I’ve been keeping an online journal for over two years, at http://www.factitious.net/. It started as mainly a way of learning about Web sites in general. In theory, I update it every day, but in practice there are some gaps.

Some people will recommend that you use specialized blogging software, like Movable Type or Bloxsom. Honestly, that’s probably a good idea, but I write all of my journal’s HTML by hand – well, by text editor – rather than trust something someone else wrote. In principle, this allows for the maximum amount of customization, though some of the features that Web log applications can provide are difficult to reinvent yourself. In my experience, things like allowing user comments on individual entries are hard, while things like making the background color orange are easy. I’ve given lots of Web pages orange backgrounds.

The most exciting advantage of having an online journal is getting e-mail from random people who came across it for some reason or another. For example, I mentioned PopCanon, a non-ska band from Florida, on my Web site once. Thanks to Google, Ned Davis, their guitarist and songwriter, came across my site and e-mailed me. Without the online journal, this would probably never have happened.

Another advantage comes from the presence of archives. I can keep track of what I’ve done in the past, and search through for specific phrases. You get that same sort of record-keeping with a traditional offline journal or diary, but those aren’t as easily searchable, and they lack some conveniences – if you’re at a friend’s apartment and want to check when exactly you went on a trip to San Diego, or what the title of a movie you saw a week ago was, having written about it on paper won’t help. With a blog, any computer with an Internet connection can provide me with information about my life that I’ve forgotten. Provided you don’t mind everyone else in the world being able to get that information as well, this can be surprisingly useful.

Having an online journal lets friends and relatives know what I’m up to, without requiring tedious conversation. It’s more efficient than talking to individual people all the time. If I mention that I have a sore throat, for instance, my mom will read it, get worried, and call me to make sure I’m not dying. That’s not a very good example, but it scales up to more serious diseases, such as colds.

Most importantly, it’s not based on normal social skills. In text, I can go into a long digression about knot theory or an obscure video game – though I’ll try not to do that in this article. If I talk about that sort of thing in a face-to-face conversation with people, they tend to get bored and walk away, but when it’s just one of many entries on a Web page, they apparently don’t mind as much, and some get more interested than they would have been otherwise.

If you have time to waste, and like the idea of saying that there’s a Web site about your daily life, then an online journal would be a good fit for you.

Heaton can be reached at


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