My blog as a commonplace book

Greg Linch likes to talk about com­mon­place books. It’s even what he named his Tumblr. Basically, it’s a means of col­lect­ing and stor­ing all those bits of infor­ma­tion that make our lives inter­est­ing. It could be a photo, an essay, or a quote. Regardless, it’s impor­tant infor­ma­tion that you want to mark and save for later.

This has long been the approach I’ve taken to this site. Years ago Matt wrote about how asides are use­ful.  Presenting con­tent in the form most appro­pri­ate is some­thing I have tried to make more explicit in the design of this site. It’s why I’ve also exper­i­mented with things like the read­ing list that I now have. Different con­tent requires dif­fer­ent pre­sen­ta­tion but there’s no rea­son it can’t all live in the same house.

Anil Dash has said, “I expect that my blog will in some ways be one of the most sig­nif­i­cant things I cre­ate in my life.” I agree. There’s some­thing immensely pow­er­ful about tak­ing a cor­ner of the web and say­ing “this is mine.”

Sharing things in my cor­ner of the web makes them also form a part of my iden­tity. What I share, to a large extent, is who I am. It’s how I com­mu­ni­cate with you even if I’m not able to talk to you everyday.

As this his­tory of shared items grows there’s also the fun aspect of flip­ping back through it. Steven Johnson has a great post about the com­mon­place book where he writes that:

Each reread­ing of the com­mon­place book becomes a new kind of rev­e­la­tion. You see the evo­lu­tion­ary paths of all your past hunches: the ones that turned out to be red her­rings; the ones that turned out to be too obvi­ous to write; even the ones that turned into entire books. But each encounter holds the promise that some long-forgotten hunch will con­nect in a new way with some emerg­ing obsession.

Where I can, I avoid farm­ing out my iden­tity. If I do share­crop I back it up. This is why my blog is my pub­lic com­mon­place book. The col­lec­tion makes me, me. It’s on my domain. It’s free. That’s all impor­tant because if I lose my shared items, I lose a part of that core identity.

The destruc­tion of a shar­ing ser­vice means I would also lose the abil­ity to flip back through a his­tory of my thought. Those long-forgotten hunches would stay for­got­ten and lost to his­tory. Without a com­mon­place book that you con­trol you’re gam­bling your abil­ity to learn and grow from your cur­rent actions.

4 thoughts on “My blog as a commonplace book

  1. I also back up every­thing, but it’s over­all not an ideal solu­tion. Still need to find a bet­ter way to aggre­gate every­thing and host it on my own.

  2. Pingback: Post formats in WordPress | Andrew Spittle

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