The Impact of Blogging on Fandom

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In the early 2000s, large numbers of media fans migrated away from forums and mailing lists to public blogging platforms such as Livejournal and Diaryland. A wide ranging debate soon began over the nature of blogging, whether it was "good" or "bad" for fandom, and how it would impact fandom.

Below are a series of excerpts from essays dated 2002-2005 (content from earlier or later years is welcomed). Woven into the excerpts are general thoughts and observations contributed from the recollections of individual fans. And finally, in 2005, cathexys collected a series of links to essays and posts discussing the impact of blogging on fandom. That list can be seen here.[1] For introductory reading, see the essay "three years, three months, and 1,188 entries later" by sophia_helix, dated July 24, 2004.[2]

Blogging Is All About Me...But It's Also About You

A personal blog is usually...personal. The owner decides what to post and when to post. On some blogging platforms, access to these posts is always open to the world. On others (like Livejournal) the blogger can limit access to their entries. But the fact that the only person who can create a blog post is the blog owner means that each blog is all "all about me and what I think is cool and fun and what I like and what I did and..."

Or as one fan said:

On LiveJournal, I am at the centre and everything revolves around me. My friends list is like a ring that encircles me. Every person I add makes the ring a little larger. Communities are another ring. The content falls from above and passes through me and my rings. It's transient, it's ephemeral.

LJ is people driven. It's true that I add people because of what they usually write about, but very few people stick to only one topic. So I read about what interests the people on my list, not about what only interests me. Sure, I skip right over those posts about the OC and Smallville. But I read about the movies they're watching and the other shows and sometimes I get whole new fandoms that way. I get opinions and thoughts that I wouldn't see on mailing lists....

It's also narcissistic. I post about whatever interests me, me, me! The Fandom of Hal's Brain. But everybody else gets to do the same. It's like when people first started putting up personal homepages. We all can shine like little stars in our own LJ solar systems, surrounded by a cloud of other people, connecting out to the edges of the known universe. [3]

diagram from 2003 depicting the structure of a mailing list. Source:prillalar
diagram from 2003 depicting the structure of an LJ showing the blogging fan as the centre.Source:prillalar

Not everyone sees blogging as a "me centered" activity:

I greatly enjoyed Hal's depiction of how she conceptualizes the difference between list-space and LJ-space; I'm always fascinated by the metaphors and visualizations people use to make sense of intangible/virtual phenomena. I think of lists pretty much as she does, but my model of the LJ world is more a matter of -- well, picture a large and complex three-dimensional myriad of Venn diagrams, circles (like the one Hal drew) overlapping, interlinking, sometimes densely and sometimes just barely touching. And the flow of content is, to me, not a linear pass-through, but an immensely complex tendrilling swirl, like when you drop a blurp of red dye into a beaker of water that's always in slight agitation. When I click into the "Update your journal" pane, there's always this moment when I'm thinking over what I want to say, choosing words, and I can almost feel that intangible network of connection into which I'm about to drop these sentences; I run my fingers, so to speak, over the strands, and feel them vibrate. It is, as Hal says, a mesh made of people, almost none of whom I see oftener than once or twice a year, if that. But it feels every bit as real to me as the equally intangible connections of gravity-holds-me-in-my-chair, or going-to-this-office-means-dollars-get-put-in-my-bank-account. I think about this stuff on days like yesterday, when LJ is acting all whimsical and neurasthenic, and I realize how much I rely on it, how much time I spend in this phantasma-city made up of electrons and words, how many people I'm connected to here.[4]

One consequence of blogging as an "all about me" activity is that blogs are then seen as "people-centered" whereas mailing lists, forums and letterzines are usually considered to be fandom or topic driven:

It got me thinking about the journal/list divide, because at this point most of my fannish interaction is journal-based and not list-based. I’ve come to the conclusion, though, that this has happened not because I privilege journals over lists, but rather because I’m not obsessed enough with any given fandom to want to be on any fandom-specific lists.....At this point my fannish interactions are more people-based than fandom-based...[5]

Others believe that even if blogging is, by its nature, egocentric, it serves a greater social purpose - as an informal memoir of fandom life:

Anyhow, I started thinking that keeping an online journal is, in some ways, a natural outgrowth of this nobody memoir phenomenon.

Instead of saving up all our little dramas and discoveries, we dole them out daily, in bite-sized chunks that are easily digested by whoever is interested.

In some ways, it's even more vain and self-indulgent than a memoir, because at least with a memoir, there's some editing going on after the fact.

I mean, sure, we all self-censor, we decide how much of ourselves we put into our journals, but the personal always leaks through, often in unintended, even unnoticed ways. And there's no editor with a red pen (or blue pencil) looking over what we post, saying, "That's irrelevant, cut it." or "That sentence is clunky. Rewrite it." Sure, we can go back and edit posts (I do, for typos, or to clarify what I was saying. I've not yet deleted a post for content. Only for staggering html errors), but it's not the same thing.

In some ways, blogging is ephemeral - I know there are people who don't archive their old entries [which I don't get, but then I keep everything. I'm a packrat.], so it doesn't *matter* what you said last week. You don't feel that way *now*.

And we're living in the perpetual now.

And the other thing is this - we're expecting people to read. Oh, I know, we all say the same thing, "I'm doing it for myself. If people read, that's great, but it's for *me*."

But the truth is, if it were for *you*, you'd keep it in a drawer in your night table, not on the internet.

A lot of us - I'd say most people who regularly keep a journal - are, in some form or another, writers. Writers of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, songs, diaries.

A good diarist is a treasure for future generations.[6]

Still, a goodly portion of the early debates about fandom blogging centered on whether your blog was a public forum or a personal space. And that if you wanted to write a successful blog entry you had to pick one or the other:

If you're only looking for a particular kind of interaction, you'd do best to post in a place where you're likely to only get that type of interaction. There has been a great deal of debate about how much one's own LJ or mailing list is a public space and how much a personal one, and that debate is not likely to be settled any time soon. In the meantime, if you consider LJ or a mailing list a personal space, it might be wise to lock both only to members/friends, just as you close the door of your house if you don't wish strangers to wander in. This doesn't mean your friends or members might not still disagree with you, but it's easier to enforce a stated desire for only one kind of interaction if you've limited your audience.[7]

I think we're all on LJ because we want to talk to someone. We want an audience, and the benefit of using LJ over mailing lists is that you can carry on discussions without being smacked for going off-topic. Some of us are just more exhibitionistic than others. *G* But with speaking to an audience comes responsibility, and I think it's disingenuous for someone to be surprised and/or offended if they suddenly discover that their public post is being linked somewhere.

If someone is going to post publicly on LJ, I think it's imperative to be aware of the audience, not only in terms of that person's flist but also the others who might read it: lurkers, people reading friend-of-friend list, people who are randomly surfing LJ, people who are looking for posts for newsletters, etc. Once someone makes a public post, there's literally no telling who will read it and where they're coming from to do so. If that's troublesome, then perhaps it's time for that person to consider flocking posts or to reconsider what information they make available to the general viewing public.

Which puts the burden of responsibility on the LJ owner, yes, but the bottom line is, if someone puts something out there in public on the Net, they have to realize that people they never expected to read it might read it, and if they don't want strange people reading them, then yes, it's their responsibility to make it unavailable. It's not the reader's job to keep someone else's posts "safe".[8]

And last, if blogging is personal, does this mean that blogs are personal space where commentators must mind their manners? Many fans worried that the personal nature of blogs signaled the end to fannish discourse:

I kind of come from a mailing list culture, where you just jump in anywhere with your opinion and you can have vehement debates with someone without it ever getting personal; you can agree with them on one issue one day, and disagree the next. And maybe you respect their ability to debate intelligently or maybe you're really irritated by their juvenile tactics, but you don't dislike them just because they disagreed with you. Disagreement is what the place is for; there wouldn't be any discussion otherwise, and how boring would that be?

Whereas I get this feeling on LJ that it's kind of questionable whether you should disagree with someone at all. Debate becomes really personal; you don't have a moderator stepping in saying "Debate the post, not the poster!" so you end up with blanket statements like "anyone who thinks that is clearly morally depraved," the loudest voices get heard, people take offense and form into factions, etc.

I think the personal nature of LJ is both a strength and weakness. Originally I liked it quite a bit, because it was cool to get to hear about people's lives and non-Buffy thoughts, whereas on a discussion list you don't really get to know people that well. But it also turns personal in a really ugly way a lot of times, in a way that (moderated) mailing lists don't.

And I'm also just curious about etiquette. What's more important, the "journal" aspect or the debate aspect? For example, if someone posts something that you really disagree with, should you reply in their comments and share your disagreement? Or is that considered rude, because you're invading their journal with your disapproval (or whatever)? It's kind of sad that so many posts are followed by 50 "*kiss kiss*" "I love you!" "You so rock!" type comments, without any real discussion or disagreement.

And if it is rude to disagree in someone's journal, should you then take your response into your own journal instead and post it there? Because that creates a problem too: if you identify the person with whom you're disagreeing, you're kind of starting something that may be taken much more personally than just a debate over an issue. You could lose friends over it. And if you don't identify the person with whom you're disagreeing, then a whole ton of other people might assume that you're really posting about them, and then they get defensive and upset, and you get a whole big kerfuffle.[9]

Additional reading:

Blogging As Performance Art

Since blogging is a public exercise, many fans feel that it edges closer to performance art than direct person-to-person communication.

I look at LJ as performance art. I announce things. I share stuff that I think others will find fun or enlightening. I tell stories about something stupid I've done. I sometimes ask questions, and am discouraged when nobody answers me. I post my stories and wait for feedback. It's a public forum for me, which is why I comment on ANY post that makes me think of something to say in response. If I want to keep something private, I write it somewhere else entirely...[12]

Certainly, most fans are aware of how they might be perceived when they are posting in public forums - whether in a letterzine, a mailing list or a blog. However, because blogging offers no centralized place for gathering, it is felt it allow greater opportunity for posts to be distorted by others.[13] This makes some fans more cautious in what they say and how they say it.

One thing that other people have mentioned and that is implied lightly is that the diary/LJ/blog thing can be a LOT of things, but sometimes it's also pure performance art....

.... the blog is read by lots and lots of people and you don't even necessarily know who they are. And then the comments fly across the blog worlds so quickly, perceptions are formed based on what is said publicly and it's not necessarily true or false what eventually gets disseminated....

Seema's picked up the one downside of blogland as opposed to mailing lists and bulletin boards. It is a HELL of a lot easier to de-contextualize a comment here than it ever could be on a list or board, where it's all public record in one convenient location for checking. Even without MEANING to, it's frighteningly easy to simply read something that you don't agree with and posting the quote, a link, and start an essay on Why I Don't Agree, without being aware of the entirety of the conversation or discussion in question. I do it, everyone does it, la la la, and so far, there hasn't been much fallout from this little habit. Per usual, I tend to worry well after other people have been murmuring those same things in dire voices around and about, because, as stated above, I Am Dense. Also, remember, performance art? *grins* My diary is as much my space as it is my stage....[14]

Others point out that blogs serve multiple purposes. Some are chaotic records of day to day thoughts and activities. Others are platforms used to reach a targeted audience. Most fan blogs fall somewhere in between and it is difficult to assess how blogging has changed fannish communication because of these different needs for expression.

Some might feel that calling a Blog or LJ boring is a personal attack. After all, the subject of the Blog/LJ is the author. So saying that a writer's Blog is boring may seem akin to making a similar judgment about the individual. Yet it's really the manner of presentation that is being judged. If a writer intends a Blog/LJ to be read by others, selectivity and emotional insight will enhance the material. The commonplace book mode of presentation is chaotic. It resembles preliminary notes toward a fanfic which includes notes on plot, character, bits of dialogue and research all jumbled together. These notes are a resource that can be mined in order to produce the story, but they are not the final product. The best diaries are like the best fiction. They have continuity and focus while still representing the author's unique perspective. I am sure that the Blogs/LJs that I have read on the internet will change and evolve as their authors do. Just as my diary went from the theraputic prop of my adolescence to the helter skelter commonplace book of my early twenties, Blogs/LJs may reflect the author's needs at different stages of their lives.[15]

So I guess I was wondering how other people decide what to put in their journal? Do you consider yourself writing to specific people? Or a specific type of people (like the people I interact with on my flist and others like them)? More importantly, how do you/did you decide what to put in your journal? Like, that very first day...did your journal evolve? Did you flail around a while before you got comfortable with your lj voice and content? I know when I went on vacation it took a while to get back into the swing of things. Every lj has its own style, so it's weird how the same person can mix up personal stuff, musings on things, movies, TV and fandom stuff and have it still be a cohesive lj, but they do. Some people are more real life oriented and that's what their lj is about--but they're still going to touch on fandom things sometimes too. I don't know...I'm just suddenly getting fascinated by the whole weird concept of writing our own little columns, especially when some of us start out really writing to nobody. If you've just started your lj and have barely anyone on a foflist do you still write?[16]

And finally, because some fan bloggers are focused on the social aspect of blogging, they spend considerable time worrying whether one of their posts might upset other fans and cause them to be defriended. Because of this awareness, many blog posts begin with statements like: "I realize this might cause some of you to defriend me, but I have to say it anyway."[17]

For more about this aspect of performance blogging see the section below about friending and defriending.

During the mailing list fandom era, controversial statements might cause you to be removed from mailing lists. In the print fanzine era those statements might cause your letters to be edited or censored. But in the case of blogging, the power dynamics between "performer" and "audience" were more subtle, complex and ever-changing. In the blogging world, even if you offended, you could still continue posting, albeit with a smaller audience.

Additional reading:

Blogging and Visibility

Many fans see blogs as personal online diaries: open to the world, but hopefully visible only to their select circle of like minded friends. Like many fans online, they count on their relative anonymity and pseudonyms and the sheer volume of content on the Internet to shield them from unwanted scrutiny and TPTB.

That is however an illusion. Bloggers do have numerous tools to restrict acess to their journals (custom friends lists for example on Livejournal) along with the ability to prevent search engines like Google or the Wayback Machine from indexing their blogs. Age content warnings and notice can also help to shoo underage readers away. However, the majority of blogs remain open and accessible to even a casual stranger.

This creates a cognitive disconnect in some fans who express outrage and surprise when their blogs are linked to or quoted and listed in more public spaces. See Linking to Public Fan Sites for a more in depth discussion.

The shift to open blogging platforms caused much worry and concern in fandom in the early years. That worry was amplified when fans blogged about adult themed material or controversial topics like non-con, dub-con, underage fan fiction, BDSM fiction, slash, incest and RPS. To many, the idea that fandom could - and would - discuss these topics openly was an alien and frightening concept (see Fandom and the Internet and Slash and the Internet).

Other fans were more pragmatic, realizing that if they were going to accept the benefits of online life (easier access to fan fiction, art and vids along with other fans), they would have to become comfortable with the cost of that visibility.

From a 2002 debate on the Glass Onion mailing list about linking to fan blogs without permission:

Your LJ is not taking place inside your house. Your LJ is taking place on a billboard by the side of the interstate. The Web. Is. Public. The web *is* a stage. It was designed for sharing of resources. URL: Uniform *resource locator*. If you have one? You're on the *map*, baby! You're on the *World Wide Web*. It's not the place you write down your innermost thoughts if you want them kept private and secret..... [Arguments that LJs are intended to be low traffic websites and how it can take months or years before strangers stumble onto your blog]....makes your LJ sound like the internet equivalent of a body dumped in the bushes along the highway. It may be hard to find, but when they do find it, they aren't going to ask your permission before they call the Washington Post. A road doesn't become private just because it's relatively untraveled.[19]

Early on some fans began discussing a "blogging etiquette."

Been pondering netiquette and blogging.

Right now, there aren't any hard-and-fast rules, but as the phenomenon continues to grow, I think it becomes important for bloggers in fandom to try to lay some groundwork in this area.

The X-Files fandom is going through some growing pains on this issue, because yesterday, some links to fic writers' blogs were posted on a posting board, and those writers didn't take it kindly.

Now, it seems highly disingenuous to me to believe that anything you put out on the internet and don't password protect is private.

My feeling is that if one posts something publicly on the internet, people are going to find it, and these authors who are upset should know better. *shrug* Just because one doesn't advertise one's LJ (and I do. It's linked on my site and in my sig usually, 'cause well, my whole purpose behind the diary was to discuss writing and such publicly, and I don't really write much private stuff, so *of course* I want other people to read, and offer opinions) doesn't mean that people who know one from fandom aren't going to find it, and read it if it's available.

See, having learned fairly early on in my whole blogging career that lots of people I never expected were reading my diary *and* telling other people about it, I have no expectation of privacy. I stand by what I say, though I occasionally end up apologizing for the manner in which I say it.

Anyhow, I don't think there *is* a reasonable expectation of privacy with something that's posted on the internet and isn't password protected.

Yesterday, I found that my LJ came up on a google search, even though it's supposed to be protected from that. So anyone who thinks that someone who likes their fic *isn't* going to find their blog (if they're using the same name) strikes me as being naive, perhaps willfully so.

Having read through the thread, I don't think the people on that board had any malicious intent. They were just geeked that they could learn more about their favorite fan writers. Which I understand.

I think it'd be *nice* if they'd asked before linking, but again, I don't think it's *necessary*.[20].

From a 2005 discussion:

Let me relate a story by way of analogy. I was at the salon where I get my hair cut recently, in the waiting area with a woman who was having a cell phone conversation about a rather personal topic. At a rather significant volume. There was no way I could avoid hearing her, even had I gotten up and moved, and while I tried very hard to ignore it, at one point something was said and I was not quite able to contain the laughter that had been ringing in my head since she sat down. I received a very dirty look and an indignant, "This is a private conversation."

But, it wasn't private. Even though in her mind there was a limited audience (whomever was on the other end of the phone), it was a personal conversation taking place in a relatively public space. To make that conversation truly private, she had the responsibility to remove it from a public venue. If you don't want other people to hear your conversation, don't have it in a public space.

Livejournal is a little like that. We often engage in very limited circles of interaction with our friendslist, and it's easy to fall into the assumption that our friendslist is our only audience. But it's not. People surf other people's friendslists ... people email friends about posts they find interesting/infuriating/inflammatory, and then there's the friendsoffriends option on livejournal. What we're essentially doing is having personal conversations in a public space.

There's an underlying vibe to this whole issue that far too often comes across as "I want to share, but I don't want all of the repercussions of sharing." Yes, that's a generalization, but I don't think it's an inaccurate assessment that a chunk of this personal/private divide debate is "I want the good of sharing, but not the bad."

You can't have it both ways. Either you use the tools at your disposal to limit sharing your personal information and/or your opinions to a very select audience, or you take the risk and responsibility for what you say in a public venue, and accept the positive and negative response. [21]

Blogging and Balkanization

A frequent complaint about blogging sites such as Livejournal was that it was difficult to find and locate fellow fans and to find fan fiction. In fact the rise of the fandom newsletters on Livejournal confirms that without a useful search function or central fandom hub, fans did need help finding one another.

As of 2011, LiveJournal still has no robust search function..., and the private nature of much journal content makes users wary of such a feature. Most journal content is blocked from Web spiders, so that even Google will return little in the way of relevant results. The memories function....can be used to create an index of posts by content, but often the maintainers of communities do not use this feature or fail to keep indexing up to date. Entry tagging...., which allows users to tag stories to make them easier to find, became available in 2005. This was an improvement, but the architecture of LiveJournal continued to work against readers: they must know which journals to search, they must figure out which nonstandard, author-determined tag has been used to indicate stories, and they must hope that the stories are publicly viewable and not locked behind a privacy filter.[22]

In the intervening 7 or 8 years, fandom has mostly moved to live journal. Lj is not something different that's happening in addition to other types of fannish interactions, it's happening instead of other modes of production, publishing and interacting. There are still archives and mailing lists, but many writers only post their fic in their own journals or in lj communities dedicated to their fandom or fave pairing. Very little meta discussion is happening on discussion boards and mailing lists, and very few thinky folks bother to post their meta essays on their web sites. At least for all the fandoms I'm currently interested in, you have to read lj to get the good stuff. And there's no good way to search out this stuff on your own - many (if not most) journals don't consistently show up in google searches, because so many of us have chosen to block robots or spiders from indexing our journals. Also, lj posts of any kind are ephemeral and easy to miss - even if you have someone on your flist, if you don't see a post through your own or lj's error, it quickly disappears under a wave of new posts, and you may never realized you missed it. Readers have always relied heavily on links and recs to find good stories and thought-provoking conversation, but this is even more true on lj. Basically, if you don't want to miss interesting stuff in fandom, you have the choice of friending (and reading) all the journals that ever mention any fandom you're interested in (and also those that discuss general fandom stuff), and then sifting through the posts on topics you're not interested in to find the ones you want to read, or you can rely on some flavor of reccing and linking, whether that's an individual who posts links or a newsletter community.[23]

Others felt differently: blogging expanded their fannish worlds and brought out a lot of fandom behavior that had been hidden:

I see people talking about the proliferation of meta in fandom, and also about how uncivility seems rampant etc. and it's not like the old days or whatever, and I just... it doesn't seem any different to me.

I think what's different is the medium. The people talking about this stuff are doing it on LiveJournal, which is a multi-fandom environment where people from all sorts of fandoms are rubbing up against each other...It's not that the behaviors have changed so much - not that I can see, with my measly almost six years of online fannishness - it's that they're more visible.

Used to be, you were a Buffy fan, you stayed on atbvs/ata and whatever mailing lists catered to your particular Bverse needs. Same with XF or Homicide or comics or whatever. There were flamewars. There was meta. ...

But if you were in XF and not Buffy, or only on the fringe of Buffy, you wouldn't know. ...

Multi-fandom lists like glass_onion started the change, and with blogging, and especially Livejournal, it just swelled.

In our own LJs, no one is confined to one topic. I can jump from Buffy to West Wing to Smallville to meta to the New York football Giants and no one can smack me down for being off topic.

So all the little petty squabbles and such are now out in the open... So all that shit that people complained about privately and thought, "Oh, I bet they don't do this in Fandom X"? It's now revealed that, hell yeah, they do it in Fandom X, and Fandom Y and Z and A and B etc. and in some cases, it's a lot nastier than Fandom W, where you spend most of your time.[24]

Additional reading:

Blogging's Impact on Communal Spaces

The move to blogging has led some fans to mourn the loss of what they see as communal space. Because blogs are owned by individuals, and posting is restricted to the blog owners, the space is seen as personal. You may comment on an existing post, but you may not initiate a topic of conversation. And, because the space is seen as personal, there are limits as to what you can say. A fan in 2005 wrote:

You are in another person's space, not a shared space. So, like when you are in someone else's home, there are things you feel constrained not to do or say.[26]

Another observation, this one from 2011:

The advent of the next new medium, online journaling software, decimated mailing-list fandom. By 2001, waves of migration were bringing fandom to a new home: LiveJournal. Within LiveJournal, fans could maintain their own personal space, with as much or as little privacy for their content as they wished. Groups of fans could track each other's output by friending each other's journals; however, most authors posted their stories amid a flow of many other posts with other topics, personal or fannish or otherwise. LiveJournal communities were created to provide a space for shared activity, such as fandom-specific discussion or story posting. However, it became common practice for authors to link back to their own journals rather than mirroring their stories in the community space, making those communities little more than collections of announcements, rather than any sort of central archive.... ..And then there is the gravest blow LiveJournal has dealt to the preservation of fandom: at last, authors have full control over their own content. They can choose to hide it or delete it. They can rename their journals and break all links to their stories. They may even choose to delete their journals entirely, for privacy concerns or other reasons, as the journals often contain much private information along with the publicly published fan fic. This mixing of content compromises the longevity of every story on LiveJournal, because the needs of each type of content cannot all be met with one technology. Even fannish workarounds like newsletters, and bookmarking sites like Delicious, don't help if the stories actually have disappeared when journals are deleted or privatized, or names are changed.[22]

In fact, as predicted, many fans migrated to other social media platforms like twitter and tumblr, leaving their blogs and their fan fiction behind. Ongoing access problems to main media fandom blogging platform Livejournal in 2011 led one fan to write:

If you love us, you'll archive your fic. If all this LJ trouble has brought one thing in to sharp relief, it's that what worries me about losing access to LJ is the fic.

Selfish, I know. But seriously. We'll probably find each other on DW or Tumblr or Twitter or something, and one way or another we'll get things worked out so we can talk to each other. I'm not too worried about that. And I might miss my old posts and comments, although honestly not enough to figure out how to do a real archive of my journal. But if [ profile] spn_j2_bigbang disappeared tomorrow? I'd be like, where's that crossroads demon when you need to make a deal?

So, consider this a plea to archive your stuff somewhere other than LJ where we can find it. [27]

Blogging and the Sound of Silence

While many fan bloggers assume (and hope) that someone is reading their blogs and even commenting on their entries, not all bloggers respond to these comments. The lack of response to comments left in blogs has caused some fans to feel that the shift to the blogging platform has created a lack of community. This may be because on mailing lists, debate was driven by post and counter post even if the majority of mailing list members remained silent observers. In order for the list to be a discussion list, members *had* to comment. Smaller mailing lists often had higher participation rates. On blogs, the infinitely larger reading list made it hard for bloggers to gauge who was talking to them and whether a comment was a simple affirmation of their points or an actual attempt to start a debate.

Still, many fans felt that bloggers who failed to acknowledge comments were rude and lacked common courtesy:

What's up with people not replying to comments others make on their LJ entries? At first, I assumed it was just my comments in people's LJs that were being ignored, figuring my responses were too short, too silly, or too uninteresting. I wondered if I simply wasn't high enough on their mental hierarchy of who deserves a response ('cos I've seen that happen, too, when writers will respond selectively). Without question, some of my responses aren't fascinating, except that it's not just my messages that aren't generating interest. Lots of long, thoughtful ones by others are ignored, too.

I realize that it takes time to comment, but I also think that some kind of acknowledgment is required. I was going to qualify 'required', but I expect a response when I send an email, too, and how long does it take even to append an edited note to your original LJ post or to write a subsequent one saying, "Interesting comments. I read them all, but didn't have time to respond?" Or simply respond to them later?

Constant silence disinclines me to reply to subsequent posts. I'd much rather have a dialogue with someone than keep tossing my comments when they seem--and perhaps are--unwanted. At the very least, it doesn't encourage me to write anything very long in those people's diaries. Why take the time when I they're not going to answer? It's to the point where I'm willing to snog all the people who do take the time to respond. You know who you are, and thank you for helping to make the LJ community feel like just that: a community.

If this silence is the wave of the future, I don't like it. It encourages the notion that LJs are self-indulgent and anti-dialogue, and if that's the case, then I'm willing to switch sides and argue that mailing lists aren't just a different medium of expression, but a superior one, because list members are more likely to see the act of posting as the initial step in a dialogue, and to react accordingly.[28]

In response, another fan pointed out:

I think perhaps she expects something that is not in the nature or the structure of the blogging medium, and that she misinterprets the nature of both comments and blog community.

The fundamental element of the web is linking-- links make the web go round. Blogging, in it's purest form, is all about the links. You say something I think is interesting, I link to it in my journal, and say what I think. Somebody who reads my journal links to me with a counter-argument. Somebody else links to that other person. The conversation occurs across blogs, and it occurs because of crosslinking. The community is made out of links, and consists of those who post them.

The fundamental element of a mailing list is replies. Replies make lists go around. On a mailing list, you say something I think is interesting, I say something, somebody else says something... the community is in the replies, and it consists of those who make them.

Comments sometimes function, temporarily, like bulletin boards, but unlike bulletin boards they are not the basis of community, because comments are not made to the community, they are made to one person. They are not equally visible to all members of the community. There is never one place where everyone can go to get connected.

Community in LJ does not exist in the LJ Comments structure, because there's too little visibility and too little expansion. Instead, the comments are a one-way street and then a dead end, and the community carries on past them.

LJ comments are stuck in a netherland between lists, blogs, and bulletin boards, and although they may function a bit like one or the other at times, they let the dialogue, and thus the community, fall through the cracks between the three. To the extent that they succeed, they succeed because of the resemblences, but ultimately they fail because of fundamental differences. They're like email, except replies are disabled. They're like bulletin boards, except the community never stays in one place. They're like blogs, except the posts are invisible. They don't work as a basis for dialogue....

...Links, baby, links in blogs. That's where this dialogue will still be visible to the community, the next time I hit refresh. That's the nature, the structure, of this medium. The permanent things here are the blogs, which is where the community goes to go get connected, and the visible things are the new blog entries, not the comments on the old ones.[29]

In fact there are many reasons a blogger may not respond to a comment: lack of time, email notifications not working or turned off, not checking your blog or email, absentmindedness, the comment may not spark any thoughts or discussions, laziness, and society anxiety (especially if the person leaving the comment is unknown). Many fans felt these were merely "excuses" to avoid doing the only "courteous" and socially correct thing: respond with a "thank you for your comment."[28]

Comments also are used by some fans to measure their popularity. It is not unusual for fan writers, artists or vidders to complain about the lack of comments complimenting them on their fanworks. Some feel discouraged, wondering if anyone is actually reading and enjoying their work. Others feel under appreciated. If they are working on a WIP, they may announce a hiatus until more comments are added. Or they may lock or delete their fanworks or blogs. (See Flouncing.) Again, this quest for feedback is not exactly new or unique to blogging -- print fanzines are rife with complaints from writers and editors about the lack of LOCs.

A mailing list writer would watch with envy as a 100-word fluff piece received hundreds of response, whereas her deeply researched novella gathered only a handful. But blogging added a visible counter at the bottom of every blog post that was a constant visual reminder every time a writer or artist clicked on her entry. And it was also a signal to every potential reader as well. Some fans felt

...that a story which gathers a lot of feedback actually is better than a story that doesn't...This thought disturbs me because it forces me to reevaluate my belief in what I think is a good story of mine, and what isn't. My little Ares/Joxer story, the title of which I don't even remember, is better than Apocrypha, although I cranked out the first one in an evening and wrote Apocrypha in months...[30]

To which one fan responded:

I refuse to believe feedback is a reliable indicator of the quality of a story. Look at any given list *coughLexslashcough* and read the heaps of praise even the worst crap gets. People feedback and don't feedback for reasons that are varied and mysterious--if we could figure out the how and why, we would probably never want for feedback again.[31]

Fans warned one another: the lack of comments could - and would - drive fan creators away. Be silent at your own peril:

Everyone who has ever posted a story to the internet has a little counter, either on the site or in her head, and it tallies up the number of comments received for a particular piece. There's "Enough," for personal values of "enough," and there's "WTF? Am I chopped liver?" Writers will write, because writers do write. But if enough stories posted to a particular site land in the "chopped liver" category, writers will stop posting there, in favor of archives with better comment ratios. It's not entitlement, although for some people it might look the same. It's common sense. For example, if I regularly post to LJ,, and some nameless archive number three, and my stories regularly get "enough" hits on LJ and, and "chopped liver" on #3, it's not worth my time to format my stories for that archive. I could be spending the extra time writing more, reading what was posted while I was in writing mode, or *gasp* doing something in my real life. Gone are the days of Gossamer, when there was one big archive per fandom. The culture has changed, and posting behaviour has changed with it. So to summarize, fanfic writers are not entitled to feedback and fanfic readers are not entitled to have stories written that suit them. However, if you're not dropping a quick note to so much as say "I read this" for the stories you enjoy, don't be surprised if people don't post more things you want to read where you can easily find them.[32]

Ironically, the lack of response from authors on the comments and feedback they received created stress and anxiety in some members of the blogging community:

As a reader, I've noticed that not every writer feels a need to respond to their comments. Often, it seems that the 'bigger' the name in fandom, the more likely it is that they don't answer.[33]


This is one of my HUGE pet peeves. I can't stand it when authors don't reply to feedback. It takes two seconds to say thank you and it means a lot. And if I know an author doesn't tend to reply to feedback, I'll be less inclined to give it. Maybe it's because I'm Canadian, I don't know, but good manners are important to me.[34]

Additional reading:

Blogging's Impact On Fandom History

Because blogs are meant to be read in real time (the most recent posts are at the top of the journal or the friends reading list), there is a sense that online interaction is like a vast river that carries people and fanfic past your fixed position at a rapid pace. On mailing lists this is also true, but most lists have a centralized search function that allows readers to catch up on previous discussions. Fanfic websites or archives are more static; even as new content is added, the old content (usually) remains visible and easily accessible. And while the blog reader can read backwards, the pace of the new entries can overwhelm the reader.

It is because of this that many fans feel that blogging has turned fannish interactions and fandom history into ephemera:

I got to thinking about that big secret fandom wishes post that most of the HP fandom piled onto last week. My wish, if I had posted in that thread, would have been for fandom's memory to improve. In a macro-fannish sense, for example, I'd recently bitched about the re-discussion of RPF and wondered why people couldn't just look at the old discussions. And then on a more personal note, I've always wanted people to remember my stories, or put it together that I used to write in X fandom or that I'd written Y story just a month before Z story. Or that I wrote certain big meta posts, etc. I've been here for years, but I'm constantly feeling like I get lost in the cracks of fandom's memory.

But then it occurred to me today, watching that meme disperse through LJ like dye in the water supply, that you really just need a certain amount of zen to deal with fandom. ... If you're in fandom, you have to recognize that, for the most part, you're just here to contribute something brief and fleeting to a great big unstructured, constantly moving mess. People are going to take what they want and go on with their fannish lives, and good luck to you if you're expecting long-lasting notoriety for it....

As it is now, fandom is totally consumer-focused. Fandom is totally today-focused, fandom has no sense of history, fandom is all about what entertains us NOW. I disagree that BNFdom is something you can achieve by following any sort of how-to guide. BNFdom occurs in spite of fandom, which is all about giving people their fifteen minutes of fame and no more. Fandom takes what looks shiny, goes skipping down the stream with it, and is gone before you're done erecting your sign saying, "I was here." Unless your supply of the shiny is constant, or your occasional shiny thing is brighter than most, you won't be remembered.

I'm not sure I'm saying, mind, that fandom should change. I think it's impossible, anyway -- fandom is an entire subculture with its own shape and patterns, and we can only deal with the infrastructure we have in place. The LJ friendslist simply moves too fast for the majority of us, and there's too much of too many people posting important things for any one person to still be important tomorrow. That secret fandom wishes meme was sadder than hell -- sad because the majority of fans, and I of course include myself in this, are so focused on receiving their dues (recognition, admiration, whatever) that we forget just how much everyone else is busy giving.[36]

[Most] people are more likely not to comment...on something that is more than a week old...The corollary to this is when people wonder why, when the same subjects regularly come around again as they always do, no one bothers to read what I wrote about that topic six months ago. It seems fairly evident that it's because of the immediacy of livejournal, where something that happened last week is not particularly worth noting anymore, and something that happened six months ago (on livejournal as a closed community) is ancient history..... This implies that the rapidity of livejournal conversations is not just a function of livejournal, but also a feature: if we don't respond now, we won't ever respond. This might explain why the comment notification thing sucks and has caused such a raucous response: if we don't know right now about a comment, then the comment might as well not exist, because after too long, it doesn't matter any more. And given the community nature of livejournal, no comments means no conversation, and no conversation means no community."[37]

And of course, the ease by which Livejournal fans could change their names or delete their blogs only fuels this sense of historical disconnect:

Several people on my friends list have changed their LJ user names recently. It's always disconcerting for me. Unless it's someone I know really well, it's hard to remember what the old name was when I see the new name and so I have this moment of "Who the hell are you?".

I realise that people sometimes change their usernames because of privacy concerns. But people change for other reasons too, usually because they seem to like the new name better.

When someone I know changes their username, my perception of them changes a little too, not because of the change itself, but because of the new name ...

I'm curious as to why people change their usernames (aside from privacy). I've always used Halrloprillalar in fandom... My name is my brand, which I have worked long (long!) and hard to build up. If I changed my LJ username, even if I kept using Halrloprillalar as my pseud, I would lose some benefits of any reputation or recognition I've gained on LJ. And I think I would feel like a different person, even to myself, in the fannish context.[38]

Apart from the loss of fanworks, the ability of a blogger to delete their journal or posts can lead to intentional erasure of public debate:

And now I’ll go on to the negative side of deleting your works. Perhaps the most obvious and simple would be that you break the links of people who might have bookmarked your fic to re-visit later on. How many communities on LJ are dedicated to finding the fics we’ve lost over the years? And how many posts do we read where it starts, “The author has deleted their story, the link’s broken, and I really want to read this fic. It’s driving me nuts!” And yes, often times there is a live link out there somewhere, but it is annoying to have to go digging for it. And now on to a more serious issue, and that would be public accountability. When someone posts something without thinking, maybe something inflammatory that lights a fire under the fandom and all of a sudden we’re starting a RaceFail, or ending up on Fandom Wank. The people that start these discussions, usually they don’t intentionally do it, it just kind of snowballs out of control. And when that individual realizes that all of a sudden there are a lot of angry eyes pointed in their direction, they go back and try to delete what they wrote all sneaky-like. Thank god we usually get screenshots for stuff like this, but what if some dedicated fan wasn’t good enough to do that? We would have only word of mouth to rely on from the people that actually got to read this inflammatory post.[39]

Additional reading:

  • Party like it's 1993, Y'all by Speranza, dated February 9, 2010 - an example of a post comparing a printed program guide from 1993 to current fandom topics, something that might be difficult 10 years from now due to the temporary nature of blogging[40]

Blogging Levels The Fandom Playing Field

Blogging is by definition a solitary exercise - at least in the beginning. Personal blogs have no moderator and no third party FAQ or rules that the blogger must follow in order to participate. The blogger is able to speak directly to the fan community on an equal level with all other bloggers. And unlike mailing lists and moderated forums, the personal blog is not subject to being shut down or removed from the fan community. Blogging is also much different from the fandom in the pre-Internet days where fans could only communicate via newsletters and letterzines, which left them open to editing and possible censorship.

I think the blog/LJ culture - which is more predominant in other fandoms ("Smallville" being the first to come to mind) - has taken down some of those barriers. You can find an author you like, read her blog, find out what she thinks, and either agree or disagree with her statements. It might put pressure on new writers to fall into line behind certain writers in order to get the praise and recs, or it might make a fandom more attractive, etc. At any rate, the blog/LJ culture has allowed readers and writers to communicate more instantaneously and more honestly, more directly with each other - which depending on POV, could be a really good thing or a really bad thing.[41]

Others feel that blogging is more in tune with how women interact with one another:

What all this leads to is the supposition that livejournal supports and creates a much more community-oriented blogging experience than other blogging systems. Connected to this supposition is the notion that livejournal might perhaps be more friendly to women's methods of interaction, which are generally more conversational, cooperative, consociational, and interested in compromise rather than in being right.[42]

Still others feel that the structure of Livejournal creates a more hierarchical interaction:

LJ privileges the original post above the replies. In every design I've seen, the post occupies the main portion of the screen, right at the top, and the replies are below it in their own section. They are, simply by their location on the screen, less important.

In contrast, mailing lists, newsgroups, and discussion boards (for the most part) treat the original post visually the same as the follow-ups, putting it first but not styling it significantly differently.

I think this affects discussion. The privilege of the LJ post, along with the fact that this is a specific person's personal space, means that criticism of the subject matter is more likely to be interpreted as criticism of the journal owner, even if that interpretation is made subconsciously. If you do not agree with the poster, on LJ there is a greater feeling that you should just not read their journal. Again, this might only be a subtle pressure, not explicitly expressed.[26]

Blogging (And Reading) Selectively

One aspect of the fandom shift to blogging was that it enabled both the blogger and reader to be selective about what information they were exposed to. For example, with Livejournal you could set up a "Friends List" (aka reading list) of blogs you wanted to read on a regular basis. If you were only interested in one fandom, you might only "friend" fans who were actively blogging about your favorite TV show. If you were into multiple fandoms, you could have a smorgasboard of content on your reading list.

Likewise, you could filter out different or unwanted opinions. If, for example, one fan consistently posted negative comments about your favorite TV character or pairing, you could silence them by removing them from your friends list. On mailing lists and forums, readers were, by necessity, exposed to a wide range of opinions. The ability to customize your reading list had the result of both tempering and inflaming ongoing flame wars or wanking. Tempering in that fans could simply avoid content that might irritate by removing the blogger from their friends list. And inflaming, in that when some fans did encounter topics they did not agree with, they would have little experience with debating and little patience for such debates. In a blogging world where reality could be customized to match your own personal world view, stepping outside that reality could often result in culture shock. This was not necessarily limited to fandom, but was part of a worldwide social shift that many social media platforms reinforced by offering a customized and personal surfing experience. But because the blogging platforms that fandom used (Livejournal, Journalfen, Insanejournal and later Dreamwidth) contained numerous content filtering tools, the cultural shift was often overlooked in fandom circles. [43]

But not unnoticed by everyone:

One thing that I've noticed in my time online is that the ability to create smaller and more like-minded groups has become easier. Especially with places such as LiveJournal. It creates a place where it is entirely possible to not have any dissenting opinions because there are so many communities to choose from. Whereas before, on mailing lists and newsgroups, there wasn't as big a selection and it wasn't as easy to just not read/listen to people you didn't like. They were there and you had to deal with them. Now it's find the group that thinks like you do and you can always just ban people. It creates a diffrent atmosphere.[44]

It seems to me that the structure of livejournal encourages cliques. You read things that are written by a small subset of people (your flist), and what you write is read by a small subset of people (your foflist). There's no one gathering place, just overlapping circles of acquaintance and readership. Communities serve as cross-pollination grounds, but they too are overlapping circles rather than nodes.[45]

.... I started wondering about whether LJ has made fandom larger or smaller. I said "larger" intially, but then I realized that it's a matter of what perspective you're using. When I say LJ fandom is "larger", I mean that it makes it easy for each individual to expand their fannish perspective. In other words, it's so much easier to be multifannish in the LJ era. Five years ago, if you wanted to participate in three different fandoms, you had to subscribe to different mailing lists - multiple mailing lists for each fandom, in many cases - which meant interacting with different people for each fandom. Sometimes you ran across the same people in different fandoms, but for a long time, people tended to be faithful to one fandom at a time. Nowadays, knowledge about other fandoms is just a click away. Communities like crack_van and ship_manifesto, to name just a couple, allow you to catch up on something you've never experienced relatively easily. You might read a fic that appears on your mailing list simply because it's written by someone you know - and, thus, find a new fandom. That was much harder to do in mailing list culture. But, I can see where LJ has made fandom smaller, too. It seems like the same people participate in every fandom - like there's a smaller pool of people. Is this actually true? I don't know - actually, I think I'll argue that it's not true, if you look deeper. I think that LJ has made fandom more ... "elitist" is a trigger word. "Discerning" would be the positive spin, but I don't think I want to use that, either. The thing is, back in mailing list culture, you couldn't get away from the newbies - the ones who couldn't find the shift key, the ones who couldn't spell, the ones who came blazing in insisting that their idea/pet theory/ship was utterly correct, who didn't follow nettiquette or list rules in their intial assault. On LJ, you can choose not to friend them, or not join the communities they belong to. You can follow your friends around, join the communities they recommend, stay within a safe boundary of people. Is this a good thing or not?[46]

Not all fans felt that blogging narrowed their field of view. In fact, many felt it opened them up to a wider and more diverse fannish experience:

On another topic, Jenn wrote: "It's like the most unusual society in existence. It's the six degress of separation phenomenon. I mean it. I've been tracing my direct links by six in any direction just for the fuck of it and can more or less end up at most any fanficsters livejournal/blog on the net that I recognize (helps that most people have ALOT more direct links than I have). I've been running across people I haven't talked to since my earliest days in Voyager, almost three years ago. It's weird--cool, but weird."

One of the things I love about diaries and LJs and such is that I've met people I would never, ever, ever have come into contact with, since we share no fandom and would never have been on a list together etc. And yet, we have some interests in common, or we share a philosophy about writing, or we both think Alan Rickman is the shit.

I've found that this diary is linked to people I didn't even think knew I existed, which geeks me. I mean, it just *blows my mind* that people are actually interested in what I might have to say, enough that they want to publicly acknowledge my existence.

And it blows my mind that there are people reading this who don't know me, who don't know what fanfic is, and who maybe are getting exposed to a whole new side of the internet, through my links to all the wonderful people out there that I've met through ficdom and fandom in general.[47]

... For while I went though a social phase where I wanted to be selective in my social contacts. It took me some time to realize that selectiveness and exclusivity were not as much fun or rewarding as I had thought. By setting my circle of friends so narrowly, I was losing out on all the fascinating, annoying, fun, silly, witty, shallow, and thoughtful people out there. It was as if I was saying: "Why would I want to associate with *you*? What could I possibly learn from *you*?" If you have to ask that question, well you've already answered it (or to paraphrase one of my favorite shows "The truth points to itself.) So yeah, not only are we the center of our universes, but we - like the Catholic Church - tend to ignore the Galileos in our midst. You now, those Galileos, the annoying ones who are constantly shouting: "OMG THERE IS A BIG HUGE SUN OUT HERE AND WE ARE REVOLVING AROUND IT. LET'S GET NAKED AND DANCE!"[48]

Additional reading:

Blogging As False Intimacy

Some fans felt that because fan bloggers tended to write about their personal lives alongside their fannish life, this created a false intimacy at best and familiar contempt at worst:

I remember back in the olden days I had a LiveJournal. It was online, but my friends were reading it. It was some form of sharing thoughts with people we were seeing everyday in person. Strange now that I look back it all that angst from the twenties that I was trying to process like everyone else. Even though I knew the people, it still feels like false intimacy to share in an "online" journal. In fact I probably over shared which will come back to haunt me as I am sure nothing disappears from the internet. My online network now is Twitter friends, Facebook groups, and community of commenters. Yet, I still feel closer to them than the people who read my LiveJournal.[52]


But at any rate, I read some blogs and I think, "Wow, this person is really cool and I like their take on such and such character." Or I'll read a ficlet and it'll be like, "More? Please?" (hint to Sara ::g::). At the same time, forgive me, there are blogs I hit once and I back away slowly, a victim of TMI. And I know that no matter how wonderful a writer is, I now have this forever TMI image in my head that will never, ever go away and I rarely go back because I'm honestly too scared.[41]


One of the biggest social side effects of the information age is false intimacy. Blogging makes this twice as pernicious, and most people are so concerned with egalitarianism and being liked that they welcome the false sense of connectedness..... I detest the term "friends list" for the same reasons. It's so grossly misleading. I would not ever assume that just because you find my journal interesting enough to read that you are my "friend". Please extend me the same courtesy and I think there will be a lot fewer hurt feelings. Choosing to read or not read, or stop reading, someone's LJ does have some value-judgement attached to it. That is the sucky side of this whole public-consumption-of-private-thoughts business. There's no way around it.[53]

Others disagree, pointing out that blogging allows you to get a rounder picture of members of the fan community:

Before blogs, there were writers - BNFs and everyone else - and you rarely communicated with each other. Maybe you got to rub shoulders with some of them on mailing lists, but there was always that clique of writers who maintained just enough distance to make you completely in awe of them. Or maybe you were a member of the clique and you created the distance. Whatever. But the point is, we didn't really get to know each other that well before blogs and LJs.[41]

However, I *do* think that it's not a bad thing that fic writers, and BNFs in particular, are demystified.

It's not even about the clique thing. It's about realizing that second or third tier writers can learn from those who write better than we do.

It's about finding other people who think or feel the same way about fanfic that we do, because I think most bloggers in fandom are not of the "it's just fanfic, so I don't have to spellcheck" variety. They're people who think about writing and reading and other interesting stuff that spills over into their writing and reading.

It's about learning how other people process character information, and possibly seeing *why* they write the characters the way they do....

And I think blogging encourages discussion of fic in a way that most lists don't.[54]

I get you totally on the TMI issue, but I guess I just have a capacity for skimming it out if there's someone I'm interested in reading on fannish topics. My dislike of cat stories and such is already well-documented. *G* I tend not to read the more personal entries. There are probably a number of people on my friends list who post mainly personal stuff, but then they hit something fannish that rings true, so I don't unfriend them. And some of them are people I *do* want to keep a more personal eye on, because they're friends outside of fandom or something.[54]

Blogging As A Game of Peek-a-boo

Because many blogging platforms allowed the blogger to create custom access filters, readers could often find posts that they were reading one day, locked and hidden from their view the next. Conversely, custom "friends" groups could be created that would afford everyone but a few readers access to a specific post, effectively shutting out members of the blogger's community. Many argued that this had the effect of turning fannish discourse into a game of peek-a-boo and sometimes undercut the sense of community. It also normalized taking discourse out the of the public realm on a routine basis. Posts to forums and mailing lists were rarely recalled and words, once spoken, could not be erased from the public debate. Blogging changed this dynamic.

Personally I don't appreciate it when people friends-lock posts that were first public, especially not when a discussion already started. I think there are much better ways to stop a discussion in the own LJ if one doesn't want to deal with it in the own space anymore, or it got out of hand, or whatever. Like asking people to end the discussion, or if that doesn't work set the journal to screening comments for a while (since afaik comments already made will become invisible when the comments option is turned off later, so that's not a good option) until things die down.

Basically I think the authors should have made up their minds on whether they want to discuss with everybody or only with people they know before posting something. I mean, I'm not going to be extremely disgruntled if an author changes her mind once and switches an entry from public to friends-locked, though as I said I think there are better ways to moderate discussion, and the cat is out of bag already so friends-locking it aftwards is only inconvenient for those people not quick enough, who then have to rely on hearsay for the contents of the post. Which usually doesn't improve discussion. What really aggravates me though is flip-flopping a post's status like it happened with that recent controversial RPF post. That is extremely silly and annoying. I mean I read the entry and some of the comments in one of its public "phases" and when I wanted to take another look at the discussion it was locked, then public, now obviously locked again...

I don't have much experience with "friends-lock" etiquette, because I lock very few posts (in my LJ), after all for the most part my LJ entries are just conveniently crossposted from my blog, but I each time I have a reason that's inherent in the post's content (and makes some semblance of sense at least to me). Seriously, I don't get why one would change the status of a post in such a whimsical and rapid fashion.[55]

Blogging As If You Were In Junior High

One of the features of Livejournal is that it enables you to create "custom friends groups" that can be used to limit access to posts considered too personal or not suitable for general public discussion. Livejournal also implemented a feature that announces to a user if they've been "friended" or "unfriended."[note 1] Yet the majority of people encountering one another on LJ are not friends in the traditional sense -- they rarely meet in person, and most have little or no online interaction with one another (at least at the start). You friend someone who looks interesting and they in turn will friend you back.

However, the problem is that the word "friend" has a different meaning in real life. The act of unfriending someone takes on a greater negative social connotation than say unsubscribing to someone's journal or mailing list. It for that reason that when Dreamwidth, an alternative blogging service, was set up they consciously avoided the phrase "friends list" and focused instead on "Reading Circle."

Some people who dislike livejournal's "friends list" terminology have started referring to it as a "reading list," and while I like that idea, I'm not going to do it myself. For one thing, I think it's probably fighting a losing battle to get livejournal to change the name, but mainly it's because I don't really treat my friends list as purely a reading list, and don't feel I really can until The Powers That Be divorce the two pieces of functionality of the friends list into "those whose journals you want to read" and "those people who you want to give access to your protected entries" (the fact that dreamwidth has already done this is the main reason why I prefer dreamwidth over livejournal). I am, however, going to start trying to pick up the habit of referring to "friending" and "unfriending" journals rather than people, simply because I think it's more accurate.[56]

Some fans find that being able to establish a friends list is an advantage as it makes it easier to find, sort and keep track of desired content. For example, in a 2003 essay on why she preferred Livejournal over Diaryland, one fan wrote:

I use my LJ more and more and this diary less and less.

And I think it can be broken down into three things: comments, friends list, icons.

Having the comments right *there* and having them threaded, and getting *notified* of responses - even from other people's journals - *that's* key. That makes LJ more like Usenet, and I will freely admit that I miss Usenet. I cut my teeth in fandom on Usenet, even though it was allegedly "in decline" and in its latter days, and I have a fondness for it that I've never had for mailing lists. I think it's the untrammelled, unmoderated part of Usenet that I liked, which is similar to LJ - I make my own LJ experience, I have control, much like I had control of my Usenet experience - I could filter people out, I could highlight people I wanted to read, I could mark whole long threads 'read' or 'ignore,' whereas with a mailing list, when you're getting the mail, it's pretty much not threaded (don't even talk to me about the hassle of the Yahoo Groups archive site) and god only knows how much email comes to your inbox that's completely inane OT chatter or stuff you're (meaning I'm) not interested in at all. And yes, that's fine if you're on two lists, but when, like me at the height of my mailing list membership, are subbed to 30-40 lists, and you're getting mail for most of 'em, well, you can see why having control is such a big deal for me. I am *such* a control freak about everything (not a neat freak - I don't care if stuff is not put away, as long as I can *find* it - if I know where it is, I'll look for it in that place even after I've cleaned up and put it away, which can be terribly annoying).

Then there's the friends list, which means no more blog-hopping, or, in my case, a lot less blog-hopping, since there are still numerous people I read whom I have not friended, or who aren't on LJ, but for the most part, it's easier to have them all there in one place, filterable if necessary, scrollable, etc.

And lastly, and seemingly least importantly but oh so aesthetically pleasing *and* addictive... icons.[57]

The issue of when to lock a post is also often a topic of much discussion:

I didn't really realize that I might want to friends-only some of my posts, though I've been doing that more often than usual lately. Many of my LJ entries are intended for public consumption as their primary target audience. Others are intended for friends, both fandom and otherwise, but it's OK if the public sees them. Other entries are really intended for the people I've designated as "friends" on LJ, and for those I use LJ's friends-only feature, but I'm not really sure how restrictive that is, so I never put up personal information that could let some loony stalker find me, for instance.....[58]

Then there is the issue of when to "friend" someone back:

You know, sometimes someone puts me on their flist, and I think, gotta-check-that-person-out. They've added me for a reason, we must have something in common, so I should stop by to see what's doing over in their place. But time goes by, things are busy, and the checking out gets put on hold. The person comments once or twice over here, or never comments at all. I assume they're skipping me, or reading only occasionally, or aren't planning on commenting. Then the person takes me off of their flist, I wander over to figure out why, and I think...well, damn. That person seemed very interesting.... Now here's the catch-22 of being friended and friending in return. It seems like lots of people don't feel so comfortable commenting in my/your/anyone's LJ unless they've already been friended back. But if they don't comment, I tend to assume they're not so interested, or are skipping me, or are filtering me out, or just aren't really interested in interactive LJ contact -- not at all fair to people who generally lurk and such, but there we are. In short, I tend to want to see at least a bit of interaction, since they came over here to play in the first place, and that interaction, in the form of comments, is what usually piques my interest to go check them out in turn if I hadn't any knowledge of them beforehand. And for me, interaction is a key to the friends list -- I want to list people and read people whose entries I'll comment upon, and who will comment upon my entries at least some of the time. I want to know the people I add back, and I can't really know them, or assume they have a similar interest in knowing me, unless there are some comments.[59]

Expectations also can vary, making communication fraught with tension:

To stir the pot further, friends lists seem to mean different things to different people, or perhaps even to different groups of people. This can lead to a clash in expectations when folks from these different groups intersect. I know of people who use their livejournals as actual private journals, people who use them to spew their thoughts with no interest at all in who's reading, people who use them to interact with faraway partners and friends, people who use them to interact with people with a particular common interest, and people who use them to meet new people. There seems to be some connection between how different people use their livejournals and what sorts of expectations they have for friends lists.[60]

And interactions can get quite complex and confusing. Here is one fan's "friending" policy that has many twists and turns:

If you friend me, I will friend you back. That wasn't always my policy, but when I wrote the Joss/Tim and made it friends-only I decided I should make sure everyone who came here for the fic could read it.

I reserve the right to change this policy if it starts to drive me batshit crazy or my LJ times drops.

I will unfriend you if you a) post too much for me to keep up with or b) post stuff that I find hard to read, either emotionally or literally. Examples include lots about diet and weight loss, lots of netspellings and obtrusive nonstandard grammar, or moodswings taking the form of anger at the reader.

Anyone unfriended or never friended in the first place is still more than welcome to read here and comment. In the unlikely event that that is ever not the case, I will either ban you or tell you privately.

Anyone is also welcome to friend me, you don't have to ask. Anyone is welcome to unfriend me at any time, which is why I never declared a formal amnesty day.

If you unfriend me and I can't exactly recall who you are but friended you because you friended me in the first place, I will unfriend you too because damn this list is hard enough to keep up with. If I notice, and think of it. If you unfriend me but I'm actively enjoying reading your journal I will keep right on reading it.

I will get mildly paranoid about why you unfriended me, especially if we've actually interacted, but I will also get over it.

I don't get offended if you don't friend me back. I don't get offended if you don't comment, or reply to my comments. I couldn't really keep track of the latter anyway.[61]

The end result is a community that experiences heightened emotional drama.....:

What boggled me lately is that some people on LJ who have been using it longer than me (and who are also younger, college-age) actually are hurt if you friend them and then de-friend them without explanation, even if you've very seldom if ever commented in their LJs or them in yours, and have never sent personal email to each other. And many LJers apparently expect that every comment to an entry should get a reply. This is not how I use LJ, and I've posted a few times in mine what I expect and what my readers can expect in this regard. Unmet expectations can be hurtful.[62]

The other person I defriended was just a needy sucking emotional black hole and gigantic drama llama, and to be honest the only reason why I kept her on my flist as long as I did was because I had seen what happened when other people defriended her: huge hissy-fits including public posting of private emails from the ex-friend, and a lot of badmouthing of the ex-friend to mutual friends in the shared fandom. I didn't want that to happen to me, but eventually I reached a point where I felt like not having to deal with her shit anymore would be worth it.[63]

....and a touch of sadness:

LiveJournal’s odd. You never get to just quietly drift away from a LiveJournal relationship, or near-miss at a relationship, and let it die naturally. There’s that defining moment, however small, in which you choose to defriend someone or are defriended. I hate that. My LJ friends list includes a dead person. We weren’t close, but still I cannot bring myself to drop her username from the list and tidy her away. If we have a pandemic flu, my friends list might include about five more dead people, if the statistics from 1918 Chicago are anything to go by. (Maybe I’ll be one.) And as time goes on, and the people we love are picked off by one thing or another, our friends lists and blogrolls will look more and more like memorials to the dead.[64]

Meta/Further Reading


  1. ^ The Urban Dictionary offers the following definition for 'unfriend': "The act of removing someone from your LiveJournal 'Friends List'." A more expanded definition is offered for the word 'defriend': "To remove someone from your Livejournal, MySpace, Facebook, or other social networking site. Doing this is often seen as a passive-aggressive move, telling the person without telling them that you no longer want to be friends. It's also commonly a response to drama. Defriending someone often causes more drama. There are sometimes valid reasons for doing this." See Urban Dictionary Unfriend; Urban Dictionary Defriend.


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