Something svbtle happened to Medium recently. The background color of every single post on the site switched from #EDEDEB (grey) to #FFFFFF (white). In many respects, this is a small change that isn’t that significant to how people will create or read posts, but it’s an important reminder of who is in control. Mediums change, but what’s unique about Medium, and so many other digital platforms, is that that these changes often apply retroactively. You may “finish” a post on a platform, but to those who own the platform, it’s never quite finished.
I think of this as digital wear & tear. If you leave a book on a shelf, it gets dusty and the pages turn yellow. If you leave a post on a platform, the <div>’s change and the header gets redesigned. Facebook is the most notorious for wearing and tearing. They will build a feature and rip it out, then bring it back with little explanation. This happened recently with their new profile design. Angsty notes that I had written seven years ago suddenly surfaced at the top of my profile.
I was late to get the new profile, so these notes were visible to everyone else who had received the upgrade, for months at a time. They’re not that embarrassing, but it’s easy to imagine many other circumstances in which they would be for others.
The ability of platform owners to make these moves is what makes them so special — and so problematic. In their eyes, they are improving the platform, and the ability to instantly change the pixels on every page gives them a dramatic freedom to do so. There is a wonderful moment in The Social Network where Zuckerberg is asked when Facebook will be “finished.” Zuckerberg laughs because the answer is never. Its perpetual incompleteness is part of what makes it so compelling.
And that is the case until you sell or run out of money. Then the wearing and tearing of your platform is more like a massive book burning or police auction. Posterous sold to Twitter a few years ago, and, as of today, all 56 million of those URLs are going to vanish from the web. Garry Tan and the Posterous team have put a lot of energy into warning their users, but it’s very likely that many of them won’t realize their work is gone until it is too late.
Digital wearing and tearing isn’t going to go away; the internet is in a constant state of being rebuilt. When you look at a piece of content on the web that is old, it’s important to keep in mind that you might not be seeing what it looked like when it was first published. Organizations like archive.org do incredible work to perserve this history for a small set of sites, but they are grossly underfunded (and you should give them money).
I’ve screen-shotted this post and attached pictures below. I’m curious as to how they will compare when I return to this page in 2015.
update! December 5, 2013
new font + header
update! December 15, 2017