Web Diaries.

I Find Karma (adam@cs.caltech.edu)
Wed, 15 Jul 1998 18:01:08 -0700

Hi Kristen. Forgive me in advance, this is going to be a long letter.
I do realize that large pages, even pages filled mainly by text, take
a long time to load, but I'm willing to take responsibility in this
response for risking that.

You wrote:
> From Tuffest1@aol.com Tue Jul 14 20:24:15 1998
> To: adam@cs.caltech.edu
> Subject: hi
> You don't know me, just in case you're racking your brain trying to
> figure out where the address is from . . .
> I did a search on Kyle Mills, the author of Rising Phoenix, to find
> out more about any other books he has, and stumbled across this site:
> http://xent.ics.uci.edu/FoRK-archive/august97/0311.html
> Not to be rude, but can you tell me what I found? And have you heard
> of Mills before?
> Your reply is greatly appreciated
> Kristen

Okay, as I see it you have two questions, one about FoRK and one about
Kyle Mills. I'll start with the second question first.

_Rising Phoenix_, as far as I know, was Kyle's first book, and it was a
fun read. Fun reads to me are defined as anything you pick up in a
bookstore at random and then sit there for hours reading all the way
through because you want to know how that bad boy will finish.

As per my review in


_Rising Phoenix_ is a cool little piece of "what would happen if someone
tainted the nation's illicit drug supply" fiction, although in my humble
opinion Mills is a better writer in this genre than the team of
ghostwriters who currently author under the name "Tom Clancy."

The book is now available in paperback


and is well-worth Amazon's price of $5.59. Meanwhile, Mills has just
finished his second book which will hopefully be available next month.
Keeping with a successful formula, this one is called _Storming Heaven_
instead of _Rising Phoenix_ and has the same FBI agent protagonist;
reading its description at


it sounds from the early reviews that this story of murder, intrigue,
and deception will be even more interesting than his last book.

So speaking of murder, intrigue, and deception, that brings us to the
other question you had, which was:

> Not to be rude, but can you tell me what I found?

You found something called FoRK, which stands for F*******'s of Rohit
Khare, where F******* can stand for anything from "friends" to "foes" to
"failures" to "foundations" to "frequentfliers" to words I don't want
archived for all time on the Web. It has its very own "frequently asked
questions" list (whose address Tim Byars can never remember because
let's face it, Web addresses just aren't the kind of thing worth putting
into little black books) at


but I'll try to give you context here of what FoRK is so you don't have
to actually visit that pointer yourself (thus violating Dan Connolly's
number one rule which is to never type in anything you can just cut and
paste) (not to be confused with Dan Connolly's newly anointed number two
rule which is to never drink tequila with Rohit when you have a workshop
to attend the next morning at which people might notice your absence)
(speaking of which, does anyone know if Doug Little is still alive?)
(and in an unrelated note, congrats to Dave Long on winning the vesting

The simplest way to think of FoRK is as a "Web Diary" that lives as a
virtual community that exists in the minds and posts of the beholders
(or, in this case, the beerholders) which collectively form a "virtual
soul" of sorts. Never, ever, ever tell Rohit to his face that this is
"just a mailing list" unless you want to see a grown man cry.

Because although FoRK may have started as a way for the individuals
within to shuffle around information in public (mind you, there are lots
of things some of us know that others of us don't discover until much
later because they aren't public, such as the role of SOAP in ruining
peoples' lives), it has evolved into oh so much more, much like the
Gorgonites in the entertaining new movie, "Small Soldiers" (Ari, you
and your associates did a beautiful job with the effects in that movie):


Which brings us to the point of the list, which is to provide
smoke-and-mirrors for two things: a small cabal of people discussing
really important things (using codewords of course because fnords
require that), and a large cross-section of people believing in the
deeply interconnected nature of all things from Jennifer Lopez's butt


> Of course, Lopez's butt is more acceptable than most because,
> like Halle Berry and many other women who date back to Lena
> Horne and long before, she appears racially ambiguous and
> therefore is more palatable to white audiences, a safe vehicle with
> which to indulge a cafi au lait fantasy. A pale face with a black
> butt is intriguing, titillating, as any reflection of a racial milange
> has always been in this country; a black face with a black butt
> has always been worse than ordinary.

to Rohit Khare's soul, which like a few hundred other individuals on the
planet, has been completely bared by him on the Web


[we'll pause here for the inclusion of the long-but-interesting "Baring
Your Soul to the Web" article by Simon Firth at Salon but we'll pick up
when this article concludes]

> Baring Your Soul T O T H E W E B
> Online diarists have invented a new art form
> and gathered a devoted following. But now some
> pioneers are questioning what they've created.
> BY SIMON FIRTH | Last month Alexis Massie
> presented readers of her online journal with
> another honest and affecting piece of
> autobiographical prose.
> "Sometimes I wish this had all never
> happened," she wrote. "I only know how to
> take what's in my heart and shove it onto a
> screen, both good and bad, secure in the
> knowledge that the people to whom it is
> relevant will read it. And there's nothing
> wrong with doing that. But it holds little
> appeal for me and I don't think I want to do
> it anymore."
> In many ways that day's entry was a classic
> example of the form. Direct, personal,
> honest, almost painful to read and yet
> compelling too, it's typical of the best of a
> genre of Web writing that's finally taking
> off in popularity -- the online diary.
> Yet here is Massie, who's also the creator of
> the respected personal-narrative Web 'zine
> AfterDinner, bidding the genre farewell.
> "It's grown dull. Tedious," she writes. And
> not only will she no longer be regularly
> baring her soul to the world, but it seems
> she's writing an obituary for the whole diary
> phenomenon. Web diarists are now "slowing
> down, drifting away, and not publishing at
> all, abandoning unfinished projects, flailing
> in redirection and redesign, coming to no
> real conclusions and no more happiness."
> "The true writing talent," Massie concludes,
> "is hiding, drifting away to other mediums,
> or not publishing at all."
> Can this really be true? For those of us
> who've become avid readers, even addicts, of
> online diaries, it would be a disaster. We'll
> never know if Diane sells her screenplay. Or
> if the bad vibes Lizzie has asked everyone to
> send her downstairs neighbor will get the
> dreadful woman to move out. Kymm's wry
> reports brighten many of our days. And
> Justin's only just started his new job. What
> about the 4,000 or so who check in with him
> daily to see how he's getting on?
> While two years ago there were less than 50
> people keeping regular online journals, or
> diaries, there are now, by one count, nearly
> 500. Over the past year their collective
> efforts have been steadily attracting more
> attention and readers. Can they really have
> reached not only their peak popularity but
> also their creative apex?
> If you talk to Massie, you discover that her
> disillusionment is to some degree the price
> of having been a pioneer. She began her diary
> back in the Web's Jurassic age -- August of
> 1995. The first online diarists, she says,
> didn't really "think anyone else was reading
> them." But they were read and imitated. Many
> of the biggest journal "fans" began online
> journals themselves, and soon everyone ended
> up mostly writing about each other. Some of
> them got famous, others got resentful. "After
> a while," says Massie, "it started getting
> very negative."
> It's a story familiar to anyone who has been
> in on the start of any online community.
> Still, is it inevitable that all Web diaries,
> and diarists, will go the same way? Massie
> worries that it is. She wanted the online
> diary to be a vehicle for a raw baring of the
> soul, an unreflected-upon accounting of ideas
> and emotion. That's proven to have been a
> naive hope -- the Web is clearly too public,
> too interactive, too instant.
> But has it really become impossible for
> writers to broadcast daily dispatches from
> the depths of their hearts as a sustainable
> and rewarding creative enterprise? Arguably
> not. While many of the movement's pioneers
> writers to broadcast daily dispatches from
> the depths of their hearts as a sustainable
> and rewarding creative enterprise? Arguably
> not. While many of the movement's pioneers
> may be tired and disillusioned, the genre
> shows plenty of signs of life -- of
> blossoming, even, into something remarkable:
> a new literary form that allows writers to
> connect with readers in an excitingly new
> way.
> Online diaries or journals (to use the terms
> interchangeably, although that's a contested
> practice within the "journaling" community)
> grew out of the first home pages. For avid
> home page owners who wanted to add fresh
> daily content to their sites, the diary was
> an available and natural form in which to do
> it.
> The first true Web diary is generally
> credited to Canadian Carolyn Burke, who began
> hers in January of 1995. Slowly, more people
> joined her -- writing daily entries that
> detailed what they'd been doing that day (and
> what they wish they'd been doing instead),
> what they were worrying about, what they were
> dreaming. A lot of what they wrote was never
> going to interest anyone other than the
> writers themselves, and perhaps their
> mothers. But some of these early writers did
> have interesting lives, had things to say
> that spoke to their readers and wrote in raw,
> dramatic prose. Whether their subject has
> been a new relationship, a lost dream,
> adultery or just the riotous story of a
> surreal party, complete with sawed-off
> shotguns and skinny-dipping, these diarists
> have shared deeply personal stories that were
> often far from suitable reading for their
> parents.
> The first diaries soon spawned imitators, and
> today the Internet is awash with journals
> written by every sort of person. Students,
> fathers, sailors, prisoners, artists and
> travel agents are all now keeping journals
> online.
> Yet a recent New York Times CyberTimes piece
> called the very idea of an online diary "a
> bit of an oxymoron." Indeed, aren't diaries
> supposed to be things we keep under the bed,
> full of secrets never to be told? Is it a
> wise proposition to attempt to tell all to
> all?
> Walking the fine line between honestly
> sharing your secrets and putting yourself in
> danger is certainly something not all online
> diarists achieve. At some sites, says journal
> keeper Diane Patterson, her reaction is,
> "You're kidding me, right? You're telling
> complete strangers this?" Patterson is the
> author of "Why Web Journals Suck," a much
> linked-to Web essay that offers sensible and
> thoughtful advice to the prospective journal
> keeper.
> The biggest trap online diarists fall into,
> she feels, is not acknowledging they've "put
> [their thoughts] on the Web for an audience."
> That means refraining from the urge to tell
> the world absolutely everything about
> yourself. But, she feels, you can rein in
> that impulse and still offer your readers
> personal narratives that remain honest and
> read true.
> It certainly seems to work in her case.
> Patterson has been keeping an online diary of
> her own since she moved from Silicon Valley
> to Los Angeles two years ago and enrolled in
> the famous USC screenwriting course. A paper
> journal writer of some 10 years' standing,
> she began Nobody Knows Anything (originally
> known as The Paperwork) as a way to keep
> now-distant family and friends in touch with
> what was happening in her life. Before long,
> "I felt as though I had to write, had to
> tell. Not the manic self-torture of, 'Gee, I
> gotta write this letter,' but rather an
> excitement of knowing that I could be as
> creative or as honest as I liked, and there
> would be a built-in audience." Her diary --
> at turns amusing, thoughtful, outraged and
> juicily gossip-filled -- is now read by
> approximately 200 people a day.
> The other side of admitting that you've
> invited an audience to read your diary is to
> pay them the courtesy of being intelligible.
> That means having a clear, logical and
> legible page design and trying to write prose
> that, however "experimental it is,
> communicates something, too. Indeed, many
> online diarists cite the desire to force
> themselves to become better communicators as
> a major reason for putting their diary
> online.
> "My expository writing has improved a lot,"
> says Patterson. Thinking about her audience
> has made her careful to modulate the tone of
> her entries and has even had a positive
> effect on her life. "It makes you think: I'm
> telling the same damn thing again -- why
> don't I do something about it?"
> According to a survey conducted six months
> ago by Pamela O'Connell, then editor of the
> Mining Company's "personal web page" guide
> (still the best source for raw data on the
> online diary phenomenon), the typical diarist
> is a single, American, 20-something man or
> woman. But diaries are being kept online by a
> remarkably broad range of people all over the
> world.
> There are journals that are predominantly
> philosophical, humorous, work-oriented,
> gossipy or aggressive. There are recovery
> journals, audio diaries, diaries of dreams
> and, of course, spoof diaries.
> Plus there now exists a whole support
> structure of "notification" lists, Web-rings,
> list-servs as well as the how to's and how
> not-to's, like Patterson's. Another meta site
> about the phenomenon, Metajournals, is just
> starting up. Current lists sort diaries by
> their authors' gender, residence, birth date,
> sexual orientation, frequency of updating --
> and, controversially, quality of the site.
> Quality is a vexed issue in the online diary
> world. One of the joys of the movement -- and
> one of the banes if you are looking for a
> particular kind of diarist to connect with --
> is its variety. Can you even talk about
> quality in a genre this personal?
> Participants in Diary-L, the best-known
> journaling mailing list, last month
> informally polled each other for their five
> favorite online diaries. Interestingly, the
> diverse results of the survey didn't turn up
> any overwhelming favorites. But one that
> seemed to come up more than any other was a
> diary recently renamed Lizzie's Journal.
> Lizzie (she doesn't want her surname used) is
> a lawyer in her late 20s living in
> Sacramento, Calif. Her family has its fair
> share of cranks, her job is tough and
> relatively poorly paid and she lives in a
> part of town that's far from quiet.
> Lizzie's is certainly a full and not entirely
> easy life -- but no more so than many
> people's. So why is her presentation of her
> life interesting to more people than many
> others?
> "I've always found myself writing a story
> about what I'm doing," she says when I
> interview her, and that certainly provides a
> clue. What Lizzie has is a burning desire to
> tell us about her life and the ability to
> make that story interesting.
> She has also lived long enough to have a past
> and has a true writer's interest in mining
> both it and her present life for meaning. And
> while she was pleasantness incarnate on the
> phone, her journal reveals a complex
> character that can as easily be whipped into
> anger, righteous indignation or bitchiness --
> but which is capable, too, of a humane,
> despairing love for the world and other
> people. Often her entries are the online
> equivalent of page turners.
> Lizzie's Journal has its own dramas, too,
> thanks to her choice of career. Her day job
> involves defending some seriously unpleasant
> criminals who are keen, even once in prison,
> to stay in touch. The Journal has regular,
> dramatic "get out of town in the dead of
> night" episodes when Lizzie changes the
> site's location and requires readers to
> e-mail her for the new address.
> Recently G.K. Nelson, executive editor of the
> literary Web 'zine Savoy, argued in an
> interview that the best Web journals "resound
> with the ring of life." Savoy offers its
> Whitman Awards to journals they feel
> epitomize this quality. "When," says Nelson,
> "the stories are really, really good, we feel
> about them the way we feel about life. We're
> enthralled by them and we wonder where
> they're going to take us."
> Questions of how "real" or "honest" they are
> become, he feels, beside the point. We don't
> ever know if what these writers say is true
> -- but then we don't ever know that about
> paper diaries, either. What matters more, he
> feels, is "transparency, which isn't so much
> honesty as an opening up, an evisceration of
> sorts."
> When one journal becomes more popular than
> another, perhaps it is because it possesses
> this quality of "transparency." The most
> compelling online journals -- even in their
> inconsistencies -- feel too real to be made
> up. They almost have to be true because they
> are, to use the title of Nelson's particular
> favorite journal, stranger.than.fiction.
> Of course, diaries can be addictive for
> reasons other than their honesty or
> artfulness. There are diarists who are
> compelling in their idiocy, whose new entries
> you read through your fingers with a mixture
> of dread and disbelief and the occasional
> (for those you've come to loathe) delicious
> tingle of schadenfreude. One of the guilty
> pleasures of diary surfing, in fact, is that
> it engages in the reader the same less than
> edifying voyeuristic thrill that the personal
> Web-cam movement has so successfully tapped
> into.
> But online diaries can engage us much more
> deeply, too. And the diarists the reader
> cares about -- about whether they'll get the
> job, the guy, the courage, the health, the
> happiness, the wisdom they are striving for
> -- tend to be the ones who are searingly
> genuine. For all their self-absorption, these
> diarists are also generous: They understand
> that, as much as they are working things out
> for themselves, day by day, they are creating
> something for the rest us as well.
> The piecemeal construction of an online
> diary, its ability to constantly change tack,
> to absorb everything in its author's life
> (several wrote about being interviewed for
> this piece the day after I called them), is
> another part of its appeal.
> "I never know what I'm going to write about
> when I sit down," says Patterson. When your
> subject is your life and you don't want to
> fictionalize it, you appreciate that
> flexibility. You can let a riveting, deeply
> personal story emerge subtly over a long
> period of time just as easily as having it
> erupt seemingly out of nowhere.
> That freedom can be a recipe for
> long-windedness and digression, but it
> needn't be so. In the online diary, some
> writers have found their ideal medium -- one
> with which they can construct a patchwork of
> brief and pointed vignettes that form an
> exciting living self-portrait.
> After reading hundreds of paper diaries for
> his book about diarists and their diaries, "A
> Book of One's Own," writer Thomas Mallon
> became convinced "that everyone writes to be
> read." Even when you are dead, having kept a
> diary means, in some sense, "you're alive."
> It may be at the price of compromise, danger
> and self-delusion, but keeping an Internet
> diary allows its writer to make that
> assertion -- to try and connect with other
> people while they are still around to know
> whether they did.
> In fact, another hazard of the online diary
> is the ease and enthusiasm with which readers
> can respond. It's considered good online
> diary form to offer readers the chance to
> give feedback. Longtime diarist Justin Hall
> gets sent recipes when he is sick; he
> receives mix tapes when he expresses interest
> in a new kind of music. But he can also get
> overwhelmed. "A lot of times people will
> respond to you with their own diaries, and I
> don't have it in me to keep up on all that,"
> he says. "You sometimes want to say: you know
> this is my life," adds Patterson.
> But neither would consider posting entries
> without offering a way of replying. Hall
> considers the idea "offensive": "You've
> really got to be permeable on some level," he
> argues.
> Keeping a diary online does mean, to some
> degree, living with a contradiction: wanting
> to be both public and private. "I realize I'm
> trying to have it both ways," admits Lizzie
> of Lizzie's Journal. Given the nature of her
> job and the past history of her journal (the
> front page has an alarming warning addressed
> at potential stalkers), privacy is a major
> issue for her. She may have a compulsion to
> examine her life, but it also takes courage
> -- some of her friends say foolishness -- to
> continue to do it online. "Some Web
> journalers," she says, "I think they chicken
> out sometimes."
> There's also the issue of the people you
> write about other than yourself. Lizzie
> admits: "I take a lot of liberties with
> people in my life." But then again, she
> argues, "I think anyone who writes about
> anything in their own life, even if they
> fictionalize it, they'll deal with the same
> issues of privacy and invading the privacy of
> others."
> Even the most successful online diarists --
> whether the most popular, the most critically
> acclaimed or those who've best fulfilled
> their own hopes for their writing -- don't
> want to do it forever. Burke, the Web's first
> diarist, reached that point at the end of
> last year. "I don't feel in any way open to
> expose myself any longer, and I find that I
> don't find things to write about," she wrote
> in her final entry.
> Most private paper journals are only
> maintained by their authors at certain times
> in their lives. Lots of paper diaries get
> started and forgotten; we just don't hear
> about them. But public revelation has its own
> added pressures, and it might be that the two
> to three years pioneers like Burke and Massie
> lasted is the natural life span of a journal
> online.
> Perhaps the departure of the first diarists
> tells us less that the online diary is in
> decline than that it's over its first flush.
> Indeed, the fact that the genre has had its
> first significant casualties -- had its first
> works go out of print, if you will -- is
> arguably a sign that it's only just now
> matured.
> Even if it has matured into a viable and
> worthwhile literary genre, of course, the
> online diary still poses some unanswered
> questions: It isn't clear, for example, if
> anyone will pay money to read one. But if we
> don't pay for Web diaries in cash, we do pay
> in our time. The best diaries manage to claim
> their readers' full attention almost daily --
> an extraordinary achievement, when you
> consider how desperately commercial Web sites
> struggle to achieve the same goal.
> Perhaps because online diaries aren't valued
> yet (and may never be) in cash terms, there's
> also been surprisingly little effort made to
> preserve them. In some ways the online
> journal, despite being so widely available
> when online, is a more fragile and transient
> thing than its printed cousin. Whether by
> accident, fiat or deliberate censorship,
> whole years of online diaries can be, and
> have been, erased in a second.
> "I can see a market for first editions of
> people's diaries on disk," says Catherine
> deCuir, keeper of the journal writing site at
> the Mining Company. "It's kind of a unique
> cultural record," she adds.
> That's certainly the way Hall views his
> diary. Hall was there at the beginning of the
> Web boom, working at Cyborganic and HotWired.
> "Someone needs to be chronicling what's
> happening," he remembers feeling. "How did
> the Web people make the Web? Who were the Web
> people?" Without chronicles written from the
> trenches, he thinks, "we're going to miss a
> lot of the people below [Wired founder] Louis
> Rossetto" who made their contribution, too.
> But when you get him talking, his journal
> clearly means more to him than that. It is a
> constant companion, a free-form "log book of
> sorts." Every entry has links threading back
> through past entries, so an event in his life
> can set off a myriad of resonances for him
> and us. "I think Proust would have loved
> this," says Hall.
> Traditional ideas of literary value might
> never catch up with what the most interesting
> online diarists are doing. You may never get
> asked to pay money for them (although I'd
> argue that paying $19.95 for a book-length
> clearly means more to him than that. It is a
> constant companion, a free-form "log book of
> sorts." Every entry has links threading back
> through past entries, so an event in his life
> can set off a myriad of resonances for him
> and us. "I think Proust would have loved
> this," says Hall.
> Traditional ideas of literary value might
> never catch up with what the most interesting
> online diarists are doing. You may never get
> asked to pay money for them (although I'd
> argue that paying $19.95 for a book-length
> CD-ROM of Lizzie's Journal would be worth
> every penny), but journals like Lizzie's,
> Terry's, Laura's, Maggie's and even Justin's
> rambling monster of a site have a value
> beyond historical interest. Especially when
> combined with the added one-off memoirs and
> polemics that many journals feature, they
> constitute a new form of autobiography of
> tremendous power.
> Internet diaries can be as entertaining, as
> worth reading, as any other literature. Just
> as with a fine memoir, or even a novel, they
> offer us the chance to get caught up in
> another person's trials and triumphs, their
> dreams and their daily dramas. Just as with
> any fiction, we can appreciate them for the
> quality of their writing as much as for the
> stories they tell. And in this genre we get
> to enjoy it all in digestible daily doses and
> in the knowledge that we truly won't be able
> to predict what's going to happen next.
> So go and find the voice that speaks to you.
> It might be young Lucy or architect Alethea
> or The Gus on the East Coast or southerner
> Meghan. Whoever it is, try not to hassle
> them. Just tell them occasionally that you
> appreciate what they are doing. And let them
> go, too, when, like Alexis, they need to go.

I'm too lazy to type in the URLs linked to all the different online
diaries referred to in the above article, but if you go to the Salon
magazine version


you can get links to them all. Perhaps someone on FoRK will critique
some of these Web diaries for us.

FoRK has become our daily dose of tapping into an interconnected diary
of its participants' lives, loosely (if at all) structured around The
Void That Rohit Claims Is His Social Life. This Void, mind you, is
scheduled with activity 24/7/365/76, so it is a Void in spirit and not a
physical Void in spacetime.

So if you're still reading this far, which you very well might be since
our hypothesis is that in any given FoRKpost (such as this one, which is
being archived on the Web for all time as we speak) 3% of the
recipients are reading to the end, then you've plugged into the
collective soul that is FoRK, archived at


If you feel inclined, you may even want to "reply all" with, for
example, reasons why this web journal, like all web journals, sucks:


> Here are some pretty decent guidelines:
> 1. DON'T put incredibly revealing information about
> yourself on the Net unless you are comfortable with
> hundreds or thousands of people knowing exactly
> where you live or what your phone number is or when
> you're going to be out of town. I mean: DUH.
> 2. If you put a disclaimer on your pages like,
> "Friends and family: stay out, this is private,"
> you have just put a big "You better read this!" on
> your page.
> 3. If you put something up about friends or loved ones
> or people you can't stand, accept ahead of time
> that they will find it. If you say something the
> least bit critical you will catch hell until the
> end of eternity for it. (This is true, actually, of
> all of your writing.)
> 4. If you have a honest (read: racy, neurotic, sexy,
> drug-addled, whatever) journal, you will get lots
> of readers. You will also get other journalers
> talking about you in their journals, not always
> kindly. You will also get lots of fans, though they
> might just be there for the prurient value.
> ...
> Three qualities of what I term
> "excellent" or "good" journals stand out:
> 1. content
> 2. writing style
> 3. visual style
> Any "good" journal excels in one of the first two
> categories and has a good sense of the third. An
> "excellent" journal stands out in all three categories.
> (By the way, I thought there were several journals that
> had incredible visual style but sucked anyhow because
> they lacked elements 1 or 2.)
> ...
> Forget whatever you might have learned during the
> Eighties: Style is not content, content is content.
> ...
> The content of your online journal is your life. You are
> writing your autobiography as it happens. Keep in mind
> the questions any good journalist asks when writing a
> newspaper story.
> * who: Describe who's there. For repeat players, you
> may want to keep a list of names and a short bio of
> each person around to make new visitors familiar
> with who these people are. If you don't want to do
> that, give the reader some idea of who this person
> is to you -- how do you feel about them? Why are
> you mentioning this person in your autobiography?
> * what: What happened? Be specific. Detail, detail,
> detail. It may be incredibly clear to you that
> Safeway was ridiculously cold and the floor was so
> waxy you couldn't walk straight, but your readers
> don't know it. (And trust me, someone who's kept
> journals for years, you won't remember after a
> little while either.)
> * where and when: What's the place? Where you
> proposed to your wife or the same intersection
> where you had that fender-bender or what?
> * why: Why are you telling this story? What does it
> mean to you? How did you feel? Again, be specific.
> Even if you're just recording the meaningless
> details of your life, record them for a reason.
> Record them with zest.
> The single most annoying thing in any online journal --
> and there is quite a bit of competition for this honor
> -- is the line
> Well, something happened today, and it's
> really major and important in my life, but I
> can't talk about it.
> If you don't have anything to say, don't say anything.
> ...
> Hey, you don't have to be Hemingway. Or Capote. Or
> Shakespeare, Ludlum, or Rice. You can imitate another
> writer if you like, or be a fantastic original. What is
> style?
> You do need to work on readability.
> Back to the audience and the care and feeding thereof:
> we need to understand what you're saying. It is
> absolutely true that you will become a better writer
> with practice, but it has to be conscious practice. You
> have to put some thought and some desire into the
> process.
> Otherwise, you are publishing page after page of your
> life, but the writing is either too hard-to-read, or too
> incomprehensible and your audience is going to give up.
> Simple writing is best. Subject, verb, object.
> (And use a damn spelling checker. Every single word
> processing and HTML writing program comes with them
> now.)
> ...
> The bare minimum for a diary entry is a date. I think
> there are few more requirements for a diary entry on the
> Web, however.
> * navigation links: Provide a simple way of moving
> between entries, and between an entry and the cover
> page. Readers like to turn page. It's truly
> annoying to have to return continually to the cover
> page in order to move to the next entry or the
> previous entry. (Lack of navigation links is the
> number one killer for me of an otherwise readable
> journal.)
> * a simple, eye-friendly design: Compare the
> appearances of several different types of pages.
> What makes a page readable?
> o The font: a serif font, such as Times,
> Palatino, or Garamond is easier to read than a
> sans-serif (or smooth edge) font such as Arial
> or Helvetica. There's a reason books are
> printed in serif fonts.
> I've been challenged on the font issue, by the
> way, particularly by readers coming from
> Lance's Glassdog site. Lance is an advocate of
> sans-serif over serif fonts on the Web,
> because of the dpi of a computer screen. I
> continue to disagree--I still think serif is
> easier to read, but Lance's site is
> chock-a-block with good design info, so go
> there and find out more.
> o The font size: don't put <small/small> around
> your entire entry unless you want to go
> unread. If anything, make the size larger than
> the visitor's default point size. Writing
> entries in 10-point Helvetica/Arial seems to
> be a rage recently. STOP IT.
> o The font color/page color or background:
> Choose black <font $000000> on white <body
> bgcolor $FFFFFF>. Deviate from this at your
> own risk. There are successful non-standard
> pairings -- but more often unsuccessful ones.
> Red writing on a pink background? Teeny tiny
> writing that goes on for dozens of lines?
> Yuck. Repeat: yuck.
> o Paragraph breaks: There are two major schools
> of thought here -- use blank lines between
> paragraphs (the HTML <p> method) or the David
> Siegel method of using paragraph breaks and
> indentations. I don't care which one you use;
> just use one. Nothing discourages a reader
> more than being faced with an unending block
> of text.
> If you keep more than one entry per page, please be
> aware of the drawbacks of this approach.
> * Large pages, even pages filled mainly by text, take
> a long time to load.
> * Consider putting links at the top of the page to
> the individual entries that are on the page. This
> way, readers can tell at a glance how many entries
> they might have missed, as well as provide overall
> navigation for the page.
> * If you put newest entries at the top of the page,
> put in plenty of navigation links in order to move
> to the top of the page and to the next day's entry.
> Without that, readers will have either have to
> return to the top of the page to find a link to the
> next entry or scroll around looking for the
> beginning to the next entry. (Remember, scrolling
> back means passing the entire entry they just
> finished, plus the entire entry for the next day
> that they still want to read.)
> ...
> In some of my nastier moments, I dropped various
> journals that I ran across into one of several
> categories, usually disparagingly and always to
> pigeonhole them. Here's my set of categories:
> * The Good Ones: My favorites, the ones I read every
> day.
> * The Guilty Pleasures: The ones I keep reading,
> mainly for their car crash qualities. You want to
> look away, but you just can't. "Doesn't that person
> know how self-centered and stupid they're being?
> Are they really going to do such-and-such again?"
> * The Depressives: A gigantic subset of the journals
> out there chronicle the writers' horrible,
> crushing, day-in and day-out depression. Everything
> is black and bleak and they're usually taking a
> vast quantity of mood altering substances, like
> heroin. I've been criticized for criticizing them
> before, but please: get some help. Try to help
> yourself. Wallowing works for about three days
> before it's time to move on to something new.
> * The High Schoolers and College Freshmen:
> Irrepressible kids who are experiencing a world of
> things for the very first time and they want you,
> the reader at home, to know what it's like! The
> problem being, of course, that the more mature
> reader (ahem: me) has been there, done that. This
> is not their fault. But the lack of perspective
> gets a little tiring for me.
> * The Perky Ones (Christians): I'm not bashing
> someone on the basis of their religion, but
> "Christian" in this context indicates a writer
> (usually female) who's chipper about everything and
> everyone and usually dots her i's with a heart and
> loves Jesus. Everything's just keen and they want
> to cuddle with their dog Fluffy and write about how
> great everything is. Amazingly cloying.
> * The Nerds: Guys who can't get laid and describe
> their days in the most boring way possible--you can
> hear the monotone.
> * The Annoying and Obscure: You can't tell why this
> person is writing. More importantly, you can't tell
> what this person is writing. The writer either
> chooses an academic, overly syllabic writing style
> that's more suited to government work or a style
> that obscures who every character in the journal is
> and what those characters have done. Just say no.
> Don't be a stereotype. Be a whole person and get angry
> or get sad or be ecstatic or whatever--just don't be
> that every goddamn day. Let us see the whole you. If
> you've said something 3 days in a row, we get it
> already. Find something new.

I leave it to the fingers of FoRK to decide what kind of Web diary FoRK
actually is. Actually, I think it's all the categories at once.

Every FoRKpost seems to have its own character, and it is only the
collective soul of FoRK that sees the nuances that interconnect. (Like
why I had to include something about notifications in the 700 lines
above, or why I'm mentioning to K.Buxton that I'll be answering her
email shortly, or why I'm typing this in from Rohit's desk as he takes
his mid-afternoon slumber o' the day).

Then again, maybe those aren't nuances; they're just coincidences.

And maybe nothing is deep or profound, and overanalysis is just
time-wasting mental masturbation.

I look for a sign, for some kind of indication, and nothing comes.

I just sit here in the middle of Irvine, staring at a screen, waiting
to push the send button and disseminate a bunch of information that 3%
of the recipients will read.

No signs.


I'm not even sure what I will type next.

But I'm pretty sure that I'm only 80% done with writing this response,
because that's what emacs is telling me.


This is not an easy problem to solve, this problem of identifying FoRK.
I think Roy is right when he says


> focusing on something other than the immediate problem allows
> your mind to escape your angst and come to a conclusion that was already
> winning on the rational side of the brain.

So I'm starting to conclude that maybe life isn't as simple as I hoped
it would be, and FoRK isn't as easily categorizable as I had hoped it
would be, and Rohit is as hard to explain as life or FoRK or love.

In fact, maybe Rohit isn't a person in the conventional sense; maybe
he's the tacit embodiment of love, pure and untouched and waiting for
Godot to come and sweep him off his feet. After all, this wouldn't be
the first time I confused Rohit with love...


> > Although I agree that marriage is wonderful, I do not believe that we
> > are ever "alone in the most profound sense," as you indicated in your
> > letter. I believe that all the love you've ever given in your life is
> > replicated back to you, and accompanies you wherever you go, like a
> > "positive energy aura" that holds fast and never abandons you. And,
> > the more unselfish you are, the more of this love you have.
> Hmmm, maybe so, but I think you may be confusing "love" with Rohit.

Okay, strike that, reverse it.

Maybe Rohit is the tacit embodiment of information, more or less out of
formation, but still there if you read through it closely enough,
allowing interested parties to remain ahead of The Times


> In the electronic age, then, the Times seems destined to
> continue telling us the news fit to think. What the Times
> actually thinks, however, is sometimes different from what
> the rest of the country believes it has learned from the
> paper. Every news organization wants to shape people's
> views of the stories it covers; as the cancer story suggests,
> however, perhaps only the Times can sometimes find itself
> in the odd position of having even more influence than it
> wants.

So in trying to observe things and report on them, we in fact change
them. Basic law of physics, right? Unfortunately, FoRK is not physics.

Maybe being a FoRK is like living on a deserted island, as a prisoner of
cyberspace, with only the Web to catch you when you fall


> Our intrepid author holes up in a cabin for five days
> with no human contact except over the Internet.
> His conclusion: The world is not yet ready for a life
> lived online. Plus, you can starve.

The world is not ready for a life lived online. Let's try again.

Maybe FoRK, like Rohit himself, is something gossamer and delectable and
evanescent. No, wait, that's the freshly squeezed orange juice everyone
on this hall has been drinking all day thanks to WISEN and/or Jim and/or

Maybe FoRK is like falling in love for the first time, and getting
really hurt when the Web doesn't catch you


> I was getting seriously blissed out. It's not fun living *in* this
> cacophonous mind of mine, nosiree. This was about the second evening
> my whole life I've ever felt even vaguely quiet. Not just being quiet:
> I can go for days without talking, like a camel, but nary a second
> without some fireworks streaking across my mind's eye.
> I'm talking so mellow, I turned down the afterdinner offer of boggle
> or scrabble. I just didn't want to think. Luckily, she offered to
> share some of her artwork instead. She got called away to the phone,
> but I just stayed in my happy place watching several of her video
> installations. One of the most moving pieces was a video sculpture
> intended to seduce the viewer into the frame: a talking head, of
> sorts, imploring the viewer to break the glass so to speak. That one
> was quite a head trip: an impromptu, choreographed half-hour soliloquy
> ranging across the emotional map. As for some of the other pieces,
> well,I can;'t resist adding that I ended up making incisive
> technical commentary on her use of the nude. Yes, I got to see
> *everything* on our first date...
> Sometimes I despair that I'm far too much of a gentleman to ever get a
> clue about how these boy-girl thinkgs work. I know the 'work-world'
> inside out: how to seduce by dramatic gestures, big pictures, fine
> material things. I don't understand a damn thing about personal
> seduction, though. We live in such a personally empowered,
> technologically assisted society that I can reach out and touch
> (almost) anyone's mind, but I can't actually touch another human
> being. I'd feel more freakish, except that it is part of the modern
> condition for everyone: I never touch people. Oh sure, I laugh, I cry,
> I hug where Anglos fear to shake hands... but by now, I'm so
> desensitized, holding hands gives me the willies. Talk about your
> pathetic forbidden thrills.


Maybe that's it: FoRK is an online manifestation of the desire to
touch and to be touched, an interlaced, interleaved, intereverything
juxtaposition of people and places and ideas and noise, the very
encapsulation of the decade in which it was born.


> As we sit here, 18 months from the year 2000, the world has truly
> opened up at both the microscopic level (increasing narrowcasts and
> smaller demographic preference groupings) and at the macroscopic level
> (increasing amount of information available, with delicate
> interconnections increasing with vigor and verve each passing day).
> I think this is how the 1990s will be remembered. We still have the
> tension of the potential for complete extinction, we still have the
> tension of the potential for complete mind control, we still have the
> tension of the potential for our creating the species that supplants us
> on this planet, and we still have the tension of the potential for the
> dawning of a new era of human understanding and enlightenment. This is
> a fascinating crossroads at which we currently stand, on June 27, 1998.

Or here, near the end of a long and winding self-referential FoRKpost,
maybe the only image that's left in my mind as I stare at the screen
looking for a sign is that perhaps FoRK is simply more entertainment
that adds to the data smog in our lives and further masks our abilities
to think clearly about what is really important.


> I realized recently that I was having an e-mail conversation about the
> Truman show and literary prophecies. I had never seen the movie and he
> had never read Brave New World Revisisted. I sent him the FoRK
> recommended link and he accused me of trying to get kickbacks, so I
> ended up just buying it and sending it anyways. BNWR was written by
> Huxley himself. Some of the mechanism that he claims society will
> willingly or unknowningly submit to haven't panned out as behavioral
> technologies, but the one single one that can make a very strong case
> about is television.
> Tell me what extent this relates to all FoRK posts or society at large
> and I will tell you how far we've gone.
> Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985):
> We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy
> didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The
> roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had
> happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.
> But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was
> another -- ... Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.... Orwell warns that we
> will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's
> vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy,
> maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their
> oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to
> think....
> Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared
> those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity
> and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us.
> Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell
> feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become
> a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the
> orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

To the extent that this relates to all FoRKposts, I'm not sure. But
there is certainly something in there, even if we kill our television.
As one savvy FoRKer put it,

> p.s. It was an excellent post, BTW. I was thinking
> about what would a modern Utopia look like. I kicked my bookshelf
> and took about 50 or so books into work to try and answer
> that. I was going to try and post something.

But what WOULD a modern Utopia look like? It's nothing like what anyone
so far has imagined; I've spent years reading everything I could get my
hands on in search for the truth, in a quest for rationality and the
ability to prove and improve things around us.

Is it pessimistic or optimistic to think we live in the best of all
possible worlds? Is it unrealistic to think that things will get
better, or is this as good as it gets? And what if this is as good as
it gets... would that really be so bad?

Socrates or maybe Madonna said the unexamined life is not worth living.
And it's certainly true that the unlived life is not worth examining.
But what of the overscheduled life, teeming-to-the-brim with both too
much to do, and an overanalysis of each of those things? No one ever
seems to reach a conclusion about these types of people, let alone a
community of such people.

Jim Waldo told me many things this week, but today I can only remember
three of them. Number one, simpler is better. Number two, be very
weary of a definite article like THE because THE speaks to THE oneness
of things rather to a delicate interconnectedness among lots of things.
And number three, whatever you do, be careful. Some things you cannot
take back.

Well, FoRK is not simple. FoRK is THE scrapbook of what's evolving in
Rohit's life. And FoRK is rarely careful in whatever it does -- posts
are sent on-the-fly in real-time as things are heard or thought or
discovered or analyzed, and once caught in the Web, posts stay there
more or less forever, for anyone who's ever typed anything interesting
into a Web search engine to get trapped in sooner or later.

That was probably more of an answer than you were looking for, eh?

Welcome to the firehose that is FoRK, which (to quote Gene Spafford out
of the context of the usenet) is "like a herd of performing elephants
with diarrhea... massive, difficult to redirect, awe-inspiring,
entertaining, and a source of mind-boggling amounts of excrement when
you least expect it."


.sig double play!

It's the good girls who keep the diaries; the bad girls never have the
-- Tallulah Bankhead

By the way, you know when you're telling these little stories? Here's a
good idea. Have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the
-- Steve Martin as Neal Page in "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles"