dear diaries
A look at the demise of the online journal

Illustration by Nathan Fletcher

page 2 of 3
previous page



Once upon a time, before the media-sexy concept of the blog was even born, online journals, described as ‘the retarded older cousin of blogs’ (by author Wendy McClure), lumbered the web.

These were the days of Netscape, the days when tables had 3D borders, everything was divided by 1px lines, and the background pattern was king.

The online journal, a spill-yr-guts-below approach to personal publishing, was an all-out confessional splurge; a place where the author could enjoy the transgressive thrill of sharing personal information without the need for anonymity.

In the early days of the web there was no such thing as blogging software: no comments, trackback, or any other networking functionality. (The first automated blogging tools weren’t released until 1999.) Just an HTML page giving details of a stranger’s life. An archive. Maybe an email address. And that was it.


Where blogs are mainly about looking outwards: cataloguing links and commenting upon them - journals were about looking inwards: charting the inner landscape and immediate surrounds of the author. Online journals spilled secrets indiscriminately, like a dog on heat bleeding all over the kitchen floor.

The concept of the ‘friends-only’ entry was meaningless; at the time, it was highly unlikely that any of the writer’s read life (or ‘RL’ - how quaint the term seems these days) friends and acquaintances were online, so writing a diary and posting it in cyberspace seemed more private than writing it in a paper journal and hiding it under the matress, and, paradoxically, far less ripe for discovery.

However, the best online journals from the early days of the web were more than the mere solipsistic, reflexive self-analyses that the term ‘journal’ or ‘diary’ might imply - they attempted to describe scenes and present fragments of the author’s day-to-day life in ways other readers could relate to and enjoy, a form of writing sometimes described as ‘creative non-fiction’; applying literary techniques to actual situations.


Online journals were designed to be read, but only by complete strangers, often at great geographical distance. What a lark: all the thrills of anonymity; all the benefits of friendship (a hassle-free friendship comprised of guestbook comments, occasional emails, and instant messenger conversations, with no potentially troublesome real-life commitments; actual face-to-face interaction was inessential, maybe even undesirable.)

The online journal was able to thrive precisely because of the lack of social networks which now drive the most successful online communities such as mySpace or LiveJournal. Being private in public meant exposure without accountability - all the fun, none of the fear.

Meanwhile the reader had the chance to watch the narrative of someone else’s life unfold, at a safe distance, in regularly updated episodes - part novel, part reality show, part holiday in someone else’s life. Not bad for the price of an internet connection.

page 2 of 3
next page >>


Hey Cute Fat Girl!
In search of the cute fat girl in popular culture

The Princess and the Pee
Squat? Nah. I'll make an 'arc of transcendence', thanks!

Love and Rockets and Foxy Girl Comics
We celebrate the hootchie-mamas of the comics world.

Hello, Hello Kitty
What *is* it about this mouthless plastic cat that so obsesses 20something females?