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Sun, Mar. 20th, 2005, 11:56 pm
Five Years

It began so quietly, with a whisper months before. I remember seeing erik's journal before I left for school that fall. It looked like an interesting way to self-publish, but of course at that time it was nothing of what it had yet to become. Through the drama of that first year of mine at college, an interesting thing happened. A couple of my friends, who were also friends with Erik got themselves journals (evan, patrick (I'd have had ryan probably but Brad's little brother is named Ryan)). At that point it was only a thousand and a half or so of us, and it always appeared as if many of those early accounts had been abandoned in an early exodus that had been perhaps due to the low level of participants. What first happened after I began to look at these journals over a bit was perhaps the first big LJ drama (although of course I fold to Erik or Brad to give an earlier episode). I wouldn't have been reading the damn thing if it weren't for that drama, though. A friend was breaking up with another friend, and one of them had a journal that on occasion contained, (I must admit, tenuously so) things that bothered the other party. I was thus led into the fold as my friend who was broken up with got one, and then I joined, and voila. A beginning. Just in and around that time a number of other folks joined in the fun. I'm lazy so I don't want to list them all. If you look around my friends list and those of my friends you may be able to spot a trend and find a bunch of these early adopters.

You can still go back and look at the first entries. The possibilities were unknown. The conception of the thing was stopped still at momentary glimpses into a mundane description of a momentary happening: "Getting in the shower now," with a message 15 minutes later reading, "Heading to work." was not an uncommon thing. The readership was so small that it was used to some degree as an away message. One used to be more sure of using LJ as a locating device. On trips to Seattle one might check to see when someone left for work or whether they went out. As I said, the potential had not begun to strike nearly as hard as it soon would.

My friend evan built the structure higher by helping out with his spare time, taking it on as another of his pet projects, I feel he helped more than can be said to multiply dynamicism of the changes that occurred in the early days, and we watched LiveJournal blow up.

So, in the early moments my journal was filled mainly with one liner notes to my friends about what was going on in my life. As busy kids, there was a building sense of connection to which we would not have been able to hang on if LJ had not been there. I'm sure I would still have seen them upon return to Seattle on so many occasions, but I doubt the same maintenance would have occurred. I came home that summer to a rich community of friends that had been maintained by constant passive-active attention. We were free to keep up with whomever we wished, and did not have to worry about whom we had or had not emailed to keep such community coordinated. It also begat a very quick rate a preponderance of new friends and acquaintances. Like minded folks were easily able to find community which was not only real, but intensely communicative and, believe it or not social. There were LJ parties announced to the whole slew. Everyone welcome to attend, because at that point there were only a handful who could possibly attend anyhow.

This was a crucial time, and at that time, like so many others, I ran away.

Well, I ran off for a month and a half on a solo roadtrip south and then east, which ended in Phoenix, AZ for two and a half weeks of hell waiting for my car to be fixed. During that trip I folded more of my friends in, and they in turn brought theirs.

At the end of the summer, LJ still in infancy, and yet at such a stage as to bring in an early development in my history, I returned to school in Portland. That fall I had my first issue with privacy in the face of this open community. I wanted to talk about things that I didn't want someone I knew to find out. I don't recall when privacy controls were brought in, but at that point I wanted to keep these things to myself regardless. I started a private journal (by the time I did this LJ had 10 times as many users as when I started this journal). It still exists and is fairly well maintained. It feels to me as a remnant of LJ old when there was no real accountability to be held, and one might post completely anonymously. This practice seems to have gone by the wayside in opposition to the highly public glory hoarding which it has to some degree become. Using the privacy controls allows for the same kind of secrecy we had been avoiding in our escape from the gossipy whispering of the real world— here we spoke openly to everyone or not at all, and so here is why I still post in my private journal. As a member seeking anonymity I can still easily do so, there is the benefit of community without the ramifications of a secrecy bespoiled. I don't want to write my private emotional thoughts out where the person I speak of can read them! This is a refuge for the rant, a silent wall to belt at, and yet, still a group of open ears for when I might request opinion. Said journal has no friends, but a fair number still count it theirs. It's an interesting occurrence.

Two months after that journal was created, a different turn of events transpired. The person I had been hiding from disappeared again, and a new friend waltzed into the scene. I was running the school open mic at the time. The first week of school (before the creation of the alter-journal), I held an open mic such that incoming students would be able to be exposed and become interested. At said open mic I very briefly met someone I would end up sharing a large portion of the last five years with. However, she and I only sort of crossed paths—she was one of a handful who offered to help with the open mic, and helped me process the student organization application while I was busy trouncing around at Bumbershoot. In fact, a tangent:

While at Bumbershoot that fall I ran into one of the fabulous people I invited to join up with us, rockstarbob and begged them to use their internet. I needed to submit the organization info so we could be considered for funding. The website was so lucky as to have been down and I was frantic. So, luckily I was able to call this freshman, Liz, because she had offered her help with the open mic. She dutifully gave her assistance, and thus the open mic was saved! Hooray!

Well, and as a couple of months roll away, I find myself searching google on occasion, knowing there must be at least another Reedie on LiveJournal by this point. And I was correct, there were a couple. I also found myself friend listed on a journal of old, poetryhammer which I believe was maintained by sillyape. This was an early attempt to link together users with similar interests, which of course is a precursor to the communities. All users who listed poetry as an interest were friended by this journal. On this journal I remembered seeing an icon I came across while searching google for Reedies. It was lizzimonster. And I snickered, honestly, as I posted a couple playful anonymous comments to her journal. Who could I be that I would know of your journal (remember there were probably only about 20,000 users at this point)? But, I regret to inform, I had already been found out.

She already knew I had a journal, and was obviously stalking me! (okay, okay, so I kid)

But, we began with a midnight coffee and all night conversation before her dormie came in to rouse her for class that morning with us cuddling on her bed.

So, yeah, I had a two year relationship that was facilitated by LiveJournal. Weird.

LJ get togethers, the constant chime of oh, you already knew that though, and extensive changes in communication. That spring I waffled over the creation of further journal infestation, and finally decided upon it when I started my school's LJ community, reedlj. It was, let's just say, not welcomed by all. The things that stopped me from starting it in the first place rapidly showed their faces as reality. Conflict over privacy and the nature of community. What constitutes privacy once you've put something free for all on the internet?

I think the main person who was freaked out by the incident (I invited a bunch of folks I was able to identify as being reedies, even if they weren't identifiable as certain individuals) was someone who knew me because her response was that she hated me after that.

It was interesting though...her response was that I'd somehow 'outed' her, which would imply that there was a sufficient critical mass that people would obviously find her journal. Even at tnhat point I could only find perhaps ten reedies who kept them, although it's probably likely that there were a few who were just more careful about maintaining their anonymity.

After that I think things just got a bit boring. I mean, there was plenty that happened, but that's what the journal's for, yeah? That first year or so contained some critical points as far as LiveJournal as a community was concerned. I saw a group of people go from disconnected to totally connected, and then once privacy issues and fear of the random onlooker came rushing down upon us I saw it transform again back to being fearful. I wish the blog medium didn't have to worry about employers doing blog background checks. It's a pity really, and I wish the fear we have of each other would just go away.

What happened after reedlj became much more local. I saw a community of whining college kids start to know intimate details about each others' lives without realizing the consequences, I saw communication breakdown, nonsense, and a stiff drink of 'holy shit that's a lot of people'. At Reed it's become unavoidable. I walk around as an alumnus and I can feel eyes on me of freshmen who don't know me, but they know me. (They also end up knowing me for the golf club, but that's weird for a different reason and totally off topic.) I've seen policy breaches over the community and had to take strange administrative power, after I graduated, and however, I don't feel like getting rid of the community, not yet. I'd rather be a bit of an absentee landlord and keep them from getting embroiled with excess Reed drama over how the community should be run. I could see it becoming much like a channel takeover should I put the power in anyone else's hands. I'd rather just keep it primarily anarchistic.

--------------

Five years is a long time. It's hard to tell how much being so engrossed in this sort of endeavor and this sort of cultural change has really affected me. Myself and all of those early friends (I went to grade school with evan and pat (and danny warrend and reg velvet)) and we grew up right in the middle of the tech explosion, right next to microsoft and have always been inundated with it. How do I separate myself from such a past? I always find myself as a handy tech guy, I've seen everything, but that means that even more I know I know nothing about computers. I've just always been more interested in the tool aspects, but I obviously still come out ahead. It's strange to know that more than a fifth of my life is now recorded on the internet, in some form or another. In various places. You don't want to know how many different journal names I snatched up. Although when evan and brad checked I still came in second to carley who had apparently reserved all the Tori Amos references she could think of. Heh. But that was a long time ago, and I don't know if that statistic still stands. It may since the invite system slowed down growth for a while. If you're unaware of the invite system, it was implemented to slow down the growth of LiveJournal a few years ago when it blew up into an uncontrollable (and unaffordable) site. That probably limited the creation of accounts enough that by the time they got rid of the invite system, most of the incredibly desirable names were gone.

So, I'm way spread out. I've got a number of fake journals, humor journals, hidden journals, topical journals, and communities. I'm not even what you might look at as a power user. I've mostly kept to myself. My friends list contains mostly people I've actually met in person, I'm sure if it hadn't been kept as such I might not have gotten through school in four years, which I did despite the golf club.

If you ever find yourself wondering, I'll probably go through and try to write a sort of history if I can, perhaps some serious analysis, perhaps anecdotal madness over the strange way this early cultural phenomenon developed, but for now, this is all I can manage. I think LiveJournal may have burnt out my writing center, and now it's doing it again.

I'm going to go, but perhaps I'll write again on this.

Please, bring questions if you have them.

Mon, Mar. 21st, 2005 11:53 am (UTC)
alese

Starting the summer before my freshman year (2000), and continuing through nearly the end of spring 2001 when it blew up due to drama, I was part of an intensely vibrant community of Reedies who kept Open Diaries. We've all switched to Livejournal now (and I'm pretty sure we're all readers of Reed LJ, though some may have stopped now that they're alumni) due to Open Diary becoming a hellishly unpleasant site to use (their solution to the explosion of users was to increased the number of pop-up ads, and then to create a separate paid community that interfaced poorly with the free one), and the community absolutely isn't the same as that first year. They're still my best and oldest Reed friends--the odd collection met either while prospie'ing or through creative internet searches the summer before we got to Reed. Some of my best writing is still on my Open Diary, though its no longer part of my public past.
I do remember us having the same privacy concerns, because telling anyone of your diary would give that person access to the other seven, and we were at the time writing only for completely anonymous strangers and those seven people. Sombody once put the URL of their diary up in their AIM profile, and the repercussions in our tiny community were enormous--even the question of whether someone's new lover would be granted access was critical. The default position was no.
Thank-you for posting your history.

Mon, Mar. 21st, 2005 07:09 pm (UTC)
holyloki

Every time I meet someone I'm faced with the thought, "Do I mention LJ? What if they join? What if they go look me up and decide they don't like me after that? What if they find something out and say something to someone who knows someone?"

Every time it brings with it either the joy of communication or the off-putting of a potential hazard.

I can see how the privacy eatures of LiveJournal are definitely a boon, as well as the obvious features that made it what it is: syndicated friends lists, communities, and comment trees (the last two didn't exist when I joined). There have been so many improvements since then that it's difficult to remember them all. Regardless, privacy is a very difficult issue. On the one hand, it allows for the controlling of information. On the other hand, it allows for the controlling of information.

Personally I barely ever use the privacy control unless it's to make something totally private, as a personal note. Otherwise I use my separate journal, which mostly goes to me ranting about my troublesome love life (or lack thereof)...both something I don't need to have searchable by anyone with my full name, or ssomething I feel the need to bother my friends with. Although, it is also some of my best writing.

Mon, Mar. 21st, 2005 02:05 pm (UTC)
rockstarbob

That was awesome.

Mon, Mar. 21st, 2005 07:11 pm (UTC)
holyloki

I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Could have been written a little less sloppily, but it was all stream for the most part.

Mon, Mar. 21st, 2005 06:06 pm (UTC)
herbaliser

i really enjoyed this

Mon, Mar. 21st, 2005 07:11 pm (UTC)
holyloki

excellent : )

Mon, Mar. 21st, 2005 10:10 pm (UTC)
surlygrl

Damn, I had no idea. I didn't even get a LiveJournal until after I graduated.

Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 12:53 am (UTC)
holyloki

I often wonder whether other folks look at that, other than me and perhaps other early users—do the user number watching. (Ie, you might have seen if you had looked)

I tend to go check out the stats every so often, to get an idea how large it's become, and I almost always check a person's user number when I look at their info. It helps to gauge a lifespan easier than by years or by checking the creation date, but it's also just an interest of mine.

Tue, Mar. 22nd, 2005 03:44 am (UTC)
canneryrow: analysis?

I was at the american anthropological association web site and they have a whole section somewheres, a list i think, a community where everyone is interested in studying technologies in our lives and gets money and research help etc through the AAA.

Sun, May. 1st, 2005 07:47 am (UTC)
langston

I was surfing around looking for something else when I found your little history. It brought some incredible memories of living in the UW dorms, barely keeping abreast of the technologicial/information wave totally crushing me. My LJ was very private and unadvertised for the first few years, and it only has been in the last two or so that I've been out to LJ-parties, met people in person, dated off LJ (yup, we've all done that)and even lived with regular users. Once, in a brief moment of openess I told my mom about my LJ, and she told me later that afternoon that she was specifically not going to read it because of privacy concerns.

It's been an amazing tool, that I am always finding new uses as therapy, expression, socializing and whateverness. Kudos on the train of though, it's sparked a fire in me now.