How ephemeral is internet content?


This post is about our sense of ‘time’ in relation to how we publish content on the internet.

A question: Are you reading my blog posts in order of the time in which they were written? Are you reading them forwards through time, or are you reading a single blog post; a single instance of a collection of my thoughts?

In my last post I started considering Anne Bogart’s ViewPoints and theatrical composition in relation to composition online. One of Anne Bogart’s ‘Viewpoints’ is the concept of Time in internet composition.

Since writing that post, and before writing this post, I have been thinking about Time and the online experience. I briefly want to expand that sense of ‘Time’ beyond website design, and consider how we perceive time in relation to publishing content on the internet.

This is a feeling I have: Every time we publish a piece of content, we are doing a kind of ‘fixing’ or marking the occasion of an image, a feeling, or a necessary statement (such as advertising or notifying). Nothing is nailed down, and yet things are nailed down. Here are some thoughts that consider how content-in-time manifests on the internet.


Content that was created to be time-specific or in-passing can always resurface as currently relevant (if it is not time-stamped). The web can remember everything you write and is written about you. In order to remove it, it needs to be overwritten, or it needs to be actively removed. Sometimes you can do it. Sometimes you have to go through a process of getting someone else to remove it.



A poem I wrote for a poetry competition in the early days of the web constantly resurfaces on Google search results for my name. People say ‘I didn’t know you were writing poetry’. It’s embarrassing. I say that was an ‘old me’.


A good friend informs me that one of the rules for those who are active participants on online forums is to not make reference to a point that a forum participant has made in the past. His or her opinion may have been saved on the internet, but it should not be used to come back and bite them in the ass.


Publishing content on the web offers us the ability to be organic. Why not go back and change any or all blog posts according to changing opinion? The web facilitates the change of text and the organic evolution of content through updating.


Language in printed documentation is fixed and unchangeable. Language on the web is organic and amendable this means that content is malleable, organic and amendable over time.


“Study the historian before you begin to study the facts”  E.H. Carr, What is History?

Now the historian is more anonymous and fact is published and then checked. Wikipedia offers an interesting contribution to the formation of historical fact: where the core principles of publication are based on verifiability, neutral point of view and non-original research. Is wikipedia the originator and perpetuator of a chinese-whispers of fact? Is that a new thing?


The representation of ‘you’ from the past on the web is part of your personal brand. This is not easily disposed of. Be careful what you write. It represents you.


When I have insomnia I sometimes look at twitter in the middle of the night. At that time I read things written by a) Robots b) People who have insomnia c) People who are awake on the other side of the world. If I tweet something from the darkness of my bedroom, not many people in my immediate community will ever read it at that time. It’s pretty much disposable. I don’t tweet important stuff at night. Once I tweeted something about a pork pie and I was instantly engaged in conversation with robot – a chutney brand was communicating with me after midnight.


Publishing content on the web can be done with an attitude of ‘fixed in time’, ‘ephemeral’ and the ‘subject to change’. We are not yet culturally used to the process of ‘subject to change’.


Any undated content is current at the point it is received by the user.

 (Photo credits with thanks: Facebook photo of time stamp on hand: Marina Abramovic Exhibition 512 Hours, Serpentine Gallery, Yaron Shyldkrot, Gravity )

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