A not-so-secret online diary

Every teenage girl’s nightmare is having someone else read her diary. But a new generation of college students is asking people to do just that.

After making its mark on the political scene, the blog – slang for “Web log,” or online journal – is catching on at college campuses. Through free hosting sites such as LiveJournal.com, Xanga.com and Google’s Blogger.com, a growing number of students are using the Internet to make random observations, comment on political issues or just release their frustrations.

“It’s a way to vent or express extreme joy over little things that nobody else would understand,” said freshman Raquel Maya, who keeps a running diary on LiveJournal. “Usually my friends are pretty entertained by what I have to say, and sometimes I’ll maybe post something more substantial that someone else might be able to connect to.”

“I think it’s a little more convenient than a paper journal,” sophomore Monica Lee said. “You can update it from anywhere, and if you know someone else who has one it’s a way to connect to people… It’s also a way to vent.”

Blogs have existed in some form or another since the Internet was invented and have grown in popularity as an outlet for everything from freelance writers to a teaching companion for college professors. Sites allowing nearly anyone to make a blog began popping up about five years ago, launching blogs into the mainstream.

Like thefacebook.com, users can use the sites’ search features to find other members who share the same interests as them and create blogging communities where they can exchange messages with one another directly. These virtual neighborhoods are making their way onto the college social scene, allowing students to browse blogs from others at their own school.

Several communities catering to a GW niche have sprouted up hosting hundreds of students. A LiveJournal group dubbed The GW Files and its sister community on Xanga each boast more than 250 members. Smaller communities exist for the freshman class, the GW theatre scene, D.C. colleges and several student organizations such as the Asian Student Alliance and Pi Delta Psi.

“I think college students are an intrinsic constituency (of ours),” said Jesse Proulx, press relations manager for LiveJournal, in an interview conducted, appropriately, by e-mail. “LiveJournal communities were designed to foster communication in a centralized area for a specific topic, so it makes sense that relevant information for and about a specific college would spread in such a community.”

Sophomore Charlotte Blutstein said that in addition to keeping her own blog, she avidly reads her friends’ journals to find out things they don’t want to articulate in person.

“I have a few friends who are kind of shy and introverted, and sometimes it’s easier for them to write in a journal what they can’t express in conversation,” said Blutstein, who keeps a blog on LiveJournal.

Others use blogs as a way to keep in touch with friends they don’t talk to as often or that are temporarily out of touch. Cassie Carlson, a junior studying abroad in Paris, started a blog as a way to let her friends at GW know what she was up to while overseas.

“Personally I’m just way too forgetful to keep a real journal, and I always regretted that,” Carlson wrote in an e-mail. “At least with my (blog) I can update when I get online, and it hardly takes any longer than sending an e-mail.”

Yet as more and more students use blogs to express themselves, they are also extending an invitation for voyeurism. Though LiveJournal and Xanga, the two most popular sites, let users limit who may access their journals, many blogs are accessible to anyone with a search engine, leaving the door open for anyone to read them.

Junior Cheryl Chun began a blog on the site InsaneJournal.com two years ago to post her personal thoughts, but stopped using it last semester when she got unwanted feedback from people she had never told about her journal.

“Originally when I started it I only told a few people about it, but then some people I never told went looking for it,” Chun said. “It caused a lot more drama than I wanted, so at that point I just decided to stop posting.”

Several students said they are aware that strangers might read their journals and take steps to protect their anonymity, such as not using specific names and posting secondary contact information.

“I know that other people will be reading these journals, and while it usually won’t be someone other than my group of friends, I am cautious, because it will be out there on the Internet for anyone to see,” Blutstein said.

A number of students said they keep their journals mainly as a hobby and are uncertain how long they’ll maintain interest. Still, for many, the blogging phenomenon looks to be more than just a fad.

Maya said, “I know a lot of people who started on up and just kind of let it go, but for me, it’s a nice little thing that I like to have.”

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