Susannah Milner, a 32-year-old editor for a pharmaceutical company in Connecticut, has some thoughts she would like to share with you. Like what she thinks about the book she's reading now, commentary on the music she's listening to, some of her favorite recipes, and the fact that she really, really, enjoys raspberries. To enable her to share all of this information with friends, family and the general public she created an online journal three years ago called Raspberry World, www.raspberryworld.com.
Milner, who taught her-self HTML computer code and had been going through the laborious task of hand-coding journal entries for her Web site, discovered a new tool last year that enabled her to update her site much more frequently: free software provided by Blogger.com. Its ease-of-use gave her the freedom she needed to focus on the more creative aspects of online journaling.
Since 1999, "Web logging," affectionately known among Web surfers as "blogging," has been a trend that puts a fresh spin on traditional online journaling, offering more options than ever before to those already maintaining a journal on the Internet. Thanks to the development of free software providers, such as Blogger.com, Pitas.com, Xanga.com, LiveJournal.com and Groksoup.com, anyone with access to a computer and an Internet browser can have the freedom of expression inherent in keeping a Web log—all without the extensive computer expertise such an undertaking had previously required.
If your journaling preferences lean more to tapping on a keyboard than putting ink to paper, and if you like an audience for your writing, creating your own blog may be a worthwhile consideration. Generally looser in content and more frequently updated than an online journal, the blog holds "what's going on now" appeal to the personal journalist.
The Blog Versus The Journal
Milner's Raspberry World Web log is a memoir, so to speak, of her daily goings-on, but her site also includes an intermittently updated personal journal. "Journal entries tend to be longer and more polished than Web log entries," Milner says. "There's also a difference in the tone and my relationship to the audience in the Web log and journal. The journal is more reflective, and seems more like something I write for myself and then share with others. The Web log is more immediate and has a much stronger sense of being written for an audience."
Several times a week, Milner updates the front page of her Web site with random thoughts about whatever happens to be on her mind that day. It may be a trip to a museum with commentary and a link to the museum's site; a mini-review of the movie she saw that weekend with a link to the movie trailer; or perhaps an update on the latest project in her circa-1765 farmhouse.
Milner found that the Web log, updated several times a week, brought readers back to her Web site. She has a regular readership composed of friends and family, people she's met online, and people who "stumble across the page, like it and keep coming back."
A reading audience has proven to be a real incentive to her journaling. "I've kept journals since I was a child, but very intermittently. I tend to lose interest after a while, and I rarely manage to fill up a notebook. Having a regular audience and getting feedback from time to time has made me more interested in continuing my journal online."
Maintaining a Web log does not deter from more personal musings. Blood continues to keep a traditional journal for herself. The Web log is for the outside world. "Blogging is about talking to other people," she says. "Some bloggers simply like to have an audience for their thoughts."
Not only did keeping her Web log help Blood develop the discipline she needed to write on a more regular basis, it also offered the additional gift of self-discovery.
Blood writes in her essay: "I thought I knew what I was interested in, but after linking stories for a few months I could see that I was much more interested in science, archaeology and issues of injustice than I had realized. More importantly, I began to value more highly my own point of view. In composing my link text every day I carefully considered my own opinions and ideas, and I began to feel that my perspective was unique and important."
The public forum inherent in this type of journaling holds high appeal to many personal journalists, including Blood. "The blogger, by virtue of simply writing down whatever is on his mind, will be confronted with his own thoughts and opinions. Blogging every day, he will become a more confident writer. A community of 100 or 20 or three people may spring up around the public record of his thoughts," she writes.
The widespread appeal of this new forum for self-expression is adding new options to the personal journalist. In just two years since its inception, Blogger.com has over 100,000 registered users, and it is but one of the pioneers on this new frontier of online journaling.
On her "Who I Am" page, Susannah Milner describes the powerful attraction of Web journaling: "The Web offered a creative outlet unlike paper journals or anything else, and that's still what keeps me interested. I love having the freedom to address any topic that interests me, through both writing and design, and all for an audience, too."
This article appeared in the December 2001 issue of Personal Journaling.