More about online journals (1 of 2) -- 01/03/10

If you have just wandered in from Holidailies and wonder who's who, there's a brief introduction to various characters at the end of this entry...

In entries a week or so before Christmas I posted questions and answers from an e-mail interview with a doctoral candidate at Northwestern University who as doing research into the history of online journaling and blogging ( part 1, part 2, and part 3). I mentioned that those questions had been followed by some additional questions and that I would get around to posting them eventually. Okay, so here are the first two:

1. You mentioned that when you started your journal there seemed to be a choice between calling it a diary or a journal. Can you elaborate on what the difference was? Was this distinction significant to other journalers/diarists? Why did you choose journal?

Diary or Journal? Well, I know that some of the early writers called their sites diaries (for example, Carolyn Burke, one of the earliest) but as I believe I mentioned earlier, I associated the word diary with something written by 14 year old girls. Journals were something that adults wrote. (Actually, when I was in my sophomore and junior years in high school I did keep a written journal – and I did use the word "journal" for it even though I sometimes went for weeks without writing anything in it.) Many of the people who wrote online used the word journal – and called themselves journalers (well, obviously, journalist was already taken). I don't know if this distinction was significant to others but I thought it was for myself because I thought of my entries more as being personal essays rather than just a description of my day: sometimes they might indeed be a description of my day, but they might also be a reflection on some event, a remembrance of the past, or a discussion of some topic.

2. Why isn't blog a good description for your journal? Is it a difference in terms of format? Of purpose? Of historical origins? What makes them different for you? Moreover, some journalers moved to blogging platforms. Do you think that journal-writing "inherited" something to the world of blogs, even if they are not the same?

I wasn't happy with the word "Weblog" when it was first used. I thought it was somewhat inelegant and shortening it to "blog" didn't seem to be a major improvement. Eventually, with time and repetition, it has come to seem to be a perfectly acceptable word to me. However, the kind of writing that I (and many millions of others) do online was already successfully described by the words journal and diary.

The word blog originally was describing sites consisting of links to things that the author had found on the Web and wanted to share with readers, usually with a paragraph or so of description or comment accompanying the link. Glenn Reynolds' Instapundit site is a perfect example of that kind of blogging. I also associate the term with single topic blogs: that is, with a blog that is all about politics or one that is all about cooking or all about automobiles.

I accept that people will call my page a blog and I accept that the word blog has overtaken the word journal, but I continue to think of it as my journal and of what I do as being journaling. I do not know if there is much of a distinction any more. It seems as if any Web page that includes periodic updates is called a blog.

I can see a lot of attraction to moving to a blogging platform, but for other people, not for me. I did try LiveJournal a couple of years ago. I didn't stop posting at my jimsjournal site; just tried using LiveJournal to see what it was like. Unfortunately, my entries there tended to merely consist of a comment that I had posted a new entry at jimsjournal… and after a few months I just stopped using it. I am perfectly happy maintaining my own Web site at my own domain and I do not really see any need to switch to a blogging platform. I have been using Haloscan to manage comments (works quite nicely for me, thank you Haloscan) and, should they ever decide to shut down, I am sure someone else would offer a similar utility.

What blogging inherited from journaling is the very concept that people would want to go online and write and share their thoughts on a regular basis… that this was something not just for a few hundred people who were comfortable with HTML, but for thousands and then tens of thousands and, eventually millions upon millions of people.

There remains a third question:

3. Many journalers from the mid-90s are not writing anymore. Would you say that this world of journalers and diarists has disappeared (since, as you mentioned, blogs are different)? Why? How has it evolved from your perspective?

My answer to that was fairly long, so I will post my answer next time.

A brief introduction for those of you wandering in here from Holidailies for the first time: I'm just a middle-aged guy (but somehow I hit 66 on my last birthday) who lives in Rhode Island with my wife Nancy (a middle-school math teacher), daughter Gillian ("Jill" -- 27 yr old college student and baker), son Jeremy (24 yr old restaurant cook and part-time college student), and Tiger (senior citizen cat). Eldest child Adam lives in New York City with his wife Leah and our grandsons Sam and Milo. I'm a former programmer/systems analyst who got involved with software training and instructional design. For the past several years I have been working from home (you can't beat the short commute!) doing quality assurance and editing on course material for both classroom courses and Web-based training courses for a very big computer company. I've been writing this online journal since 1996.

previous entry

next entry

To list of entries for 2010

To Home (Index) page

Holidailies 2009

My 21st entry for this season's Holidailies.


Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com