You know how they say that the best way to get help on the internet is to assert somethng you know is wrong and wait for someone to correct you? I will be perfectly happy if this post turns into one of those1.

The idea of “evergreen” content2 naturally contrasts with its opposite. I am going to call that non-evergreen content “deciduous” because I wasn’t bullied enough as a child.

Link culture covers both public link culture – this could be a beautiful personal website’s directory or a bookmarking site’s user feed – and private link culture – you know, group chats’ crypto crash schadenfreude graphs, emailed “did you see this thing in the new yorker”, etc.

I will here mark a public TODO of returning again to riff more on that thing Robin Rendle said about links and likes3.

let’s generalize wildly to make a schema of internet stuff!

deciduous content

an atom

Look at this cool picture of a birch tree I took!

This mostly tends to be called a “post”. A good clue that you are thinking of something deciduous is that it doesn’t get updated after initial publication. A strong sign that you are thinking of a deciduous form is that it’s considered good form to mark when something has been edited – as when a newspaper signals that it has made a correction in the body of an article’s text.

Note that the evergreen vs. deciduous distinction here implies more about something’s production than its access – most of the pieces from longreads are deciduous, even when read regularly years or decades after their publication.

in aggregate

Subscribe to my feed of tree pictures!

This could be an Instagram, a blog, a newsletter – what’s notable is that the expectation is that the pattern of access you’re optimizing for is the people wanting to see the New Thing, and to see it basically in isolation from the older stuff.

evergreen content

an atom

Here is everything I know about birch trees. (When I learn new things, I edit this page.)

This is the obvious example – a Wikipedia page is an evergreen atom. However, you might also have:

Here is the page where I put all the pictures of trees I take.

What is the difference between this and the deciduous aggregate, the feed of content? I think there are a few:

  • As you add more material to an evergreen atom like this, you might revise what’s already there.
  • An evergreen atom is presented as a whole; sections are designed to fit into that whole rather than stand alone.
  • Organization likely non-chronological.

in aggregate

The landing page for my plant website links to my tree page, my shrub page, my forb page, my graminoid page…

Organization may be linear, hierarchical, chaotic and associative, planned yet informal

am I linking to an atom or an aggregate?

If I link to e.g. a blog post, it’s probably because I want to recommend just that post. If I link to someone’s blog’s main page, it’s probably because I want to recommend some larger amount of content accessible from there. However, both will likely have the same feed associated in the head element of their HTML, as:

<link type="application/atom+xml" rel="alternate" href="https://maya.land/feed.xml" title="maya.land"/>

Could an evergreen atom have a feed to notify one of an update, to prompt one to revisit the whole? Neocities does its RSS feeds with a simple update for the whole site4.

I like that HTML links are kind of sloppy because it makes them easy, zero-barrier-for-entry; please don’t think that I don’t respect that quality. But could the markup be extended to enable interesting programmatic nonsense when we want to be more precise about intent?

When I link to a cool top-level site, it seems like it gets only a small amount of emphasis in my feed. If I thought that a site wasn’t worth visiting except for four articles, and linked to those four, it’d have four times the prominence.

no neat deciduous linking to deciduous feeds

Ignoring the walled-garden social media equivalents, which can get a little baroque5, there’s sort of a canonical evergreen answer here: a feed should be available as RSS6. A set of links to feeds can be vended as an OPML document, which can be made readable for both humans and computers–like my blogroll.

But… there’s a weird aspect here. An OPML feed is designed to be evergreen – it doesn’t prompt anyone with update notifications if I add new blogs to it. Is an evergreen presentation best for this? For me, at least, the feeds I add are pretty disconnected, so atomizing them from each other and abandoning them to chronological order wouldn’t be nuts… but the filetype is meant for point-in-time import, not update and subscription. Should a companion format exist here? (Do I need to extend and share my JSON -> OPML Liquid templating for JSON -> (OPML + RSS)? This sounds like a mistake.)

If you are like me and have an overstuffed RSS reader, you tend to pay attention to the new. How does one encourage oneself to wander back through garden paths where new flowers may have grown? How do you encourage each other to do so? This has a multiplicity of good answers, I think.

where are the evergreen collections of deciduous atoms?

I think about this series of blog posts approximately twice a day. I wish I could force everyone I know to read it. How do I share it as something of permanent importance rather than “oh look a new thing”? LindyLearn has this version of the orange site based on the idea that we’re all too focused on the newest bits flying through the intertubes, and that we should let good stuff stick around more, but even it is designed to have a shifting page of “new” old stuff.

We used to have a culture of blogrolls, a culture of sharing on a link with a “via” or “h/t” note – but have we ever had a culture of an evergreen “look at these things that other people shared deciduously”? Are those Wordpress plugin “Top site posts” the closest thing?

conclusion

The tech we’re working with wasn’t meant to let us e.g. link to a certain version in history of a page7, and I’ve run across people acting like it’s therefore rude to change and move content – someone might have been trying to link to that! This seems unnecessarily stifling. I want us all to think more creatively about updates and feeds and non-chronological presentation and how it all fits together, because I don’t believe we’re done experimenting with this here world wide web.


  1. The only exception is if you try and tell me that the distinctions I’m discussing don’t matter. It’s of course okay if they don’t matter to you! But as is going to become immediately obvious, I think about this stuff arguably too much, so at least in my fevered mind, trust that they do matter. 

  2. Let’s get it out of my system now: I hate calling things “content”! It’s so wildly degrading, centering the platform-maker over artists and writers etc. etc. etc. Please find me a better replacement that I can use when speaking generally over art, photography, fiction, nonfiction, etc…. 

  3. This is sort of because I think it’d be fun to point out more about what changed about the internet in the wide shift from links to likes. It is also because I think it usefully prompts one to step back from the “‘algorithmic’ (non-chronological) presentation of content is why neo-Nazis exist” take I keep seeing from people who should really know better. 

  4. This then means that you have to go look at the site and sniff around for some kind of “Updates!” section to tell you what was changed… but of course, this also fosters familiarity with all of the non-instrumental parts of the site. You who come to my website to read my writing may take the opportunity to click on the gramophone and listen a bit; you who might more efficiently grab the content from RSS alone do not stop and smell the roses in this way. Trade-offs! 

  5. A not-uncommon pattern: a tweet thread with each tweet being a recommendation for another Twitter user to follow. This sort of makes sense in that those chunks can then be signal-boosted in isolation – but the thread is using a deciduous form (the tweet) even though it’s typically aspiring to be an evergreen recommendation, so then you get people making a thread of threads that they can pin to their profile… a mess. 

  6. If you are fighting the urge to tell me that actually RSS sucks as a format and that I should be recommending Atom or JSON feed or specifically RSS 2 or whatever: touch grass, it’s synecdoche 

  7. yes I have heard about our Lord and Savior Ted Nelson thank you I’m going to close the door now