“Hey there, John. What’s this?”
“It’s a list of all my favourite articles I’ve published on Dirty Feed in 2018.”
“But don’t you usually wait until the 1st January to post that?
“Just so you could anally point out that you only post your yearly roundup once the year is actually over, unlike everyone else?”
“Does this mean you’re dumbing down your material to chase a more mainstream audience?”
“Yes. Could you go away now, please?”
“A mainstream audience that you’re never going to achieve, incidentally.”
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I try not to patronise you too much on here.1 I write the literal opposite of clickbait. While it’s lovely when something I write gets a few clicks, chasing that leads to utter madness. Writing Dirty Feed is supposed to be fun.2 However, I have to confess that sometimes an element of… calculation comes into the timing of what I publish. So it was with my collection of April Fools jokes played out in the pages of old BBC Micro magazines, published on the 1st April, because… of course that’s when you publish it. And I thought it was something that might gain some traction and find a little bit of an audience.
So I sent it out there, back in 2015. And it did… fine. Not spectacular numbers, even for this site – I thought it’d do more – but fine. I linked to it a few times on Twitter in subsequent years, updated it a little in 2017, and job done.
Until something interesting happened over this last weekend, that is. The piece got linked to in the latest b3ta newsletter. And just take a quick look at my stats for the April Fools article, especially the number for this month:
More people have just read (or at least clicked on) the piece than at any time previously. In fact, over twice as many people have read it this month than back in April 2015, when it was originally published. This was a piece designed to be linked to on April Fools Day to get a bit of interest. b3ta get hold of it just now, nowhere near April Fools and… bang.
You can never tell how stuff will end up being read. All my careful planning meant nothing.
And all this is exactly why I keep bleating on about keeping the archives of what you make online. If I’d yanked that piece offline after a year, for whatever reason, it would have lost the majority of people who ended up reading it. As it was, it was just sitting there… waiting to be discovered, and to have a little moment in the spotlight. Just a little moment – it’s not like it racked up thousands of hits. But that’s fine. I don’t need a piece to get thousands of hits.
Because I love people reading my old articles full stop. I think of Dirty Feed as an archive. What’s on the front page isn’t the most important thing about the site. It’s what’s buried in the archives which makes me happy.3 And my favourite thing is when someone tells me they’ve just spent ages in the archives, clicking around on things which looked interesting to them. I think of the site as a complete entity: the last ten posts are a tiny part of the whole.
There’s far too many things competing for people’s attention these days. Even if it’s a piece I’m really proud of, there’s no guarantee people will react to it straight away. But that doesn’t matter. It can just sit there… waiting. Some of them will be found eventually. And that’s enough.
If you found this piece and enjoyed it in 2028: hey there. I love you.
Look, I can’t pretend the last year has been much fun. It doesn’t even seem to have been much fun for all the various fuckweasels around the world considering their general mood, let alone if you’re the kind of good and decent person who appreciates in-depth articles about sitcom edits.
But that’s no reason why you can’t grab a cup of tea, stick your head in the sand for an hour, and read some of the best stuff I’ve published here over the last 12 months. I will even ALLOW you a biscuit or two. Go on, meet you back here in five minutes.
The World is Burning
A piece which stood as my mission statement for the year, answering the question: in a world of Brexit and Trump, how can I justify writing about my silly obsessions, when there are more important things to talk about?
Our Little Genius
Looking back at the fate of an unbroadcast Fox game show from 2010. I really enjoyed doing this piece, and it’s quite atypical of my stuff – essentially a compilation of contemporary reports. (Though it’s a bit of a shame that the exciting conclusion is a little anti-climactic.)
‘Allo ‘Allo: Pigeon Post
An examination of the edits made to the ‘Allo ‘Allo episode shown on BBC One to commemorate the death of Gorden Kaye. (My favourite memory of that episode being repeated was how laughing at Nazis suddenly seemed massively useful again. Which is depressing, but nonetheless cathartic.)
Frasier: The Good Son
One of my favourite edits pieces I’ve ever written – all about what was cut from the pilot of Frasier between script and screen. When you’re writing about such an amazing half hour of comedy as the Frasier pilot, it’s incumbent on you to actually do the show justice. I really hope I did.
The only post on the internet which uses McDonald’s to talk about the intricacies of television playout
The clue is in the title. I love writing this kind of article, as it’s the kind of thing nobody else really writes about online, and hopefully gives a bit of insight into a world which is rarely talked about. (I’ve since been informed that my digression about whether local TV channels are staffed was irrelevant – they are staffed, which backs up the entire point the article is making.)
How Strong Are Your Moral Values?
About how your BBC Micro can judge your moral code, and find you wanting. This is a piece I’d planned for years, and only wanted to publish once the new site design was in place as it’s very image-heavy. I hoped it’d do really well, and be an attention-grabbing relaunch piece… but it ended up going pretty much nowhere. I’ve been writing stuff online for years, and I still can’t really predict how any given article will do.
A Public Service Announcement on Trev and Simon
About how one of the rudest jokes Trev and Simon ever did was censored… and the cumulation of something which has been going round my head for nearly 25 years. Probably the best-structured thing I wrote on here all year – my pieces sometimes have an unfortunate tendency to tail off towards the end. This one saves the best revelation for last.
Writing for Fun and Zero Profit
All about how to enjoy writing online, even if not many people read it. The last half of the year didn’t see many big updates to the site, so it was nice to sneak in something at the end of the year which got some nice feedback. Completely coincidentally, it also works as a nice bookend to the first piece listed above, which was also about how to feel comfortable with your writing.
A few other bits and pieces, then. Firstly, the above doesn’t include the most popular thing I wrote all year. For that, you have to turn to this piece on brokerage company Customs Clearance Ltd, which got nearly three times the hits of anything else… despite being really really really really really boring. That’s what happens when a company makes itself look so dodgy that people keep googling the fucker to find out whether they’re being scammed or not.
One article from last year which I really found myself liking when I reread it this piece on the incomplete archives of online game Layer Tennis. I couldn’t bring myself to list it above, as it’s highly improbable anybody reading this will care about it. But it talks about something that I expect most people who followed the game haven’t noticed, and fills in a little bit of the historical record… something that sadly even the creator of the game himself doesn’t seem that bothered with. I try my best to write things on here which nobody else would bother writing, for good or for ill, and this is definitely one of those.
This is where I usually make my excuses about not finishing the long-promised redesign of this place, and not restarting my podcast. Podcast excuses will have to continue for the time being, but unexpectedly I actually managed to launch the redesign of Dirty Feed last year. There’s still plenty of room for improvement – hey, anyone fancy a logo which doesn’t just look like it was ripped off from Adult Swim? – but at least you can now browse this place on your phone without wanting to stab yourself in the genitals.
And finally: what have I got planned for the year to come? While there’s lots of stuff I like from last year, I think the balance of the site has been a little off, especially in the last six months. This year, I’d really like to do less throwaway stuff, and drag the focus of the site back to something I’ve neglected a little recently: some proper, meaty articles, especially about telly. So you can probably expect fewer updates this year, but hopefully a little more of substance, whatever that means around here.
Now, where did I put my copy of this?
Gather round the campfire, fellow pop culture writers. Uncle John has something to say. You can sit on my lap if you like. Of course I don’t insist you sit on my lap, Henry. Calm down.
What’s that, Betty? You don’t stick things on the internet for other people to enjoy for free? Go off and read some of my other stuff, then. This piece isn’t for you.
The rest of you: listen up. Recently, I’ve heard a lot of you complain how difficult it is to get your stuff noticed online these days. No, no, this isn’t about you, specifically. I’ve heard a lot of people say it. Hell, I put myself in that category. Take a look at this Tumblr post I made back in 2013.
I’m not going to patronise you and tell you I can make everything better. You might get something from this, or you might not. But the below is how I deal with writing online, when there’s just so much stuff out there it’s difficult to get any kind of attention at all. You might think I’m just talking load of old shit. But I’ve found it helpful, and I thought it was worth getting it all down in case anyone else found it helpful too. Especially seeing as it’s the the end of December, and we’re all busy figuring out our plans for next year.
(I’m also going to leave out any talk about money – from Patreon or otherwise. Whether the below is helpful or not, I definitely can’t make anyone rich.)
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I’ll admit it. Whenever I write an article I’m particularly proud of, I enjoy going on Twitter and yelling about it at the top of my voice. I don’t know whether that’s a particularly brilliant side of my personality, but it’s there. I’d be a bloody liar if I said I didn’t enjoy people telling me something I’ve written is good. TELL ME SOMETHING I’VE WRITTEN IS GOOD, DO IT.
And yet sometimes… that’s just not what I’m aiming for. Sometimes I write something I want to write, but I know most people who follow me on Twitter just aren’t going to be interested. Or sometimes I write mainly to work a few things out in my head, and if anyone else enjoys the piece, that’s a bonus. Or sometimes I just want to write something small – a piece which might be fun for a reader to come across randomly when browsing a site, but not something anyone would want to visit a site just to read.
When I first ran a blog – now stupidly deleted off the web, but partially available on The Wayback Machine – things were different. Social media was far less of a thing: people would see you had written a new piece through your RSS feed, or even – shock horror – just from visiting your site. Amazing. These days, very few people see any of my stuff unless I tweet about it, or somebody links to it on Facebook.
I can deal with that. But sometimes tweeting about something I’ve written feels right… and sometimes it just kinda feels wrong.
Some pieces don’t want to be tweeted about. Some pieces don’t want that attention foisted on them. Some things absolutely do not warrant me waving my arms around above it, yelling “Look at me!” Some pieces just want to exist… ready for the right people to stumble across them. That used to be so easy. Now, it isn’t. Social media is about yelling to get attention in a way that an RSS feed is not. These days, something has to be made a fuss about… or it disappears into the ether. And that’s a shame.
I will not be tweeting a link to this post.
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.
Recently, I wrote a little piece over on Ganymede & Titan which was ostensibly about the popular science fiction comedy series Red Dwarf. In fact, it was bugger all to do with Red Dwarf. It was actually about the transient nature of the web – a bit of a recurring theme of mine these days.
To summarise, then: I went back and looked at a random day of G&T’s output from ten years ago – and the result surprised even me. Every single external link used in those news stories from 10 years ago no longer works correctly. I expected some – perhaps even most – to be dead. But every single one to succumb to linkrot? That’s completely ridiculous.
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Mike Davidson, “Is This Helpful?”:
“For the past several years, we’ve been moving from an information diet of deliberate, substantive reading to a staccato of disconnected one-line thoughts, culminating in a walking, squawking pile of disconnected one-line thoughts who now has the keys to the White House.”
I’ve always found this a weird one. Because I definitely read more substantive articles online than I ever used to without Twitter, simply because Twitter helps me find such material.
Is it like this for most people? Maybe not. I’d love to know, but I have no idea how you’d accurately measure it.
“As I type this post, I think about how hard it is – for me at least – to write long-form content, as compared to 5 or 10 years ago. I’ve heard similar thoughts from others, many of whom haven’t touched their blogs or Medium accounts in years. I wonder where that feeling comes from.”
It is definitely the case that many people I’ve followed online for years have stopped writing longer stuff, and it makes me sad. For Mike, the reasons are as follows:
“The feeling that I can probably fit an article I want to write into a Tweet or two and be done with it.”
I’ve definitely fallen foul of this. Sometimes I do manage to take a series of tweets and write it up into an article. But there are definitely series of tweets which I should have written up, and never got round to.
Mind you, sometimes that can be a good thing. This series of tweets was very popular, and could have been a very popular article… except look what happens halfway through. A couple of people point things out, and in fact my rant isn’t quite as OBVIOUSLY CORRECT as it appears to be. The world was saved from a dodgy one-note article, and there’s Twitter to thank for that.
“The feeling that I’ve consumed so much information in a typical day that it seems like everything that needs to be said is already being said (and then some!).”
“The feeling that the things which seemed important or interesting before the election are not important at all now. For example, I can’t even think of a single design-related subject that feels important enough to write about right now, in comparison to other issues that need attention.”
I’m quoting these two together because I think they’re linked. To take the second point first: Trump or no Trump, or indeed Brexit or no Brexit, I think there is a serious false dichotomy when it comes to this. There are hideous things going on in the world, and we should all – to the best of our ability – do something about it. But I just don’t think that means everything else we do is irrelevant. See my essay “The World is Burning” for my full views on that; it stands as my mission statement for the year.
We can then tackle the previous point: that everything that needs to be said is already being said. But this is only true if we take a narrow point-of-view on what “needs to be said”. Hell, I’m not going to write much about the current specific political situation on here: there are people far more qualified to write about it than me.
But look, I can happily justify writing about old sitcoms; something as important as design can definitely be justified. Good design is important regardless of any political situation; in fact, good design can help you put your particular political message across. Justifications on writing about your pet topic – whatever your pet topic happens to be – are easy to come by. And on your pet topic, there are always things which nobody else is writing on that subject. Those are the things you should write.
“The feeling that most reading occurs on Twitter and Facebook now.”
It’s difficult to judge this one. All I can say is: most of the hits to my site come from Twitter… but hell, they come from Twitter, to read something more substantive.
“The feeling that what I am even semi-uniquely qualified to write about isn’t really what’s important anymore.”
This is exactly the same as Point 3. See above.
Mike then goes on to discuss things he’s doing personally this year to make things better, and it’s well worth a read. (Donating both time and money to good causes should be on everybody’s radar this year – if you have either to spare.) I’m going to skip to his final remark:
“Specifically, when we spend our energy creating anything, we should stop asking ‘do people want this’ and start asking ‘is this helpful?'”
Whenever I’m creating something – at least, on my own time, without getting paid for it – I ask neither of the above questions. I simply ask the following:
“Do I want this?”
If it’s something I want to exist in the world, that’s all the validation I need to create something. It may find an audience, or it may not. But if I spent time second-guessing my own work, some of my best pieces would never have been written.
If you feel like it: write. And write about anything. Write about something silly. Write about something serious. Write about something superficially silly which actually ends up being serious. Or write about something superficially serious which actually ends up being very silly indeed.
But crucially: only writing about what fits some narrow definition of important won’t help us get through this shit. Becoming a one-note bore won’t help us build a better world.
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.