What the heck is this LiveJournal people keep going on about?

This originally appeared in BCN issue 75.

Over the last five years there has been a major shift in how the UK bi community uses the internet to keep in touch with one another.  We at BCN have been very lax in reporting this phenomenon, but it’s about time we did, and producing this summer’s BiCon special edition finally gave us the motivation to do so.  A large proportion of the people at BiCons these days, and indeed many BCN readers will be users of LiveJournal (commonly abbreviated to LJ), and if you’ve never heard of it the bar conversation at BiCon may sometimes seem to be in a code that only the in-crowd know.

‘Blogging’ – keeping an online diary of personal experiences and opinion that anyone who wishes to can read – is an increasingly well known way of using the internet.  However while this is good for polemical writers, the interactivity tends to be limited and a basic blog exists on its own rather than as part of a broader community. LiveJournal adds an extra dimension to this through allowing users to build up a “friends list” of people whose

LJs they wish to read, and with whom (and how much) they wish to share their journals.  Further it has “community” journals to which anyone can post on particular themes – residents of a particular city, fans of particular films, and of course bisexuality.

Of course LJ is not the only such system: two alternatives that leap to mind are DeadJournal (whose name is a deliberate play on LJ) and Microsoft’s MSN Spaces, but LJ happened to get in and get popular with the UK bi community first, and as with VHS and Betamax – would you rather have the latest one, or the one all your friends use?

At BiCon in 2001 there were a smattering of LJ users.  By 2002 this had spread, no doubt partly because of LJ’s easy-to-understand web page interface, and it’s safe to say that most people at last year’s BiCon had LiveJournal accounts.  It means LJ has become a cheap, peer-led marketing route for organisers of events like BiCon: the 2003 team created online quizzes (“what kind of bicon-goer are you?”) and encouraged people to post their quiz results on their journals to raise awareness of the event among their friends.  A year later the Manchester team had animated adverts (“i’ve booked for bicon… have you?”) for people to include in their journals once they had registered.

Popular though it may be, LJ isn’t the answer to everyone’s prayers.  There are some things that it is good for, but some it isn’t.

For a start, being an online diary makes it accessible to anyone using the internet.  Your partner to whom you are not out about your sexuality.  Your mum.  Your boss.  As such there is a facility to protect entries so that only people you have chosen to give access to your journal can read them.  This is good for feeling you are free to vent your spleen about things, but on the other hand makes for a more insular community: even if you find the other bi’s in your area on LJ, you might not be able to see anything of their journal to get an idea of whether you’d like to be friends with them.

More practically, livejournal is good for recording the events and feelings of your day, or seeking quick voxpops-style opinions from your friends as to whether bisexual should be spelled with a hyphen or you should ask the boy in the next office out on a date.  Many of us work in offices with internet-connected computers, or use the internet regularly at home, so it’s like keeping a traditional diary without all the effort of finding a pen that hasn’t run out of ink – and with the facility to search back through past diary entries a lot more easily than through volumes of paper diary.
It’s not good for ongoing work or keeping in touch with people who don’t have similar levels of web access to yourself.  Once something drops off the page of recent journal entries from your friends you become less and less likely to ever see it.  For organising things email lists remain greatly superior, and indeed for conversations where someone may want to add a comment a week later: if someone comments on a LiveJournal entry only the original poster of the message gets to see their feedback automatically. So while LJ is popular and has no doubt reduced the levels of traffic on email lists like uk-bi or usenet forums such as soc.bi, it cannot entirely replace them.

All that said, LJ has probably done more to help people who go to events like BiCon feel themselves to be a part of the bi community the rest of the year round.  Most LJers are only too happy to add new people they meet to their “friends list”, so if you meet someone at BiCon or a bi festival and would like to keep in touch afterwards, and you have web access, get their LJ name and ‘friend’ them to your account.  Dropping them a comment on a recent LJ entry of theirs saying “hi, this is (name), met you at bicon, I was (clue as to who you were – people can meet a lot of people at BiCon!)” is considered polite.  Then make your first entry in your journal (for example, writing up what a fabulous time you had in Worcester this August Bank Holiday), and you’re away!

OK, so how do I join?
I thought you’d never ask.  Go to www.livejournal.com and click on create an account. You’ll need to think up an online name – with over 8 million users simple ones like “mary” or indeed “littlelamb” will long since have been taken, so you may need to be a little creative.  Setting up an account is free, and though there are options which cost a few pounds for extra features the free package is enough to keep most people happy.

Then as well as adding any LJ user friends you may have met at bicon, you may want to join a few ‘communities’.  Two we’d recommend would be

www.livejournal.com/community/bisexual_uk/

www.livejournal.com/community/bicon/

There is also a news-from-BCN community at www.livejournal.com/community/bicommunitynews/ but to be honest, we’re rubbish at keeping it up to date!

What if I don’t wanna?
If you don’t fancy the idea of LJ, or if you just don’t have private web access often enough to make it worth the trouble, there are still plenty of ways of keeping in touch with the UK bi community without using LiveJournal.  As well as reading BCN, join the email list uk-bi, sign up for local email lists, and better still go along to (or set up) a bi group in your own area.  And you can offer to run a “bisexuals not on LJ” workshop at Glasgow BiCon!

Jen