I ’m 35 years old, which means I’ve seen a lot of changes to the Internet since the days I used to sit in front in front of the bulky CRT monitor perched on the desk of our basement home office and wait patiently for the dial-up to complete its strange series of clicks and beeps.
I remember updating my MSN Messenger status with angsty song lyrics, discovering the original pixelated Hampster Dance and debating whether I should include the guy I liked when forwarding ridiculous chain messages from my Hotmail account.
But what really changed the World Wide Web for me was when I stumbled upon DiaryLand, with it’s cutely simple interface and ability for me to wax teenage poetic on whatever my heart desired.
I’d always kept diaries as a kid — long-winded ramblings about boys I liked and friends I was mad at — but the notion of sending my thoughts out into the world was something new entirely. It felt exciting and risky to lay one’s heart bare for literally anyone to find, and I loved it.
Writing for an audience (regardless whether one actually existed, which in those days, it definitively did not) felt different than the childish musings of my handwritten journals.
Suddenly, it became imperative that my words be crafted with as much rawness and candor as possible. That they be succinct and poetic and convey the heartfelt depths of my 17 years of life as I knew it.
DiaryLand spurred a newfound preference for story-telling and reflection and the process of gaining release through expression, but it was Livejournal that really got me involved in the realm of blogging.
While LiveJournal was built on the same premise as Diaryland — to give users the ability to document their thoughts, feelings and goings-on — it had a more sophisticated feel than its earlier counterpart.
LiveJournal became a fixture in my college experience. I chronicled the growing relationship with my now-husband, lamented the hardships of staying up until the wee hours trying churn out a history paper I had no desire to write and vented regularly about the trials and tribulations of waiting tables on the weekends at a mid-range seafood restaurant.
I have no doubt that all the time I spent pouring my heart into those near-daily posts played a pretty big part in shaping who I am today as a writer, nearly two decades later.
Personal narrative has come to be my style of choice because it’s the one I know best, and because it continues to serve as my favored form of discovery and self-examination. For me, writing has always been foremost about getting to the heart of the matter — peeling back the layers to find what hides beneath. And while my topics of interest have grown tremendously as the years go by, I will never not be inspired to write what I feel.
As for LiveJournal, one might argue the site functioned as the original social network, connecting users based on mutual interests and experiences.
With the exchange of just a few comments, it was easy to become suddenly invested in the stories of others. LiveJournal was a place to be candid and vulnerable without judgment, and that meant that even though I knew only a few of my fellow users in real life, I felt like I was an intimate part of each of their unique experiences.
The more immersed I become in the world of Medium, the more I can’t help think how closely the platform resembles that of my youth.
Following the height of LiveJournal, blogs started really taking off. Everyone had a blog — it was a chance to separate oneself from the crowd, to create a personal kind of brand.
I bought my own domain and blogged for years. As always, it was my form of release, but I also secretly hoped that it would be the key to getting me discovered — that my blogging would be the gateway to “making it” as a writer.
That never happened, obviously. My blogging petered off. Blogging as a medium seems to have petered off as a whole, in fact, though I can’t say if that’s definitively true, or just an observation of my own experience.
Roughly two years ago I went through the tedious task of saving everything I’d ever blogged in the past near-decade, then proceeded to delete my site for once and for all.
When I joined Medium originally this past May, it was because I’d had a sudden revelation: I missed writing.
I didn’t want to continue blogging, but I also didn’t want that to be my excuse for not writing.
One of the most appealing features about Medium is the fact that users don’t have the ability to over-customize their pages.
We’re all bound to the same format, much the same as the days of LiveJournal. And just like LiveJournal, this feature lends the site a consistency and ease of use that highlights the actual writing as the main focus, and not the fancy bells and whistles that can otherwise distract from the content.
Like LiveJournal, Medium also gives users the ability to comment on posts, to add followers (on LiveJournal they’re “Friends”) and to tag posts with keywords meant to attract people interested in the same topics.
While LiveJournal still exists online, more or less unchanged from its original premise, it no longer enjoys the widespread popularity it once celebrated.
Some might argue it’s because competitors like Tumblr and Blogger began to appeal better to users seeking more customization, or perhaps it’s because the company relocated its servers to Russia in 2016 and required users to comply with Russian censorship laws.
Or maybe it’s that we all just grew up and got real jobs and stopped having time to document the intricacies of our daily lives. Until somewhere down the line, two-ish decades later, we realize we miss those days of unfiltered expression.
And then, we found Medium.