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Complete this sentence: Livejournal is like... - Mo's Journal
April 15th, 2005
02:27 pm

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Complete this sentence: Livejournal is like...
I'm doing SAT prep with my son these days (test-taking is one of my mutant powers) so I know that the SAT folks have eliminated analogies. I still find them useful, though. I'm still trying to understand what is this thing we call love livejournal, and I'm looking around for an analogy that will help me.

Through metafandom I found carlanime discoursing on this very topic. She says, in part:

A lot of livejournal “conflicts” arise out of a confusion over what kind of “space” a livejournal is—is it a public forum, like a salon, or a private one, like your bedroom when you’re alone in it? Each livejournal user makes that determination for their own lj.

She goes on to describe lj as a private conversation that sometimes spills into a public, or publicly overheard, space. She uses the analogy of a party in a private home that extends into the front yard, being overheard by passersby, who might join the conversation. She recommends that those who join in do so very carefully and respectfully. Don't go about telling the owner of that front yard journal that she's wrong about something, she recommends.

I think her analogy is an interesting one. I live in NYC so we don't have front yards - we have stoops - but I've heard of front yards :-). Anyway, I think she's right that someone who's passing by and joins into the front yard conversation to disagree with what's said would be thought rude. I think joining into a front yard or stoop conversation is a socially risky thing. It *is* their home; you are sort of eavesdropping. If you join in and you say something charming, they might be charmed rather than offended. If you say something not charming - maybe not offensive but disagreeing - they're likely to get mad. And they may well say "get off of my property". Lj users have tools to say that.

Of course, that doesn't address the question of whether that analogy is an apt one. I'm not sure what the nature of lj is yet. It seems to me to be of indeterminate nature so far, particularly on the public/private dimension. I think some view it as the front yard but some view it as the sidewalk in front of your house - the city owns it but you have to shovel it. I think her conclusion (don't talk to me unless you agree) is consistent with her premise (lj is like an overheard conversation on someone's private property). I'd love to hear what others think is an apt analogy.


I think the front yard analogy is not an apt one for a few reasons. For one thing, there is a very small number of people who will overhear your front yard conversations, and most of them will be your neighbors, whom you already know. There's a wider possibility on lj, and if your post gets picked up by one of the lj communities that pick up such things, well it's like someone put a microphone in front of your front yard and broadcast your conversation, along with your phone number, to the whole city. Well, it's more like you put that microphone on your lawn, knowing it gave them the opportunity to broadcast it, and provided your phone number, too. Can't really complain if they do.

I think, though, that there's another, more salient reason that the analogy isn't apt - we do have established social conventions for those stoop or front lawn conversations. The convention is that the passerby does not acknowledge hearing them. If one speaks to someone in their front lawn (unless there's an established relationship, as with neighbors) one knows that one is flouting convention. So people who do that tend to fall into two categories:

* those who do it very carefully (be very charming, don't disagree, etc)
* those who don't care about convention

She's saying that she wants lj to be like the front porch and she's using the analogy to express her vision of lj. But lj doesn't have those conventions established, certainly not as thoroughly as the front stoop conversation convention. Some people treat their ljs as private space indeed (and flock lets one do that) but lj as a whole is not an amalgamation of private spaces with walkways in between. It's more of a public space (it's free or can be) with assigned sections, and features that facilitate connections.

I think lj is less of a front yard and more of a cruise ship. Everyone gets a state room. Everyone can lock his or her door. Everyone can let some people into the stateroom. But the stateroom is small and cramped and boring and you spend most of your time other places. You have your own table at dinner, but you're in public. You might have a lawn chair at the pool, but you're with other people. Some people will want to stick with their own friends and not hear from others. Some will spend time talking to lots of folks and listening to lots of folks. But the general expectation is that you talk to other people and that other people can talk to you. The expectation is that you can just step up and introduce yourself and someone *will* talk to you. And if you find some people obnoxious or rude or even just not to your liking you avoid them. But you recognize that most of the people aren't there just for the food, or the activities or the ports of call. They're there to meet people.

I'm still trying to get the hang of lj, so this is just my musings based on observation and a little bit of participation. I'm really a mailing list grrl trying to learn about lj. I'm working on becoming acculturated. And I want to sign my post, like we do on mailing lists, but nobody signs on lj. Dare I do it anyway? If this were a mailing list, I'd sign my post:

Mo, who gets too seasick for cruiseships but likes meeting people through livejournal

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From:mamajoan
Date:April 15th, 2005 07:10 pm (UTC)
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Ahh, the eternal "what is the true nature/purpose of lj" debate. So often discussed, so often flamed-over, so impossible to resolve.

I agree with you that the front-yard analogy is flawed. I also feel that the cruise-ship analogy is flawed, because people who don't have LJs can still read LJ. Assuming that the cruise ship is out to sea, it's contained; the only people who can hear what you say in your stateroom or on the decks of the ship are people who are also on the ship.

I think LJ is impossible to analogize, myself.

And I think the basic incontrovertible fact, which makes these discussions so ultimately unsatisfying, is that many different people use LJ for many different purposes. Some lock everything, all their posts. Some lock nothing. Some lock selectively. Some will "friend" anyone they find interesting; some will only "friend" people they know personally; some don't "friend" at all. Some post only in communities. Some post in their journals and read communities. Some ignore communities and just post. Some never post in their journals but comment in others'. And so forth. LJ is, in short, all things to all people and thus cannot really be generalized about. IMO.
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From:mofic
Date:April 15th, 2005 08:06 pm (UTC)
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Ahh, the eternal "what is the true nature/purpose of lj" debate. So often discussed, so often flamed-over, so impossible to resolve.

Hey, I'm new here. Indulge me.

I agree with you that the front-yard analogy is flawed. I also feel that the cruise-ship analogy is flawed, because people who don't have LJs can still read LJ. Assuming that the cruise ship is out to sea, it's contained; the only people who can hear what you say in your stateroom or on the decks of the ship are people who are also on the ship.

True, but with close to 7 million people on the ship, the fact that others can look at you through their googlespyglasses is not such a great loss of privacy.

Anyway, no analogy is perfect, even if the concept one is analogizing is easier to wrap one's brain around than this one is. Analogies are tools, not final words. I was going to say "an analogy is like a tool" but that seems...incestuous or something.
(Deleted comment)
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From:mofic
Date:April 15th, 2005 10:26 pm (UTC)
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I think you might have taken my analogy as more "prescriptive" than I meant it to be.

I confess I do have a tendency to take analogies too far. It's a character flaw. I'm working on it. And rereading your original post, it's clear that to the extent you were being prescriptive, the prescription was only for those listening to what's going on in your "front lawn" and not for lj as a whole.

My parties actually spill out into the building lobby, since I have a small apartment on the first floor. I have noisy kids with noisy friends and am fortunate to have tolerant neighbors.

Thanks for your thoughts.
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From:forked
Date:April 16th, 2005 02:43 am (UTC)
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LOL- I'm glad you posted this! I read the lawn analogy and disagreed with it, but didn't want to be a rude ass and reply to it given the journal owner clearly didn't want any disagreement- at least not in her journal.

And I DO agree you have the right to establish and enforce any boundary you want for your own journal. But for me, the fun of lj is in the discussion- and I think discussion is severely curtailed if disagreement isn't allowed. In fact, in my last reply to someone, I disagreed with them and almost didn't post, because I was wondering if disagreeing in someone's journal was inappropriate. I did end up replying, but apologized in advance if disagreement was unwanted. Fortunately, what followed was a quite nice discussion.

Eh- LJ is a big and baffling place and I probably wander around pissing people off all the time. I try not to- and if someone is obviously on a rant and doesn't want discussion, I don't bother to reply. (Hell- sometimes I want to rant rather than discuss- in which case, I'll straight up say so.) But in general, I figure polite disagreement is a good thing, it allows you to see more perspectives than you otherwise would and firm up your own opinion on things. Unless someone sends out very clear cues that disagreement is unwanted, that's how I'll continue to approach the whole LJ thing.
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From:mofic
Date:April 16th, 2005 12:15 pm (UTC)
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Eh- LJ is a big and baffling place and I probably wander around pissing people off all the time.

I'm looking for less bafflement and only pissing people off when I choose to. Maybe that's an impossible goal...
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From:forked
Date:April 16th, 2005 03:13 pm (UTC)
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;o) I honestly think it's almost impossible. Too many different assumptions and definitions. Some people want to be warned for x,y,z. Some folks HATE to be warned for x,y,z. And everybody defines 'z' differently anyway. Some folks want and appreciate polite negative comments on a fic, some folks don't. Then there's 'ew Het/Slash' and if you do/don't do 'x' it's racist/sexist/classicist/ethnocentric and 'OMG, you spoiled me for LOTR!!!' which was written 50 years ago. And that's just the tip of the iceburg.

The variety of approaches on LJ is nearly infinite. I just try to be polite and act in ways I think are reasonable. Beyond that, I've stopped worrying about it.
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From:ringthebells
Date:April 17th, 2005 12:14 am (UTC)
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It's funny, the front yard (or stoop) analogy is close to one I used to use myself, when I was getting used to LJ. I used to think of my LJ as a conversation with a friend on a crowded bus—anyone could listen in, though the odds were low that anyone around us would care what we were saying. But then, that was my analogy for my personal LJ—as you know I also have a fannish one, which has an entirely different role.
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:April 17th, 2005 03:15 am (UTC)
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as you know I also have a fannish one, which has an entirely different role.

I was thinking of you in a discussion about lj on the fca-l list. Some folks were saying what they don't like about lj is the mixing of fannish stuff and personal stuff. You seem to have solved that through having two ljs.

I kind of like both together. Though, actually, the personal stuff on my lj isn't very personal...

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From:ringthebells
Date:April 17th, 2005 05:03 pm (UTC)
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Having two journals gives me the option of putting fannish and personal stuff together, in the sense that a few people (you among them) have access to both.

As you know, the personal stuff in my personal journal is very personal. That's informed by the fact that the majority of people reading that journal are RL friends first—people I've known for years, lived with, in some cases even dated. :) (Seriously, five people on my flist are former roommates of mine, and another three are former across-the-hall neighbours.) That's stuff I assume online friends mostly wouldn't be interested in.
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From:mofic
Date:April 17th, 2005 05:13 pm (UTC)
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Having two journals gives me the option of putting fannish and personal stuff together, in the sense that a few people (you among them) have access to both.

Yes, in some ways you have the best of both worlds. I know one other person who takes the same two-journal approach. Well, actually I may know many, but I only have access to one of theirs so I don't know that they take that approach.

As you know, the personal stuff in my personal journal is very personal.

Yeah, that's a big difference. I think the most personal thing I've said on my journal is my view of what was on Jack Ruby's mind. And I know when I was choosing my 10 Things list, I went with things I didn't mind the world at large knowing. Being from the mailing list world, I have a clear boundary between what I post on larger, more "public" lists and small by-invitation-only ones. So far I've used my public list guidelines for lj. If I feel like I want to talk about more personal stuff, I'll probably look into friends filtering and such.

That's stuff I assume online friends mostly wouldn't be interested in.

So far I've been interested in everything you write on your personal journal. And only in some of the stuff on the fannish one (because I just can't get interested in the Buffy stuff). So I think I'm an unusual online friend.
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From:ringthebells
Date:April 17th, 2005 06:01 pm (UTC)
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I think I'm an unusual online friend.

That you are! *g*

I know one other person who takes the same two-journal approach. Well, actually I may know many, but I only have access to one of theirs so I don't know that they take that approach.

For some reason, that reminds me of a mathematician joke:

An ecologist, a logician and a mathematician are taking a train into Scotland. [Probably the same train on which Dave and I got engaged!] They all see a brown cow on the side of the tracks parallel to the train.

The ecologist says, "Look! The cows in Scotland are brown."

The logician says, "No no. There is atleast one cow in Scotland that is brown."

The mathematician says, "You're both wrong. There is at least one cow in Scotland of which one side appears to be brown."

And I know when I was choosing my 10 Things list, I went with things I didn't mind the world at large knowing.

It's funny, I put something on my 10 things list that I didn't mind a bunch of anonymous strangers knowing, but wouldn't have said to my friends. That'd be #10... There are people on my flist who know about that (well, there are people on my flist who were there), and the people who don't know don't need to.

Of course, since I was trying for "things you haven't done" it would've had to be a different list anyway if I wrote it for my RL journal, because I did several of the things on that list with other people from my flist (besides #10, also the CBC appearance and the all-night radio show). On the other hand, I could've used "have written a novel." Which, obviously, not so unique amongst the fannish folk. :)

If I feel like I want to talk about more personal stuff, I'll probably look into friends filtering and such.

Which, by the way, is actually very easy.
[User Picture]
From:mofic
Date:April 18th, 2005 12:53 am (UTC)
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For some reason, that reminds me of a mathematician joke:
When I first heard that joke, I'm quite sure it was a Talmudic scholar who had the punch line :-). And Heinlein uses a version of it in _Stranger in a Strange Land_ only it's a "Fair Witness" who says that one side appears brown :-).

It's funny, I put something on my 10 things list that I didn't mind a bunch of anonymous strangers knowing, but wouldn't have said to my friends. That'd be #10...

I was pretty impressed with that one! Not that I think you're out to impress me or anything...


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