I love kimchi. Never heard of it? It’s a spicy, fermented Korean dish made primarily of cabbage. It is delicious, but quite smelly (for an interesting personal anecdote about kimchi, please skip to the end of this posting). You might be asking yourselves what these nuggets of culinary knowledge have to do with my blog theme, anarchic technologies. Well, let me tell you. A couple of years ago, I decided to learn how to make kimchi (to the chagrin of my then roommate). Interestingly, my favorite kimchi recipe site comes from a geek in Australia named Greg Lehey. (For those of you who winced at the word geek, I assure you that I use it affectionately, as one geek to another would.) Thanks to Greg, my homemade kimchi turned out just right. (In fact, I still have a small jar of that original batch sitting in my fridge.) Greg’s web site intrigued me. He likes computers, beer and kimchi (a man after my own heart). So I started fishing around and came across this excellent rant whose file name is ./reverse-horror.html. In this clever essay, Greg details his dislike of documents that are reverse-chronologically ordered. So as I was surfing the blogosphere today (which is uniformly ordered in a reverse-chronological way), I thought about Greg and his rants and his kimchi.
Is Greg justified in hating reverse order? Will backward become the new forward? Film and movie writers have tried it (see the famous backward episode of Seinfeld, entitled “Betrayal”, or the film Memento). So what about blogs? The way these things are written (i.e., they are serialized) differs from traditional reading materials. Today, most books and articles are usually published in one fell swoop. Thus, reading from beginning to end is the natural method (except for you cheaters who flip to the back page to see who done it). Blogs take us back to the days of Dickens and others, when novels and other publications were parceled out in discreet chunks. (Indeed, I just read a great book about the writing of the Oxford English Dictionary, which was also published as a series of volumes, but thankfully released in forward, alphabetical order.) In my opinion, the serial nature of blogs is refreshing. The anticipation of next week’s installment keeps me interested in the author’s work. However, do all readers prefer this order?
I understand the common explanation for why blogs are in reverse-chronological order: to obviate the need for scrolling. If blogs were published in forward order, readers who return frequently to the blog would have to constantly scroll (or, worse yet, page) to reach the newest content. For this same reason, I like to keep my email list in reverse-chronological order (so I don’t always have to scroll to the bottom to see the unread messages). This works well for the reader who sits at the edge of her seat waiting for the next blog post to bubble up. What of the rest of us? When I come across a new blog, I usually arrive there via a link from elsewhere. Sometimes the posting that I read is the author’s most recent, but frequently it’s a past posting. If I like the article and want to read more from the author, I naturally click on the “home” link. What usually appears on the screen at this point is a pretty header and the most recent posting. I usually walk away dissatisfied at this point. How am I to fully grasp what the author is saying if I don’t have the context of her previous writings? I would really like to start at the beginning and work my way forward. This is exceedingly difficult on most blogs. The most egregious blogs force me to scroll to the bottom of the page, click on the “older posts” link, and repeat ad infinitum. The more friendly blogs have archive links in a side panel (which, though they too are usually in reverse-chronological order, eliminate the need for repeated pagination). Why can’t I just get a resort button? Is it so difficult?
Whoa! Now I’m ranting. So I guess Greg has a point. Reverse-chronological order ain’t for everyone.
On that note, let me end with my amusing personal anecdote about kimchi. I bought a jar of it one day, put it in my backpack (to save a plastic grocery bag), walked outside, and forgot about it completely. Eventually I went back to school (I was studying medicine at the time). While loitering in the med school lobby, I ran into a woman on whom I had my eye. I struck up a conversation and shamelessly flirted with her. All seemed to be going well and I was exceedingly pleased with my social skills when I noticed her nose start twitching. Curious, I sniffed at the air a bit. Yikes! It smelled awful. I figured something must have died in the corner of the lobby (you never know what you might find in a med school, like the waste basket in the anatomy room that says “human parts only”). I suggested that we move down the hall. Still it reeked. Again, I suggested that we move to another location, but to no avail. Eventually she wiggled her way away from me and I sat there in the terrible stink. Then it dawned on me! The kimchi! The kimchi! Drat that kimchi! You know, I never did hear from her again.