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Category: Commentary

Commentaries about anything that interests Mark. How’s that for open ended?

A BLOG by any other NAME

Online diarists throw Pepys Rule to the wind and let it all hang out in cyberspace

by Mark A. Rayner

(Appeared originally in The Ottawa Citizen, March 31, 2002.)

If all the world’s a stage then the soliloquy belongs to the diarist. The diary has been a monologue, a confessional, a historical document, and usually not for public consumption until its author was dead. The famous 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys knew the rule. He kept his journal entries secret by writing them in an enciphered shorthand.

But today diarists are more likely to post their thoughts on the web than they are to encrypt them. These journals called web logs — or blogs as they are known to netizens — are online diaries authored by Internet users who’ve turned the web into their own personal soap-box, sharing their innermost thoughts, feelings and opinions.

It cost Heather Hamilton her job.

Hamilton, a web designer and writer in Los Angeles, began her lively and entertaining blog ( as a way to flex her writing muscles. She liked the built-in audience of family and friends that came with her blog. Several months ago she began posting stories about her annoying coworkers; she described them not by name, but by characteristics.

“These were stories meant to entertain an audience made up mostly of people who have worked in my industry, people who would most likely recognize some of the same mannerisms in those that they’ve had to work with themselves,” says Hamilton.

One of the audience members took exception to her blog, and sent an email to every vice-president in Hamilton’s company, directing them to the offending entries. “They laid me off immediately, with no warning and without giving me any opportunity to explain the motives behind my website,” says Hamilton.

Hamilton is one of an estimated 500,000 blog authors – or bloggers – worldwide. Web logs are created using free software that makes it easy to post messages on the web, without having to know much about HTML or web publishing. New entries go at the top of the page, pushing older ones down chronologically.

When blogs first appeared in 1999, they generally included a mix of links, pithy commentaries, and personal notes, but now the vast majority are more like private diaries than anything else.

It’s a sign of the times, says Allan Gedalof, professor of English, film and popular culture at The University of Western Ontario. He thinks web logs are in the same order as people going on the Jerry Springer show to reveal intimate details of their lives. “What is more important,” asks Gedalof, “privacy or a desire for their 15 minutes of Andy Warhol fame?”

A recent linguistic phenomenon helps to explain it. “The distinction between ‘fame’ and ‘notoriety’ has been lost,” says Gedalof. Now they’re synonymous. It doesn’t matter if you’re being recognized for something good or something bad. All that matters is that you get recognized.

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