LiveJournal

screen-shot-2017-01-14-at-10-09-35-amIn the quest to find some better way of doing all of this, I started thinking about LiveJournal. (I actually have been thinking about a lot of the mid-00s web stuff I used to use, because sitting on FaceBook all day is probably a dead end, or I feel that I’m not reading or writing enough. Like, did reading Slashdot, Fark, and an armada of blogs in Google Reader help entertain me any better than seeing the same four news stories posted a hundred times a day?)

I wasn’t a heavy LiveJournal writer; I had a fake account (username: unabomber) I started in 2000 just to comment on other peoples’ stuff, then started one as jkonrath in 2004. I’d post updates, but I had an earlier pre-WordPress iteration of this blog as my main home. But I would hit my friends feed constantly, and comment a lot.

LJ seemed to be “the place” to go to be social online for a while, like pre-MySpace, pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter. I was trying to think of exactly why though. The site’s still there, as is my account, so I poked around a bit and tried to remember. What did it offer that my blog did not? What was the draw?

Plusses:

  • It was dead simple (and free) to open an account. It was invite-only until 2003, but after that, anyone could get in.
  • Posting was not hard. It gave you a box and a subject line, and you typed and clicked “Post” and that was it.
  • There were fun little things you could add to posts, like what you were listening to, and what your mood was.
  • You had a certain number of profile pictures, and it was always fun finding new little pictures, or swapping to a different one based on your mood that day.
  • You could theme your page to some extent, changing colors and styles. Some people got really into the design of their pages, although when you’re reading your friends feed, you don’t see those customizations, and I basically didn’t give a shit about having flaming red text on a black background with pictures of wolves and fire and ninjas and shit all over.
  • Basic privacy settings could lock posts and accounts to be friends-only.
  • Communities, where permitted users could post to a feed. These were great for interests (I was in a baseball one for a while) or areas (lots of people had groups for their towns or home towns.)
  • You could (if you had a paid account) host a feed to your external blog, so the posts would show up on LJ.
  • It was locked in. You could sit and spin on your friends feed, and read all the posts (in chronological order, too) and in the mid-00s, a lot of people were posting, so there was some good conversation to be had.
  • There weren’t ads during the heyday, although that changed later.
  • It encouraged long-form posts. Or maybe people just typed more back then, before we were all programmed with horrible ADHD.
  • The feed was chronological only. No Fuckerberging of the order and appearance weighting of posts.
  • There was post commenting, and that got used a fair amount. Commenting was more streamlined than other blogs, because you had the single system for everyone, whereas it seems like every free-standing blog has a different commenting system, or they use something like Disqus, and people get all pissy about having to sign up for it. If you were using LJ, you were signed up for commenting, so it was a no-brainer.

Minuses:

  • The UX is horrible. Log in to livejournal.com and then try to find anything, and it takes ten clicks. It also started to look a bit dated and clunky going into the late 00s.
  • There was no “like.” I think that was the big killer versus Facebook. When you post on FB, there’s this little micro-validation you get in your brain when other people like your post. LJ didn’t have this, so the motivation wasn’t there. I think the little crack hit of likes is one of the main drivers for FB, and it’s also its downfall. The discovery of this gamification around the end of the 00s is the reason casual gaming now exists (well, that plus touchscreen devices with good graphics) but it’s also a big part of our dumbing-down as a culture.
  • The long-form thing meant good content, but it also may have been a reason people dropped out.
  • Images and image hosting were always an issue. You could add external links to flickr or elsewhere for your images, but the two-step process was messy. They now offer image hosting for paid accounts, but it’s a limited amount, and mostly a feature to entice people to pay. It’s nowhere near as nice as the FB interface for photo uploading.
  • No fine-grained security. You could not be friends with someone and not see their content. You could not hide a single post from your friends feed, like when you got sick of seeing the same thing pop up on every time. (I use the FB hide post constantly these days.)
  • No post sharing. This was a plus, though. Imagine FB without the ability to share stupid political posts or mom memes.
  • No (real) mobile stuff. I think they have an app, but it’s a piece of shit. So many people post on-the-go now in FB/Twitter, and LJ never had any of that. That may have been one of the reasons it focused more on long-form stuff, because everyone was sitting on a PC while composing their stuff.
  • Various business decisions slowly sank the ship. The company was sold in 2005, and then Brad Fitzpatrick left in 2007, and it was sold to some crazy Russians, who continued to run it into the ground.

Other:

  • I remember a lot of shit-storms over privacy issues, like people having to lock out exes and then said exes getting a different fake account to read their stuff, etc. Now, blocking and banning is simple in FB, but there was a lot of drama back in the day.
  • I also vaguely remember some moderation issues, with people or posts getting censored, and a bunch of outrage.

I always wonder if something could replace LJ and FB. Would some technical balance between the two work, or would some perfect storm have to happen to lure enough people to the community to make it viable? I think the biggest feature of LJ was that it had a community, and it had a critical mass of enough users to make it interesting and fun. But when that went away, so did its usefulness.

How do you create that again? I guess that’s the question every attempt at community tries to answer. I futz around with posting here, but it’s an isolated island in the middle of nowhere, with no community, no connection to the outside world. I post on Facebook, but it’s Facebook, and it is becoming a dead end. As I find Facebook more and more intolerable, I try to think of a replacement, but that lack of critical mass, of community, is the huge problem.

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The Glossary

I recently found myself back at The Big Fun Glossary, which was a point of obsession a dozen years ago. It is the story of a college-aged punk rock slacker and his band of friends living in an old farmhouse in rural Virginia in the mid-90s, told in a wikipedia-type A to Z glossary. As a person who left college in 1995 and knocked around a farm state for my formative years, I took great interest in this, and ended up ripping off the entire idea, using the rough hosted wiki software on his site to start brain-dumping my own entries into a bunch of topics. This became The NecroKonicon.

I worked on The NecroKonicon on and off for about four years, although it was really more like a sudden burst of new writing, a few years of tweaks, and then a push to freeze the topics and push it into a paper book. The book itself didn’t sell at all (or, you could say it sold as well as any of my other books.) But I got a lot of comments and mails about it. And the people who started the Bloomington wiki at Bloomingpedia.org claim my site was one of their inspirations to get their own site going.

At some point, I moved all the topics to this site and made it a bunch of static HTML pages. After the book came out, I eventually pulled the site, partly because I didn’t want to potentially undercut book sales (dumb), but there were other reasons.

Now, I sometimes wonder what I should do with the site. I sometimes think about doing more work on it: updating pages, getting better pictures, adding new topics. Or maybe the “underside” of the site needs to be changed, like moved to some wiki software, or maybe like a blog platform.

There are a few things that make me waver on doing anything with this:

  • A project like this is open-ended. Any time the glossary went off my radar, I’d get a (usually angry) email from someone, demanding correction of a topic. People love to do this. Certain people really love to do this, to a fault. It finally got to the point where I said the thing was frozen, and I would still get angered corrections. How did these people ever deal with print books? Did they write angry letters to Webster saying “NO IT’S COLOUR NOT COLOR YOU PIECE OF SHIT.”
  • I think the culture of the internet and privacy and googling one’s own name has changed a lot between 2002 and today. Many times, when I added a person’s first and last name to the glossary, I would be the only search result on the internet for their name. Most of the time, these people never noticed. But now, everyone googles for their ex-girlfriend or high school friend, and everyone is on Facebook (or was). And some people get really offended when they find out they’re online. I hated receiving takedown requests from people, partly because I felt bad about hurting or offending them, but also because it usually meant I was “friends” with them in my head, or still remembered them, and they were not friends with me, or wanted no part in the project, or felt violated, or whatever. Also, having a person involved in multiple entries, then having to backtrack and edit them out or change their name to L________ diminished the work somehow.
  • The idea of doing a “straight” project like this takes away from the amount of effort I can focus on my “main” writing, and there are only so many hours in the day.
  • I feel like I can rehash the past only so much, and need to move on. I can’t be a person thinking “hey, remember 1992?” constantly. I know people who are like this, and it disturbs me on some level. I can’t fully explain it, but being stuck in the past bothers me. I need to be creating, not dredging.

But… it still calls to me. I often think about some way of turning these old entries into some sort of fiction book, or using the framework for making a hypertext book, or something.

The other possibility is something I started doing a long time ago, I think in the first year or two of this blog (then called a “journal,” because the term blog did not exist.) At that time, I’d hard-coded in a glossary of terms, maybe because I had Infinite Jest stuck in my head, or wanted to use hypertext more. I wanted to have the ability to mention “414 Mitchell” and then go to a popup or page that contained a definition and stories about the place I lived in Bloomington for two years. But I coded this by hand, and it was a huge pain in the ass.

I’ve thought about this more, and like the idea of using WordPress shortcodes, like so a term surrounded in brackets becomes a link to a section of the web site with a bunch of pages of terms — or something. I need to think about this more. And it’s obviously something that’s a time-sink, so maybe I shouldn’t.

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