The Online Journal as a Separate Entity from the Blog

Louisa Amsterdam's picture

Louisa Amsterdam

English 209: Emerging Genres

The Online Journal as Separate from the Blog

At least once a week, I check the "friends" page on my Livejournal. This page displays the most recent posts of the other journal writers to which I subscribe. Recently, the beginning of a post by one of my Livejournal "friends," Ninamazing (www.live journal.ninamazing.com), reads, "Cut because it's only about my life and my feelings and nothing shocking or revelatory" (The "cut" in this case refers to a process in which the author allows the reader to click a link to view some part of the entry, ostensibly to avoid cluttering the page with the reader‘s friends‘ entries with something in which they may not be interested). You, of course, would not be able to see this, unless you are Ninamazing's Livejournal friend, a group that includes 135 other people. I read Ninamazing's journal because we became close friends at summer camp years ago, and we keep in touch through Livejournal. Many of her other readers, however, she met through Livejournal itself. Personal online journals are often put into the "blog" genre during academic discussion, but they attract a unique readership, and have highly unique content. For these reasons, these journals should be reconsidered as a sub-genre of the blog, or perhaps a unique genre in and of themselves. I argue this position as something of an insider, having dabbled in my own online journal through Livejournal since 2003.

Around a Livejournal grows a readership. These readers they belong to the "blog" genre or another group entirely. The way these readers come to a Livejournal varies; some are people the author knows outside of the internet, some are people met through common interest forums the site runs (interestingly called "communities"), and some just stumble upon the journal, possibly by searching a common interest or reading a post on a mutual friend's friends page.

Often, readers will comment on entries. Ninamazing has seven comments on her latest journal entries, which primarily discusses a television show and grocery shopping she intends to do. This links the personal journal to the blog, the creation of a dialogue or discussion arising from an entry, or, as Jo(e) describes in in his "Blogging as an emerging genre" entry, "the nature of blogging is interactive and instantaneous." Personal journals, like blogs, often also have a silent readership, those keeping up with entries but seldom or never commenting. Laurie McNeill, in her article "Teaching an Old Genre New Tricks: The Diary on the Internet," sees these audiences as "inappropriately voyeuristic, since they take in the personal stories of the diarist without revealing anything of themselves, and without accepting the community membership being offered them" (McNeill, 36); it detracts from the use of the site as a space for interaction stemming from one writer's idea. This is valid for the blog form. However, in the personal journal, especially in a format like that of Livejournal, the aim seems less to be a discussion, but instead an exposure of some part of the self. The "friend" system allows varying levels of exposure to others, and they have consent to comment on what they have seen if they so choose.

Another factor differentiating the personal journal from the blog is the option of limiting readership. In a blog, a reader can be shut out by harshness toward or outright exclusion of outsiders from participation in the discussion occurring in the blog. Livejournal, however, has the option of allowing the writer the choice of blocking any readers not on their "friends" list (or any "friends" not included in smaller sub-sections of the list). This adds to the sort of cult of personality that can grow up around a personal journal; there is something of a thrill in knowing that one is on a very exclusive "friends" list, and one aspires to stay on it, and perhaps aspires to become part of an even more elite list. This also testifies to the sort of friendships that can grow in this sphere; though all of the interaction may occur online, and perhaps solely between Livejournals, a bond grows. Those who are part of the bond are allowed deeper into the writer's confidences.

A few weeks ago, one of my classmates, Jessy, posted on the class discussion board an as-yet "unexplored" idea that "genre refers to structure" (Jessy, 4/1/08) I had been quite pleased with this definition, until the class began to discuss the blog. A personal journal and a blog are quite similar in form, but I do not feel comfortable putting them into one genre. Both often use a similar, somewhat informal language, and both can attract swarms of loyal, reactive readers, but they have different aims. A blog provokes, stimulates a dialogue (Though who can join the dialogue can be limited). On the other hand, a personal journal aims to be a forum for disclosure by the writer, almost like an autobiography. Interaction is an option, but it is not necessary, and often simply works to remind the writer that there is an observer out there; the observer does not need to have a constructive conversation with the writer. What writing a personal online journal achieves is mainly a type of satisfaction for the writer. It may be a form of what Tim Burke describes as part of the joy of blogging, a "freedom in anonymity" (Class discussion, 4/15/08). There is an exposed self, whichever self one wishes to construct online, available to whomever may find it, or to whomever one chooses to see it.

Comments

Anne Dalke's picture

Flocking, From the Inside


Louisa—

I’m delighted that you chose to write this paper “from the inside,” drawing on your own experiences in reading and writing on LiveJournal to argue that the personal journal is a unique genre (or, more loosely, an “entity”) distinct from a blog. Breaking down the larger “structure” we have been calling a blog according to its function allows you to construct a useful distinction between two entities: “forums of self-exposure” and “stimulating dialogues.”

What’s particularly interesting to me here is your argument that the construction of community includes a silent readership (see also Claire’s slightly different thinking about The Community of the Blogosphere); in your analysis, silence does not detract from a personal journal, the way it does in the more interactive space that is a blog. And yet there is some interactivity built into the structure of this form, as in the “cut” that avoids cluttering a page with something a reader might not find interesting…hm.

As you’ll see in my response to Claire’s essay, it’s the search for affirmation which most intrigues--and, I admit, troubles--me in your definition of journaling. I'm not denying your argument that it is satisfying to find affirmation; what I'm more curious about is where the search for difference happens, the expansion of one's horizons. Where, in finding affirmation, is the truth value or usefulness of one's beliefs being tested? Where's the doubt, the skepticism?

I’m also curious about your mention of “freedom in anonymity,” the ability to expose “which self one wishes to contruct”; I’d be interested to hear you think aloud some more about this complex relation between exposure and anonymity.

I’m actually seeing a common theme running through all three of the papers you’ve written this semester: the first was on psychological conformity, as a means of terror management; the second on Cassy’s function as a “doubting Thomas” whose non-conformity overstepped the line for her creator, Stowe; and this third essay is about the community that forms around a “cult of personality” and “thrill of exclusion” that takes place in the friends-locking/flocking of Live Journal. Do you want to go further with this on your final paper, thinking more about the human propensity to conformity? And locate it…where? (Psychologically? Literarily? Bloggily?)

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