Column

THE MALTESE TRADER

MARY JANIGAN September 15 2003
Column

THE MALTESE TRADER

MARY JANIGAN September 15 2003

THE INTIMACY OF BLOGS

Web-based writers reveal all in their digital diaries,

MICHAEL SNIDER

Technology

WHEN PLAIN LAYNE suddenly pulled her site down in early june, a little corner of the blogosphere went nuts. Instead of the 26year-old Minnesotan’s poignant daily entries on her Weblog, an on-line journal, a blunt one-line message greeted visitors: “Take very good care of you.” No more honestly introspective narratives of her life. No more unbridled entries detailing the search for her birth parents, sessions with her therapist or her disappointing love affair with Violet, the stubby-tongued Dragon Lady. Comments flooded cyberspace. “Her surprising, unannounced departure is sending me and my overactive imagination into a frenzy of worry,” wrote Gudy Two Shoes on his own Weblog. “If she’s gone then I wish her well,” posted Intellectual Poison. “She got me started with this whole blogging thing, something that I am truly grateful for.” And Daintily Dirty asked, “Are the relationships we create by our blogging of any value?”

That’s a good question. It turned out that Plaine Layne, aka Layne Johnson, wasn’t gone for good. She’d just had a week during which she moved into a new house and witnessed the birth of her surrogate little sister’s baby before getting her site back up (ihttp://plainlayne.dreamhost.com). But the reaction from her readers was genuine. One of the prime reasons people blog is to make connections with others, and when Plain Layne went missing, it was like a neighbour had just up and moved in the middle of the night, with no forwarding address.

Weblogs are independent Web sites usually operated by a single person or by a small group of people. They serve as frequently updated forums to discuss whatever the blogger wants to discuss. Unmonitored, each blogger is author, editor and publisher, beholden solely to his or her own whims and desires. There are political blogs, media blogs, gay blogs, sports blogs, war blogs, anti-war blogs, tech blogs, photo blogs—hundreds of thousands of blogs, actually (estimates are as high as two million). “Blogging is not people wasting other people’s time talking about the minutiae of their lives,” says Joe

Clark, 38, a Toronto author who operates several blogs. “The thing that’s attractive about reading Weblogs is that you know there is one human being or a group of human beings behind them.”

Free and easy-to-use publishing programs with names like Blogger, Movable Type and Live Journal spurred the phenomenon. Now, anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can set up their own blog with relative ease. Paul Martin blogs, journalists blog, pundits, critics and social misfits blog. And what can you find there? Well, imagine standing in front of a library of gargantuan magazine racks loaded with glossy covers with everything from newsweeklies to girlie mags.

Blogs break down into two very general groups: linking blogs, and personal online journals. Political blogs like Glenn Reynolds’ Instapundit.com, media blogs like Jim Romenesko’s Poynter Online (www.poynter.org/medianews), or tech blogs like slashdot.com are of the former kind. They’re link-driven sites that connect readers to

PERSONAL BLOGS are famous for breaking usual standards of disclosure, revealing details considered by some to be very private

theme-related news stories and sometimes add a little commentary along with it. A personal blog is more like a diary entry or column in a daily newspaper, à la Rebecca Eckler of the National Post or Leah McLaren of the Globe and Mail—all about “me and what I think.” Writers recount events in their lives—sometimes very private ones— and air their thoughts to a public audience.

Reasons vary. Sometimes, the practice is therapeutic. For some, like Ryan Rhodes, who runs Rambling Rhodes (http://ramblingrhodes.blogspot.com), blogging has some functional purposes. Rhodes, from Rochester, Minn., is news editor for an IBM

publication called eServer Magazine but also writes humour columns for some local newspapers. He figured blogging would be a good writing exercise that might offer him instant feedback from readers. “I like knowing the stuff I write is being read,” says Rhodes, “and I like it when it hits someone in a positive way and they tell me, so I can use it later for my column.”

Personal blogs are famous for breaking usual standards of disclosure, revealing details considered by some to be very private. Dan Gudy, a 29-year-old Berliner, kept a diary when he was a teenager but gave it up, unhappy with the results. “My first experience was a total failure,” says Gudy. “It was only myself talking about myself and I do that enough.” But last year, when he created his site, Gudy Two Shoes (http://gudy. blogspot.com), the self-described introvert discovered that blogging opened a release valve. “I had to deal with some problems at the time and somehow needed to let it out. Part of me asked, why not use a blog for that?” Now, Gudy blogs about the books he reads and bike-riding through the German countryside. He also blogs about his sex life with his wife. “People can talk about what a nice bike ride they had or what a nice meal they had, but why can’t they talk about what a nice f— they had last night?” For many, that very willingness to discuss intimate details is one of the most alluring facets of blogging. “Your Weblog becomes an exterior part of you,” says Clark, “so you can have some distance from your feelings, even though you’re putting them out for everyone to read. But then all your readers are right up close and they know you because you’re writing directly to them.” In turn, readers can offer their own feedback: personal blogs frequently allow them to comment after each post, with something as easy as clicking a link that opens a pop-up box where they can add their own two cents’ worth. “When I first started blogging,” writes Daintily Dirty (http://www.blogdreams. blogspot.com), an anonymous 32-year-old blogger who chatted with Maclean’s via

instant messenger, “I had no idea what I was getting into with the personal nature of the interactions. But the connections you find are what keep you coming back.”

Layne Johnson’s readers can attest to that. An excellent narrative writer who opens her soul to her readers, Plain Layne’s daily entries regularly receive dozens of comments. “I hopped from one blog to the next and somewhere found Plain Layne,” says Gudy. “What made me stay was her brutal honesty and intimacy of sharing, her very beautiful way of writing.” Rhodes echoes the sentiment. “Layne is digital crack,” he says. “Hands down, as far as I’ve

read, she’s got the best personal blog. I have to read her every day.”

Johnson politely turned down a request for an interview, explaining her blogging is a personal exercise that’s meant to be cathartic. And somehow, that’s the way it should be. Plain Layne does her talking, or typing, on her blog. “I think the hardest thing about sharing your life on-line is that at some point you discover people know you,” Johnson wrote in a June post. “They know you from the inside out, the way your mind works, what makes you laugh or cry, your hopes and fears.” It’s clear to see she uses her blog as an outlet, a place to dump her anx-

iety and frustration in a search for identity and understanding. It’s also a place of amusement and mirth, with stories of stupefying office meetings and uproarious golf outings, all told with a flair and talent that would make some “me” columnists envious.

Blogs might seem too revealing for people who prefer their diaries to remain private. But more and more strangers are inviting millions of other strangers into their lives, with a willingness to share just about anything, finding their own shelf space on the world’s most accessible magazine rack, open to anyone who cares to pick up a copy. Welcome to the blogosphere. lifl