Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tensions of Online Communication in LiveJournal

Today I read the article "'Shout into the wind, and it shouts back.' Identity and interactional tensions on LiveJournal" by Lori Kendall, which was published in 2007. This article was based on personal research that Kendall performed for two years regarding LiveJournal. According to Kendall, LiveJournal is a weblogging system that incorporates social-networking features, where users can create friends lists and display their interests. LiveJournal is a place where you can post "journal" entries as a mean of communicating with friends, family members, and the world, but having the ability to write an intimate diary also creates many tensions, such as: privacy, efficiency, and audience control. Kendall breaks her article up into different sections and discusses each of these separately. The two tensions that I found most interesting were those of privacy and audience control.

In discussing privacy on LiveJournal, Kendall talked about who the writers are writing to in their journals and why. Based on her research, many users choose to write on topics that others will find interesting, while at the same time not getting too personal. Because their writing can be viewed by anyone if it is posted publicly, they know that people do not want to read about their whole life. There is instead a focus on keeping their readers entertained. I believe that this is definitely true of many of the users of LiveJournal because many people are very conscious of the way that they are perceived, and do not want people to get the wrong idea of them.

Another feature of LiveJournal that Kendall talks about gives users the ability to control who sees their writing. Users have the option of making their entries public, where everyone can view them, private, where only the writer can see them, or hand selecting specific individuals that can see the entries. My first thought was that a lot of people would write daily entries that they kept private, but according to Kendall, this is not the case. Most people do write publicly, but often have to filter who they want to see the message. This is because aside from giving users the ability to write, LiveJournal also gives users the ability to network and create various friend groups, family groups, and work groups. If entries are not posted unfiltered then family members may see the how you talk with your friends and co-workers, which may not be the best idea. I think that this may be a plus and a minus for users. I definitely agree that I do not talk or act the same when placed in different environments, such as with friends and with family, but I believe that the process of filtering could also be a minus because of the need to select who you omit and include. You can set up specific groups, but if you do not want a certain person in a group to know something, you have to omit them. This can be a timely process and could even negatively change the way someone views you if you forget to omit them.

I have never personally used LiveJournal, but it seems to be fairly similar to blogging. I do not know if it was originally intended for users to write for themselves or for an audience, but it seems the tendency is to do the latter. I believe that in this sense both bloggers and LiveJournal users are both aware of the audience that they are writing for. Kendall did not go into great detail about the differences between the two, but I think it would be interesting to read more on the subject. If you are interested in learning more about LiveJournal, you can visit their website at http://www.livejournal.com/.

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