I never thought of this benefit when I set out to do things regularly on the web, be it actually writing in your my space (that thing that seems to be now called newslettering, WTF), posting photos, even spewing to some social media platform formerly known as something else).
In some, not nearly all or most ways, after some time doing that thing, I find a surprise in being able to tap into it arbitrarily. The sheer act of stuff being timestamped, can yield a personal timelining reference. Or rather than relying on gadgets and gizmos for my self to become quantified, I have discovered the value of weilding what comes with web tools to having a timelined self
What mean I? Well let’s see if I can get this brain thoughts to actual sentences here.
Right Here, My Blog Timeline
So yes, you blog (more than once), and it becomes this reverse chronologically organized series.
How do you get to your older time stamps? If you are that popular photo place run by that creepy guy, heck, the only way to go back in time is manual scrolling. Search for your own photos? In your dreams.
But here, in my own WordPress powered blog, I not only get search and direct access to my blogged past, there’s quite a bit more that comes in handy. Often. And these days, there’s so much griping about WordPress, mostly because of the disdain for a different text editor. But it seems this come from people who have experience, yes, using WordPress, but often often not understanding the underlying structure– like post types, and the template hierarchy and… okay, I am devolving to tech blabber.
But what people miss when they choke on the Gutenburger is that there is a swatch of neat tricks/techniques you get out of the box, that you can wield without coding, just by messing with URLs. I shared the magic in a 2021 PressED Conference session:
The relevant trick is direct jumping to timeframes just by fiddling with the URL… and this works on every WordPress site. So let’s say I have a blog with a good stretch of posts in it, just hypothetically it is at the address
Let’s go back in time to 2014. How much did I blog then? Just tack that year on the URL, and go https://cogdogblog.com/2014 There’s quite a bit of stuff there! Just from the end of the year, I’m writing about Federated Wikis (I miss ya, @holden), and stories of my family (still doing that in 2023) and of course SPLOTs (because late 2014 was when they started).
Okay, a year’s worth of posts is maybe not useful. But I wonder… what was I doing in May of 2014? I can time travel right there https://cogdogblog.com/2014/05 How easy can that be? You just fiddle with year and month numbers to jump around your blog in time. Do you know off the top of your head what you were doing in May 2014? I could not answer, but with a semi regular amount of blogging (21 posts that month), I can chart time I was bopping around the UK after attending OER14 in Newcastle, I spent a week at the Open University thanks to a mini fellowship organized by Martin Weller, returned to Arizona, and then left to be at the Riding the Wave conference in Manitoba. And along the way, sharing audio interviews, wrapping the end of teaching a DS106 class, and more.
But hang on Mr Peabody, we can fine tune the time travel even more. Let’s pick one day in May, 2014… the 6th https://cogdogblog.com/2014/05/06, which marks my first day on that OU Fellowship, a week in Milton Keynes.
Of course unless I blog incessantly every day, I will hit some gaps. I cannot say I have used this extensively, but it does come into use. Sometimes it’s when I stumble across an old post (I played with my random post spinner), like “Wiki-ing the Talk… Knowledge Sharing with Distributed Networking Tools” from September 14, 2005.
Heck I don’t even remember what this post was for, or even where I was or what I was doing at the time. I could use the month technique to browser what other things I was doing on the days around this https://cogdogblog.com/2005/09/ (44 posts in a month, did I do anything else?) (yes, I was doing the stuff I wrote about).
Okay, maybe this is not the most impressive or widely used thing- can you do this in Ghost? your static web site generator? Can you do it without writing code? I just want to say this is one of the little things you get automatically in WordPress.
Let’s go on charting my work, life with photos
My Flickring Timeline
If you think my WordPress love is overly abundant, let me wax more about Flickr (yo, in 2024 coming up on 20 years being around). Because I have been posting photos to flickr incessantly since 2004 (I joined in March 2004), and especially for 2012-now when I have strived to post daily photos, here I do have almost a continuous memory stream at the granularity of days.
A key win for me has been my obsession at writing those titles and captions, because it makes my own stuff imminently findable.
I see so often people’s photos with nothing more detailed than a title of IM76396.JPG the camera name. This happens as well with the flickr account for my organization, OEGlobal. My colleagues and predecessors see it more as a drop box for photos, like Google Drive, not winnowing out repetitive photos, not annotating with any information that will ever make them findable.
That’s a task for another day.
Me? I pump as much into the flickr entry boxes as I can.
Again, with no extra data entry, in flickr you get with every photo posted, a tie in to both the date it was taken but also uploaded. That’s fine, but my obsession with adding titles, and captions, often multi paragraph descriptions, AND tags, I am able to quite easily n ot only find photos, but if I was trying to remember when I was in Milton Keynes, I can get there easily. By zeroing in on a photo I can remember, say those odd figures atop one of those infamous MK roundabouts, I can verify I was there in May 2014.
There is something worth noting with the way flickr presents photos, the link for this image from search results is https://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/14114291261/in/photolist-nvpZeg-ne2CGD-ne2G6x-nver4k but if you look at the URL, it adds on to the direct photo link https://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/14114291261 some extra stuff —
in/photolist-nvpZeg-ne2CGD-ne2G6x-nver4k which references the search on my photos that include some text of “Milton Keynes”.
The thing to note is the four icons below the image, this allows my to quickly page through all four images in the search results, so you can compare. In this case, they are likely from the same time period, but often, on flickr search results, you get ones from all different times.
Flickr gives you a photo pagination navigator that varies with context. Often what I want is not to see the other photos from the search, but to navigate in time around this photo. I do it easily by whacking off that end of URL stuff to go to the direct flickr photo at https://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/14114291261
By going to the direct loink for the photo, I can page forward and backward in time around this image which was the day I arrived in MK, to earlier in that day when my friends David and Viv, who drove me from Bristol, suggested q stop at the National Museum of Computing in Bletchley Park (an AMAZING stop), and even farther back, i can get to the days before in Bristol.
I use this tiny trick frequently, to find what was doing or where I was in the time before or after a single photo.
I have to admit I used flickr for a long long time before I noticed the Camera Roll. You only see yours when logged in, I don’t think i can share a link to mine. But this is the way to quicky move around in your timeline of photos, using years on thre left, and opening up a toggle to see days, here I am, again, in May, 2014:
I have to declare that because I post photos frequently and that I always add descriptive information, searching my flickr is something I do countless times to find people, places, projects, almost anytihng I have done since 2004. I can confirm where I was, what I did, and when. It’s a powerful tool, but not because of the tool, but the way I have used it.
The Platform Only Known As Twitter Offered a Timeline
By virtue of being a platform where all items are timestamped (if said place can have virtue) Twitter does have ways to zero in on your tweeting self beyond back scrolling– if you make use of the advanced search– which they make hard to find, I get there usually by searching for anything, then using the 3 dot menu to bring up the advanced search form.
The key here is to use the date range to zero in on a slice of time, say that May 2014 span I visited via my blog above:
From the results, do. not forgot to kick the algorithm out by flipping the top toggles from “Top” to “Latest”. Once you have saved a result, you should be able to manipulate time frame directly (and if the thought of looking at a URL does not make you queasy)
- My tweets May 1 – May 30, 2014
So I could just change the dates to find tweets from that week I was at the Open University
- My tweets May 5 – May 9, 2014
That’s all possible, a bit tedious. Fortunately for me, I have a better system and an archive I can use without even needing to log in to the smelly place. Back when there was a viable and usable API, I was able to create an automatic archiving system using some clever scripts from the genius Martin Hawksey, which archived my activity and crested an interface to zone in on timelines (and search) all in my own space in GitHub.
So all my tweeted past is available via https://tweets.cogdogblog.com/ (domain redirect, can you do that on some hosted email newsletter trinket ?)
The timeline ends June 13, 2023 marking the last time my account could be accessed through the now dead to me API. The right side provides yearly views of tweet-age, where the histograms represent per month activity. Peak activity was late 2012 to early 2017.
I can hover over to find that month of May, 2014, recording 732 tweets, or 24 tpd (Tweets per Day). A bit excessive, eh?
And then I can easily zero in, again, on that first week of May when I was at the Open University.
I rather wish that the time/date stamps were in there, but I can scan to find tweets that suggest I was yapping about stuff in Milton Keynes, and follow the link to twitter to double check– here it is, May 6, 2014
I was fortunate to have this set up long before the Dark Lord of Twitter swooped in, now it’s impossible.
One more fun thing to do with Twitter and time– this I found out another nifty thing to do using advanced search, from Anil Dash
So here, I can set the destination of May 9, 2014:
All my nifty site is doing is generating the advanced search query for you, but it’s more fun (I think so). This is, in someways the converse to what I was tweeting in a time frame, to see what the people in my timeline were saying (Hmmm, now that I think about it, that should be a radio button option, maybe I will add that).
Mostly, this was one of those things I dig where some understanding of reading URLs can open up ideas for nifty web tricks.
Since I’ve mostly logged out of Twitter and spend my scroll time on Mastodon, I have been thinking about what kind of timelining thing I can do. I was actually seeking a few days ago some ways to generate a lin or view of everything I posted with a hashtag, when Derek Moore share an intriguing possibility.
It’s an IFTTT gizmo that looks like it can at least start a data archive like I had with Martin Hawksey’s Twitter solution. I already use IFTTT to send my blog posts to Mastodon (plus sending some Pinboard bookmarks too) (and other that sends my flickr photos tagged “felix” to my dog’s mastodon) (and a few more).
Because IFTTT limits free accounts to a
generous paltry 2 applets, I had to flip through my 4 or five accounts for one with an open slot.
It works pretty easily, you authenticate to your Google Drive, and it starts monitoring your Mastodon RSS Feed -if you know WTF (What the Fediverse) that is, mine is
https://firstname.lastname@example.org finding yours is an exercise left for the reader. And it’s already off to the races.
I’m not sure what I can with it now, but at least I am storing data.
I also got some responses to my question about linking to my tagged stuff…
After a possible leads from Stephen Downes suggesting using the API, a person I not do shared the perfect answer (I can remember when this was the.norm of those 24 Tweet Per Days in Twitter)
Check it out, here is all my Mastoding tagged #dailycreate or all the blogposts I have sent through my account tagged #cogdogblog or stuff I have sent there from Pinboard tagged #cogdogcooltech
Nowe at this point I guess 99.9% of anyone bothering to read this far is saturated, but my tech neurons are tingling with potential ideas here… not to ention that every darned link like that has an RSS feed just by adding on
.rss to the URL. (example). Anyone of those feeds could be tossed into that IFTTT applet to run another archiving gizmo.
Timelining the Wayback Machine
The Internet Archive Wayback Machine does all the timelining you need, right? But once more, a little bit of URL jimmying can help you travel through it where you want to go. For this trip.I am leaving May 2014 alone for now, and instead, look at the full web history for the Maricopa Center for Learning & Instruction web site (
www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu) I started in 1993 and it went on until maybe early 2015 ( I left my role there in 2006).
Already I can get curious about the peak in crawls 2004-2006. But there are some interesting things you can play with in the URL — if you look at it! the default view is always starting with the current date on the right, or
and the key there is the part of the URL after
web/ ikts definitely some kind of timestamp. Sure enough, If I nudge it to anchor to the early years, it opens slightly differently
But it’s more interesting when you look at the URLs for one specific archive, in this case, the first one it has, November 10, 1996
And thus you might be able to guess that the part iof the URL after /web is a time stamp or
19961110085506 looks like it’s November 10, 1996, and quite likely 8:55:06am. So you can then start maybe a playback year by year? So if change the URL 1996 and make it 1997, it lands on the closes archive it has, so year by year (until I get tired of this game)
Well heck, let’s see what the MCLI was doing in May 2014 when I was at the Open University — https://web.archive.org/web/20140506223040/http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/ (wow, they changed it a lot after I left!)
But I can also play with the URL it’s dipping into the archives for! I could try the same date of my first web archive to see what the Open University’s site
https://www.open.ac.uk/ was doing
That actually lands me into February 1996 cause that’s the oldest entry for the OU in the WM (Wayback Machine) I was ahead of them, hah! So can time travel to May 6, 2014 to peek at what the Open University web site looked like when I was visiting
Interesting eh? Just be fiddling with some URLs, you can do some time travel. It makes for some possibilities of things one could script, but that’s another day, another long post.
Today on the Timelines
I’m not sure what I got here except for some long winded plaffling about time and links. But these are the important (I think) elements about all these things I have outlined.
- Populating the timelines means doing something on a repeated basis, need not be daily, but you have to make your own data
- These are systems that obviously dat/time stamp when stuff is published (techncally that’s a creation data file stamp so lots of systems do this)
- You need ways to directly jump to date/time in your timeline, whether it is through an interface like the Flickr film roll, but more often than not, its done by some simple URL fiddling
- Being able to locate wher you were, what you were doing, with who, is extremely valuable, but usually you don’t realize it until later.
- You do not have to do all of this on your own domain/space, but being able to archive some data that typically is housed elsewhere, is beneficial
- And finally, one can get carried away with this (cough)
That’s my web timelined self, are there other means that people do? Tracking fitness activity? Posting audio. video?
Or am I out on some limb here by myself?
Time might tell, and it will be on my timelines.
Updates for Forgotten Stuff
I was working outside today thinking back of mind about this and realized I left out a slightly related feature available in WordPress, because of its extensibility via plugins. Even more extensible as you can roll your own ones:
My WP Posted Today plugin provides a page which always provides a linked list of all blog posts published on the current day just by inserting a [[postedyoday]] shortcode, see my Blogged This Day page. You can also use the shortcode with a parameter to list all posts on a specific day, such as my January 15 demo or a oost on my blog birthday that lists all posts on the day I made my first one (April 19).
So just for grins, because this post has labored on about May 6, 2014, what is my blogged past on that day? I just insert here [postedtoday month="5" day="6" excerpt="0"] and get this…
There are 9 posts previously published on May 6th
If you can do that without any coding in your snazzy newsletter tool or static generator or WYSWIX thang, all the power to ya.
Also, in the deep corners of my Google Drive, I found a TwapperKeeper Export spreadsheet (also created by Martin Hawksey) that has tweets from November 2009-2011 — raise your web hand if you remember TwapperKeeper?
And in my memory post about a recently passed colleague, I realize that email is definitely a timelineing tool, especially if you find how to search within date ranges.
Featured Image: Some timelines go way back!