Jonathan Crowe

Book reviewer, cat photographer, fanzine editor, map blogger, snake whisperer.

Category: Site News

A few years ago, frustrated at the time and emotional overhead required to moderate their comments sections, bloggers began moving away from having comments at the bottom of their blog posts. The point of blogging, the logic went, was writing; dealing with spam and bad behaviour was outside the remit, especially when the noise exceeded the signal and comment spam hammered web servers to the point of shutdown.

The net effect of that was that commenting—that conversation—moved to social media. Not that it wasn’t already happening. But while it made sense at the time, in hindsight leaving reader feedback to the various toxic hellscapes looks more and more like a mistake.

Suddenly having the ability to host, moderate and curate comments makes sense again. And since I upgraded my hosting a while back and (for the moment at least) have CPU cycles and RAM to spare, I’m going to give it a try here again. So, starting now, comments will be open on new posts. They will be subject to spam filtering and moderation, and will close after 14 days.

To be honest I don’t expect to have that many regular commenters, but occasionally I write something that goes viral, and I think there’s some value in having at least some of the discussion that follows take place here rather than elsewhere.

There have been a few behind-the-scenes changes to this website recently:

  1. As of this morning, this website is running on a secure server. To my everlasting shock, the process was easy and broke nothing. This was a test run; next up for me is to do the same thing for The Map Room, future plans for which require a secure server. I expect things to break in a spectacular fashion at that point, because it will be mission critical and in front of a much larger audience.
  2. When I switched this site to WordPress in October 2016, I mentioned that older posts would be going away. Not quite all of them, though. Last fall, I imported the two hundred or so map-related posts I made on this site between 2011 and 2015 into The Map Room. And last month, I imported a handful of posts from 2015 and 2016—book reviews, plus posts I felt had some value to posterity, 31 in total—into this site’s WordPress database. I don’t expect to be going much further back than that, though I’ve changed my mind on that before.
  3. I’ve simplified the Reviews section: the year-by-year list of reviews is now on a single page, with links to blog posts, published reviews, or archived pages as appropriate. Still some tidying up to do there, but for the two or three people actively looking for my reviews, it should already be less unwieldy.
  4. My privacy policy is now vaguely GDPR-aware and attempts to cover all the websites for which I am responsible.

So that’s done. I’ve completed the book review archive for 2012, which means that I’ve finally finished importing my old book reviews from previous versions of my websites into my Reviews section. (The year-by-year review pages also link to more recent reviews posted elsewhere. An index by subject is also available.)

The book review archive for 2013 is now complete. It contains twenty reviews, so it took a bit of time to get it ready. Only the archive page for 2012 is still to come; it has a lot of reviews, too (twenty-two) and will also take a while to finish up.

All my reviews, in whatever format and at whatever location, can be reached from this index page.

Book review archive pages for 2010 and 2011, which combined contain a total of thirty reviews, are now up and running. Only 2012 and 2013 are left to go.

Book review archive pages for 2006, 2008 and 2009 are now up and running. It’s a bit weird to repost reviews from that long ago — several of the books have gone through one or more editions since then, and several others are out of print.

I’ve begun reposting my old book reviews to the new website — book reviews being a category of writing I’d rather not have disappear down the memory hole. In the past they’ve been scattered over several different locations, but I’m gathering them together in a new, centralized Reviews section, in which all my reviews will appear on yearly archive pages, either in full or as a link elsewhere (if it’s published, or a blog post here or on The Map Room).

So far I’ve completed yearly archives for the past three years: 2014, 2015 and 2016. I’ve also finished pages for 2005 and 2007, which had only one or two reviews. I’ll announce more pages here as I complete them. That may take some time: there’s something like 135 of them in total. I’ve been busier than I thought.

Embracing Ephemerality

A short while ago my blog database decided to crap the bed and republish everything in 7-bit ASCII, which meant that everything from apostrophes to accents was replaced by weird characters when I republished a page. This was a sign, I thought, that it was time to give the ol’ personal web page a makeover.

That meant, among other things, switching to WordPress. Between this site and its predecessor, I’ve been using Movable Type in one form or another since 2003; continuing to do so would require me to code manually what now comes automatically with WordPress. I relaunched The Map Room last January in WordPress, and the switch has made a world of difference: high-resolution images, mobile compatibility, social network integration — all things I simply don’t have to worry about any more. Blogging’s never been easier. Time to do the same here.

My next question was what to do with all my legacy pages. Maintaining them would require continuing to wrestle with Movable Type in addition to the new setup; not maintaining them would mean more than a thousand increasingly out-of-date, increasingly crufty pages; importing them into WordPress would be a ton of work — and for whose benefit? Honestly, who’s interested in scouring through old entries of a personal blog?

I’ve decided to do something different: embrace ephemerality. The old pages will, eventually, simply go away.

As a historian by training I flinch at the thought of documents disappearing, but in practical terms it makes the most sense. Sites far bigger and more important than mine have content disappear down the memory hole all the time. My words are hardly as precious. Over the past fifteen years I’ve written thousands of blog entries. For every blog entry I’m proud of, there’s another I now find profoundly embarrassing — and probably a half-dozen more that, because they dealt with some news item or gadget of the moment, are now long obsolete or irrelevant.

But most significantly, I’ve come to the realization that I can curate my online life. Which means pruning those bits that are less meaningful now than they were when they were created. My first web page was uploaded in January 1996. I’ve been blogging since July 2001. I’m not the same person I was ten, fifteen or twenty years ago. It’s all right if my web presence reflects that.

All of which is to say: Welcome to the reboot of my website. I’ll still write about the things that interest me, and I’ll still review a lot of books. (By the way, look for my old book reviews to reappear on dedicated pages in the near future.) But I’ll be doing so looking forward, without the weight of fifteen years of site history dragging behind me.

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