the first place. I agree that this is a piece of my history (Laura Moncur) and I like it to stay online.

    Then there’s the “various other”. Uttering my frustration about how public transport fails to function day after day, ranting about someone stealing my layout (both seriously frustrating at the time, but rather useless from the readers perspective). And off course “linkdumps”, short articles referring to some other site, e.g. a column I liked, and a short explanation why it’s worth checking that out or my personal vision on the subject the column is about.

    For both of these kinds, I very much share J.L. Munn’s approach. By know, I’ve figured out that I try give my readers a good and amusing read on my vision and experiences, and therefore quality content (of whatever kind, subject, and level of usefulness that may be). So some of those articles will remain, but some I’ll remove since I don’t think the offer the quality and/or amusement I pursue to deliver.

    And for the ones that do withstand my high standards: yes, I think old articles are an *extra* fun read (Barbex). And again, there’s no reason not to preserve my share in history.

    As for preserving history, keeping things available is something that I’ve always taken very serious over time. I even have a script in place that catches any request for an old URL’s (including old domains and subdomains I’ve used – which I’ve kept active), analyzes the full URL, translates it to the current deeplink in my archives and finally forwards the user with a nice “301 – moved permanently” header. There’s probably no way I can take this more seriously. ;-)

    Anyway, thanks everyone for your replies and opinions, I hope the general concession I’ve extracted from it, is just as helpful to others.

  • Nickie

    My blog started out as a journal, and it’s still pretty personal and journal-like. I’ve kept most posts I wrote, even the ones which make me cringe. On a very rare occasion, I will rotect an older post, if I think it’s unfair to someone else. I tend to think that my posts from five years ago show how much I’ve grown and learned.

  • J.D.

    … It’s kind of like flipping through old year books –“geeze — that was how my hair looked??”

    I can certainly understand sweeping a collection of posts. The benefit of 20/20 hindsight always adds a bunch of perspective.

    On the other hand, I find going through a blog, flaws and all, keeps it more personable. Also:
    1. One man’s garbage is another’s treasure
    2. The progression in quality is a reminder of how far you’ve come
    3. Maybe some day Mike Brady’s perm will come back in style

    Personally, I used to manage some knowledge systems and it sucked trying to police them. On one hand, garbage in, garbage out. On the other, I found it more effective to spend more time surfacing up the good stuff vs. trying to supress or sweep the bad. Mostly I didn’t like the mindset that happened when I reached a “clean” state. I then found it tough to add to the system because my bar would get too high.

    Maybe instead of deleting old posts, a better technique is to tune them? For example, I have a bunch of old posts that when I port to my new blog, I’d like to sweep and add relevant pictures and improve some of the style.

  • Timothy Diokno

    You can just edit your past mistakes or of you don’t really like it, you can archive it in a nice PDF file and keep it in your hard drive.

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  • iamellis

    I’ve only recently began a blog on the journey through my wife’s pregnancy which I hope will encompass both personal and magazine style. I had planned to seperate the journalistic from the personal (the good and the bad if you will) later on. Thus one becomes the journey the other the tips.

    I’m not very good yet (though I have a few posts in the pipeline that may be readable) so i wouldnt mind the chance to go back and touch up those (magazine style entries) that werent quite right.

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