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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Tell the whole world

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

Online tools for posting your Web log These sites offer free tools to help people put their personal journals online.


Albert "the Panther" Vanderburg lives on the Internet, in an almost literal sense. Out of work for four years, the self-described "retired" writer spends most of his days kicking around the University of Hawai'i-Manoa campus, nighttime catching winks where he can, curled "somewhere discreet" under his tarp.

Homelessness hasn't evicted him from his virtual home, however. His online scribblings detail his journeys about the Web, as well as other dispatches from his nomadic prowling.

"Throughout my life, I have almost always kept a diary, and when I decided to make this jump from 'householder' to 'homeless,' I considered the notion of starting a public diary," he said via e-mail. "I was much impressed then by the work of 'Ophelia Z' and young 'Jay,' two of the pioneers in local online diarists, so took the leap and began my own."

Vanderburg lost touch with his cyber mentors but kept up "The Panther's Tale" (www.nahenahe.net/panther/tale.html). A snippet from entry No. 754:

Such a day of feeling damp. I'd no sooner get dried out than I'd get caught in yet another totally unexpected downpour. No suspicious-looking clouds, no few warning drops, just sudden splash! Then the temperature dropped sharply, the wind making it feel even cooler, as we all complained in the park. I complained even more during the night which was easily as cold as any during winter.

He has loads of company among the Web denizens of Hawai'i who have become part of the trend known variously as journaling or Web logging ("blogging"). It's a tradition that's as old as the realization that the Net makes everyone instant publishers, but it's grown exponentially in the last few years with the development of software that makes it easy for people to update their journals, even if they sign onto the Web far from home.

Technically, a "blog" is supposed to be more of a log of Web spots the writer has discovered, distinct from a journal with more personal reflections. But in the unpoliced cyberrealm, definitions become blurred quickly. Journal or blog, it's whatever the writer says it is.

One who does observe the distinction is Makiki graphic artist Ryan Ozawa. In addition to maintaining his own online journal ("In Media Res") and a separate blog, Ozawa has posted a bibliography of Isle Web journals at his site (lightfantastic.org/imr/extras/burbs/isleties.html). And he's spent some time thinking about the reasons people seem compelled to log their thoughts where the world can read them.

"Of course, venting is one — very common, and yet the most potentially dangerous," he wrote via e-mail while traveling in Japan. "People seize on the online journal as a way to talk about things they can't say in real life among friends, forgetting completely that of course they're saying it to the world's millions of Web surfers.

"The horror stories are many. It's the toughest hard lesson lots of new writers learn."

One who got off fairly easily is Sarah Bruner, a Honolulu resident, free-lance writer and Web designer who maintains her journal at her site (syrup.org). Honesty is the best policy, she's found, but not too much honesty.

"I never include last names," she said in a telephone interview. "I use first names, and I always use real names.

"A man I had a short relationship with called me recently. 'It appears that I owe you an apology,' he said. 'People have been reading your journal.' I said, 'You mean YOU have been reading my journal.' He said, 'Yes ... I didn't realize I had hurt you so badly.'

"Each of my journal entries is like a snapshot of a time. I had to explain to him that that was a year ago, and now I'm fine."

He was not angry, but others have put jobs and current relationships on the line with their casual scribblings, Ozawa said.

"In the last several years I've watched lots of people revel in the 'freedom,' only to find themselves sued, fired, or dumped," he said. "'This is my site, and I can say what I want,' they cry, but once it's online, once you have readers, you're no different to a lawyer than Simon & Schuster."

Online journaling and blogging has become increasingly interactive over the years, owing to software that makes all of this simple. Ozawa has a feedback button on his entries; like thousands of cyberdiarists, he's used Blogger, a free program developed by a Nebraska college dropout named Evan Williams.

Williams and his company, Pyra Labs, released Blogger in August 1999, offering it free online (www.blogger.com). About 115,000 Blogger blogs have been posted to date.

There are other free, advertising-supported services, like Diaryland.com, where a registered user, with no Web coding experience at all, can use the built-in software and store their blog at the site.

Bruner keeps her journal and blog separate, in part because each attracts a different readership.

"I don't think everybody is interested in reading my long-winded entry, or what I had for breakfast, but they may be interested in the link that I posted," she said.

Relatively few people ever react to her writing, but Bruner doesn't mind. Feedback is only one reason for keeping a journal.

"There is a loneliness and I wanted to put some energy out there, my own personal thoughts and feelings out there, to see if there was anyone who felt the same way," she said. "And it became an opportunity to flex my writing muscles."

Now and then, however, there are results, and Bruner feels good about that. One man, apparently the abuser in a dysfunctional marriage, stumbled on Bruner's journal, and held it out to his wife as an example of how she should act. It proves that you should be careful what you wish for.

"She ended up leaving her husband," Bruner said. "She told me my strength had set an example for her.

"That alone is the reason I keep doing it," she added. "If something I write has a positive effect on someone else, that's the best I can hope for."

Gannett News Service contributed to this report. You can reach Advertiser staff writer Vicki Viotti by e-mail at vviotti@honoluluadvertiser.com or by phone at 525-8053.