Ah, how time changes. Back in 2010, changing the name of this site from Transistorized to Dirty Feed only warranted a tweet, not a proper mention on here. In 2011, the same was true for a brand new design for the site. These days, however, I’m prone to long, rambling posts on the subject instead. Many apologies. On the other hand, I have been promising a redesign of this place for fucking years, so finally launching it deserves at least a little ceremony.
So, what’s new?
A responsive design
The old site was pretty unfriendly on mobile, and I’m not entirely sure it being designed in 2011 is much excuse. Finally, you can view the site on your phone without it being a pain in the arse. (Though knowledgeable people shouldn’t dig through my CSS too much. And beginners shouldn’t try to learn anything from it. In fact, nobody should go near it, ever.)
Proper archive pages
Trying to navigate the archives of the old site was rather annoying, and I always meant to fix it… but never did. You can now view a chronological list of articles by year, and I’ve also vastly improved the categorisation of articles. Finally, you can see all my edits articles in one place. Or perhaps you’d like to help me with my collection of sitcom recording leaflets?
Speaking of categorisation, all the articles which aren’t quite as shit as the other ones are now to be found in one handy place.
I very nearly got rid of comments on the new site entirely1 – partly because some articles on here don’t really suit having comments at the bottom, and partly to get rid of the spam problem – but that seemed a blunt instrument considering comments can be really useful. So I’ve decided to take a more selective approach – articles where comments are useful will have comments open for a couple of months or so. Other pieces will never have comments open in the first place.
Have a mess around, and let me know of any issues you find – either on Twitter, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or in the comments below. The previous design rather stagnated – think of this one as a living, breathing thing, which will hopefully improve over time. It’s nowhere near perfect – and some articles from 2010-2013 aren’t fully converted to the new design yet – but hey, it’s a start.
Right, I’m off to watch every single episode of Come Back Mrs. Noah and attempt to extract something meaningful from the experience.
As I’m working on the upcoming redesign of this place, I’m trying to reassess every single decision I ever made when originally creating Dirty Feed. Everything from the category structure, through to comments, and even the URL structure of the site.
Whilst thinking of that latter point, I’ve been considering this post from Matt Gemmell:
“Can we talk, briefly, about the URLs on your blog?
If you’re like most people, your permalinks (the permanent links to individual posts) probably look like this:
We’re all familiar with those URLs. The date of the post is explicit, so you need never wonder when it was written, or how recent it is.
Here’s the thing, though: they’re horrible.”
Oh dear. I am a naughty boy.
In fact, I end up disagreeing with the vast majority of his piece1 – but let’s skip right to his main point, as I think it’s the most interesting.
“But there’s another reason, and it’s more compelling than any of the above. Date-encumbered URLs dilute your article’s standing.
Here’s what each style says to me:
macro-gurber.co/2014/02/14/about-smartwatches: This is what Macro thought about smartwatches on Valentine’s Day last year. Which raises some other questions, admittedly.
macro-gurber.co/about-smartwatches: This is Macro’s definitive goddamned opinion on smartwatches.
That’s the distinction. Have a think about it for a moment. The latter, shorter style is what you want.”
My problem with this: I am never going to have a definitive goddamned opinion on anything. And frankly, I worry about anyone who thinks that they have one. We should all be open to changing our minds. The latter, shorter style here very much is not what I want.
To take an example, let’s take a look at what the URL for this article would be, if I followed Matt’s advice:
www.dirtyfeed.org is going to be the place I use for my random nonsense for many years to come, whatever that random nonsense happens to be. If I live 50 more years, I think I’m more likely to be using this domain than not. So, the above URL indicates: “What I think about permalinks, forever.” And I may have very different opinions on permalinks in 50 years.2 I may not, of course, but how can you tell? I can’t see into the future to tell what I’ll think of this article in 50 years time.
Instead, the current URL format makes more sense to me:
This article is what I had to say about permalinks, in January 2017. Perhaps there’s an argument for simplifying things a bit, removing the “01”, and just indicating it’s how I felt about permalinks in 2017. (Unlike Matt’s original example, I already don’t include the day, which I agree is pointless.) But the crucial thing is: it doesn’t indicate that it’s my definitive goddamn opinion on permalinks, and that’s entirely intentional.
It very much isn’t.
Right now, I’m buried balls deep in the upcoming redesign of Dirty Feed. That, plus the beginning of the new year, has sparked ideas for a few more inward-looking pieces here, which won’t be to everyone’s taste. I’ll be back with some of my more usual stuff later in the month.
* * *
I used to customise.
My computer, I mean. When I used to use RISC OS back in the 90s, I’d spend ages tweaking everything until it was just right. I’d spend hours obsessing over the settings in applications; I even used a program called !MenuBar to set up an entirely custom menu at the top of the screen, for easy access to all the programs and files I needed. This involved manually hacking a configuration file. That was how I spent my evenings, and jolly good fun it was too.
These days, I don’t bother. I make a point of having a nice desktop background, and I do take care to arrange folders in a vaguely neat fashion. But my taste for tweaking the OS and applications has mostly disappeared. With my iPhone and iPad, it’s even worse – my homescreens are in a bit of a mess, and apart from some sensible placing of most-used apps, I haven’t got round to sorting them yet. The years of tweaking my setups to within an inch of their lives have long gone.
…except that’s not entirely true.
Sure, I’ve stopped tweaking in terms of my own personal desktop. But that’s been replaced with a new form of tweaking. I absolutely cannot stand the vast majority of blog themes on the net; none of them look or work quite how I want them to, so I always end up hand-crafting my own. The current version of Dirty Feed was completely designed from scratch, as I just couldn’t find a theme I liked. So is the next version, for that matter, which is even more complicated as I’m implementing a responsive design. In fact, I’ve never used a pre-existing template for any website I’ve designed.
Hopefully most of them work well enough – there’s always things which could be better, but I’m happy with most of what I’ve done. And every single one of them are a reflection of the old me that I thought had disappeared completely… and then realised hadn’t. It’d just shifted elsewhere. It might be a different thing I’m tweaking1, but it’s exactly the same urge2.
It’s odd how the internet has taken aspects of my personality I used to project internally, and projects them externally instead. I used to care about something only I was staring at. Now I care about the part of me other people will be staring at. That’s not necessarily a good or a bad thing. It just… is.
* * *
On the topic of the current design of Dirty Feed, I want to talk a little about the ethos behind it. This design isn’t going to be around for much longer, and having served me well since June 2011 – bloody hell, over five years – it’s worth giving it a little bit of a send-off.
And the major thing to note about it is: how stripped down the design is, even compared to a lot of other simple sites out there. Too stripped down, in fact: I launched with the bare minimum possible, and always meant to add features once I’d decided I definitely wanted them. In the end, I never got round to doing so. By the time I really did get round to thinking about the site design again, I realised it needed a proper responsive design built from scratch, not just smearing cosmetic products on livestock.
Which means: I’ve run a blog for the past five years with no kind of normal navigation whatsoever, no about or contact pages, no tags, and no easy way of navigating by date without URL hacking. Ridiculous? Perhaps, and it’s definitely meant good articles have remained buried away in the archives, rather than having a better chance to be discovered again. On the other hand… it’s kinda been fun to see what the absolute bare minimum you can get away with for a site design. Sure, I’ve decided I now want all those features missing above with the upcoming relaunch, and a few more to boot – but it’s nice to discover that you actually want some of that stuff on its own terms, rather than just Because That’s What’s Done.
In the meantime, despite its faults, I think the site has benefited from its ultra-clean design, rather than being clogged with too much shit. I’m still proud of how well the footer works – cramming a lot of otherwise missing features into a very small space. The typography is the best I’ve ever managed for any site. And I’ll happily take a site which stripped down a tad too much, than something too far the other way. Hopefully the new design will have the best of both approaches.
Still. Five years without any kind of navigation. That must be some kind of record.
This is a revised and expanded version of something I posted on Tumblr back in June 2013.
As I work on the upcoming redesign for Dirty Feed, my thoughts idly turn to the old blog I used to run on ofla.info, back in the mid-2000s. Let’s take a brief look, shall we? I’m sure there’s some great stuff on there.
5th April 2004, “óflå.info Launches!”:
“Make sure you explore all corners of the site; I wouldn’t want you to miss any of the fascinating treats on offer.”
Sadly, all is gone by 18th July 2004. In its place, “Site under renovation”:
Never mind. On 9th August 2004, “For Fucks Sake”:
“I’ve had this domain nearly two years, and the only thing I’ve got out of it is a decent e-mail address and some hangers on.
Let’s try and do something useful with it, eh?”
Excellent… oh, wait, deleted by September 2004.
Don’t worry! On 26th October 2004, we get, erm, ““óflå.info” “launches””:
“Ah, it’s not as good as this one. But it’ll do. Let me know if there’s any problems with the design of the site – I know it’s a bit SHIT here and there.
Stuff to come: ill-informed rants on web design, revoltingly geeky TV stuff (The Sitcom Boom Mike Apperances List, anyone?), and various other shite. And news on the progression of the content management system I’m writing. Current status: Learning Perl, page 1.”
This one actually lasted right up until the end of 2005. Then suddenly, on the 3rd January 2006, all is wiped clean. In its place, we get “Errr… óflå.info, erm, “launches””:
“Hello! It’s yet another relaunch of my personal site! Hoo-fucking-ray. Forgive the odd rough edge; I’ll be smoothing it all out in the next few days.
So why? Well, I did get bored of the old design – but it also reflects a change of DIRECTION. All my web/media guff is going on Noise To Signal (due a relaunch in the next couple of weeks, hence the lack of life around there at the moment).
The old content will be stuck back on here at some point (and some of it also incorprated into NTS); till then, use the Wayback Machine. I apologise for breaking all my links in the meantime; the only consolation is that there was nothing worth much on here.
So, what’s going to go on here, then? Well, my personal blog probably – I think it’s a waste of time personally, which is why I didn’t update for ages before, but so many people have requested I carry on with it that it would be rude not to. It also functions as a nice gateway to all the other sites I’m involved with. Beyond that, there are a few things I have planned – but, learning from past experience, I won’t be announcing those until I have something to show for it. I’ll try and update round here most days, though.
Oh: wank shit cunt.”
Surely, this is it? Surely? Nope. Not only was all the old stuff never put back online, but this entire version of the blog was all gone by June.
Since then, my writing has been rather more consistent. Once my personal blog disappeared from ofla.info for good, I wrote for years over on group site Noise to Signal. And once that closed at the end of 2009, I started writing here on Dirty Feed. Sure, this place was originally called Transistorised for some stupid reason, but from 2010 onwards all my writing is intact, and in the same place.
Still, there’s something to be learnt from the above. The reason I kept launching and relaunching back then was simple: some idiotic quest for perfection. “No, no, that article/design/word isn’t exactly perfect – best wipe clean and start again.” Idiotic is definitely the word… but that part of me still pops up every so often. It’s good to have a look back and remember the road perfectionism can take you if you’re not careful. Hey, write something shit? Or does something just not read that brilliantly with a year or two’s hindsight? Never mind, let it stand as a historical piece, and write something better next time. If you want everything you’ve written online to be perfect, never publish anything at all.
The single best thing for me about Dirty Feed is that I finally stuck at something. No wasting time, no constant relaunches. Just a body of work which built up, year after year, and now stands as something I’m proud of – not deleted off the web, never to be seen again unless someone bothers to throw themselves into the Wayback Machine. I see some people constantly launching new sites for the same old thing today, and I’m glad I finally managed to learn that lesson all those years ago.
If there’s one thing which can be said about Dirty Feed this year, it’s this: a lack of perfection is absolutely guaranteed.
Two blogs I follow have redesigned recently: Jason Kottke’s kottke.org back in September, and Andy Baio’s waxy.org this month. Both have used their redesigns to muse on the nature of independent self-hosted blogs, rather than just sticking all your writing on Medium and the like.
I can only echo what Andy Baio says:
“Ultimately, it comes down to two things: ownership and control.
Last week, Twitter announced they’re shutting down Vine. Twitter, itself, may be acquired and changed in some terrible way. It’s not hard to imagine a post-Verizon Yahoo selling off Tumblr. Medium keeps pivoting, trying to find a successful revenue model. There’s no guarantee any of these platforms will be around in their current state in a year, let alone ten years from now.
Here, I control my words. Nobody can shut this site down, run annoying ads on it, or sell it to a phone company. Nobody can tell me what I can or can’t say, and I have complete control over the way it’s displayed. Nobody except me can change the URL structure, breaking 14 years of links to content on the web.”
At the very real risk of being both self-indulgent and exceedingly smug: Dirty Feed is one of my favourite things I’ve ever done. And one of the reasons for that – a couple of guest posts aside in the site’s early days – is that it is entirely my own. Nobody else can control it, fuck around with it, or tell me what to do with it. If Dirty Feed moved to a service akin to Medium, I wouldn’t find it nearly as appealing to write.
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