My love (and hatred) for Livejournal—a true story

You’ve got the shakes. You’re sweating and you can feel your eyeballs bulging out of your head. Your 2,000-word Chaucer essay is due in two hours, and yet it sits untouched on your desktop. Meanwhile, your finger twitches on the mouse and you hit “Reload” on your Livejournal friends page once more. Your screen fills with pleasures both wonderful and horrible: pictures and rambling entries unfold before your eyes, penned by both friends and weird people you’ve never even met. “This is such a waste of time,” you tell yourself in a trembling monotone, and yet you can’t stop reading.

Welcome to the glory—and the hell—of Livejournal.

For the (blessedly) uninitiated, Livejournal—or “LJ”—is the most popular of a score of “personal diary” servers on the Internet. LJ is very much like a blog.

It’s existed since 1999, when graduating high school student and computer nerd Brad Fitzpatrick decided he was too lazy to phone his friends and wanted to create a low-maintenance way of keeping in touch with his buddies when they went away to university. He created web software based on his own personal online journal so his friends could create their own journals as well.

The way that LJ differs from other blog servers like Blogger.com is that users have a “friends” page consisting of recent posts from their “friends” list—a.k.a. other users’ Livejournals. Thus, it’s sort of an interconnected series of weblogs.

Four million LJ accounts later, Brad is one wealthy dude.

There are four different types of LJ accounts that a user can have—a free account, a paid account, an early adopter account and a permanent account. Anyone can join LJ free of charge, and 94 per cent of users have free accounts. As of August 2004, Canada had the second-highest number of LJ users in the world in one country at 133,000 accounts.

So chances are, you—or someone you know—has an LJ.

Users can post entries daily, as lengthy and as often as they like. There are options where the user can write in his/her “mood”—there’s even a list of emotions to choose from, from “quixotic” to “hungover”. Perhaps most importantly, there is a “comment” option, where, depending on your personal preferences, anyone can post their response to the user’s entry.

Users can also make entries “public”, “friends-only” and for the truly cautious, “private”—for their eyes only.

LJ is inherently addictive. It takes such little effort to keep up with the Internet “lives” of your LJ that checking your friends page—and updating obsessively—can quickly become part of a daily routine.

I acquired my first LJ in 2000. I started writing angsty entries immediately about boys and cake. I sent the URL to a bunch of my friends, and like a persistent and incurable disease LJ began to spread amongst my high school friends. I would now estimate that nearly every friend I have ever had in my life has possessed a Livejournal account at one point or another. It’s fun.

But be warned: LJ can also be dangerous. Like any online medium that allows access to all different sorts of people—including extremely narcissistic and obnoxious people—LJ culture can be rife with stupidity and nastiness. “Comment wars” are extremely common, and certain volatile users, with merely one inflammatory statement, can garner hundreds of angry comments in the span of a day.

Someone cleverly decided it was a good idea to capitalize on all the mounting insanity and created Ljdrama.org, which you might guess deals with the endless online arguments and frays spawned by idiotic and bizarre Livejournal users.

The fights on LJ are so repetitive that the site has made categories for the drama topics. Everything and anything can be fodder for ridicule, from wars between vegans and non-vegans, people with Jesus complexes and LJ communities where you have to submit a photo in order that your attractiveness can be judged before you join the community.

But the site still maintains some non-harmful, productive merits. The “queens” and “kingston_613” communities are extremely active and helpful for both longtime Kingston citizens and students who have just moved here.

From my uneducated perspective, it appears that personal blog servers like Blogger are beginning to undermine the LJ frenzy. But although LJ may have passed its prime, the fact of the matter is that people will always be obsessed with the mundane-and-not so-mundane details of other people’s lives, and LJ managed to capture this obsession at what may have been its frenetic peak.

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