I kind of miss having something like a LiveJournal.
If you missed its heyday about twenty years ago, LiveJournal was a private blogging community that led to much of what we know as social media. You could follow your friends, and they could follow you back if they wanted; your posts could be shared with the whole world, just with your friends, or with a subset. Every post could host thriving, threaded discussions. You could theme your journal extensively, making it your own. And while you could post photos and other media, it was unapologetically optimized for long-form text. The fact that the whole codebase was also open sourced, paving the way for Dreamwidth and other downstream communities, didn’t hurt at all. Brad Fitzpatrick, its founder, went on to build a stunning number of important web building blocks.
There’s no other service I’ve found that allows you to write in long-form in a private space that you share with your friends. Instagram might be the closest in some ways: it’s turned into a more interesting, introspective social network than most. But I’m better with words than with pictures, and I miss that quiet, shared reflection.
Public social networks force us to use a different facet of our identities. In a private space with your friends, nobody really cares about your job, and nobody’s hustling to promote whatever it is they’re working on. Twitter nudged social networking into becoming a space for marketing and brands, which is a ball the new Twitter-a-likes have picked up and carried. Much like the characters from The Breakfast Club, each of the new Twitters has its own stereotypical niche: the nerds, the brands, the rich people, the journalists. But they all feel a little bit like people are trying to sell ideas to you all of the time.
Like many people on social media, I’m constantly sharing links to things I’m worried about, or things I’ve written, or things I’m working on. The underlying numbers are important. Is what I’m writing resonating with people? Are people subscribing? There’s an underlying neurosis to it that isn’t very healthy — and it’s this neurosis that also leads to blogging FOMO, where you feel like you have to keep pushing out content otherwise you’ll lose people. I know that influencers (the modern internet’s far better-looking answer to bloggers) also feel this acutely.
Not everything has to be about building a brand or a following. It can just be about reflecting, or sharing something with your friends. Private spaces allow us to be weird, unvarnished, and vulnerable in a way that’s harder for most people if they think the world could be watching. On the public web, everyone is their own little media publisher. In private, we’re just us. The former creates an enforced distance — almost a mask — between writer and reader. The latter is intimacy.
How can we reclaim some of that humanity from our social spaces? Should that even be a goal? I can’t decide, but I do know I miss it. I think what that really means is that I miss when the web felt like it was about making a genuine, reflective connection with other people — and it most often doesn’t anymore.