Network: Diary of a nobody can make gripping reading

Journal writers are abandoning their bedside diaries and setting up websites. You can now tap into the lives of thousands of people, by accessing the internet. By Caroline Lister

TThe diary has always been a popular literary medium. Perhaps the appeal lies in pouring out each day's thoughts and minutiae to an understanding but unquestioning ear. In the past, it was rare for diaries to be published while the writer was still alive. Diaries of ordinary people were even less common, although when they did occur, they formed an invaluable part of social history.

Perhaps it's pre-millennial tension, but a sense of urgency has invaded this usually genteel genre: the Internet, a medium primed for instant gratification, has become the perfect place to showcase your ongoing biography. Online journals now form a large part of the Web. It makes sense, really; after all, the existence of an audience, even if it is virtual, is bound to have added allure for the journal writer.

For the reader, it's a compelling daily soap opera unfolding on your screen. You may be sceptical at first, but gradually you become involved, finding yourself frustrated when there are no updates, sympathetic when there is a problem and eventually e-mailing thoughtful missives to a person whose life you have become entangled in but are also completely removed from.

It would be easy to dismiss Internet diaries as symptomatic of our Jerry Springer-fuelled times, withpeople obsessed about leaving their mark and competing fervently for their 15 minutes. In fact, Web journals are rarely sensationalist and their importance lies in keeping notions of biography flexible and accessible.

Anyone with a story to tell, a little knowledge of HTML and access to a computer can contribute. Perhaps this explains the vastness and popularity of the online diary network that spans cultures and countries world-wide.

Web rings dedicated to diaries include Open Pages, which has an estimated 900 journals, No Spring Chicken, Often, and Archipelago. The writers are from varied backgrounds, including travellers, lawyers, medics, parents, Web designers and teenagers. They form an online journal-writing community and members often link to each other and argue with each other.

Kymm Zuckert, generally regarded as the grande dame of online journaling, has around 600 hits a day for the unpretentious and candid Mighty Kymm's Hedgehog Tales, and her archives stretch back to 1996. She is not alone in her staying power.

Lucy Huntzinger, author of Aries Moon, has written regular and absorbing entries since 1997. As a keen traveller, she features (as does Kymm) examples of her photography online. Similarly, Rory's site is dedicated to his travels. The compelling (and very funny) archives of Down the Rubabdub in a Terry Nutkins Stylee (yes, he is British) follow him from Yorkshire, to hitching around the US and eventual dramatic deportation. He's recently posted some new diaries from a four-month Mexico trip.

While journals such as these concentrate on the personal, others express themselves through political rhetoric - although, of course, the personal is the political, and this is never more true than of the inimitable Mimi Nguyen. Her site begins with a statement of intent: "I'm a 24-year-old graduate student in comparative ethnic studies with a designated emphasis in gender and sexuality. I'm bi-queer and, lucky for you, I'm also devoted to poststructuralist feminist queer theorising, with a dash of the postcolonial."

Her epic, energetic site contains an awe-inspiring database covering topics close to her heart, such as essays on Vietnam, the politics of travel and an Asian American feminist resource called Exoticize This.

Likewise, the engaging Miss Melty's site brims with honest, thoughtful essays on pop culture, scrupulously researched pieces such as "Whiteness And The Forlorn Me Too" and the situation in Yugoslavia, which she visited last year with her Croatian mother.

With a conventional diary, the author doesn't get a lot of feedback. Publishing online, on the other hand, positively invites a response - and it can have repercussions, with the authors having to defend their actions and lifestyle choices to some readers, or even justify occasional absences.

It is difficult to maintain the momentum of writing every day, especially with pressure from your audience, and it must be frustrating when your original agenda is forfeited for writing about the problems of being an online diarist.

Deb, of the endearing Daily Dose of Deb, wrote regular entries for a year, even posting a daily photo of herself, but found she grew tired of "constantly taking her emotional temperature". No doubt it would have been tempting to stick with a winning formula, but instead of letting her writing go stale or become a burden to herself, Deb morphed her site into Deb's Daily Haiku.

In the fluid, sinuous environment of Internet diaries, even mild dissatisfaction with your output seems heightened and magnified. Sometimes, as Deb proved, the only answer is to "go 404", take stock, and then usher in a fresh new approach and hope that it proves popular.

Aries Moon: www.mindspring.com/

huntzinger/dindex.html

Down the Rubadub in a Terry Nutkins Stylee: www.geocities.com/

SouthBeach/Cove/9212/diary.html

Miss Melty: www.melty.com/ main.

html

Deb's Daily Haiku: www.io.com/%7Edeb/daily/index.html

Mighty Kymm's Hedgehog Tales: www.hedgehog.net/mightykymm/

Mimi Nguyen: members.aol.com/slantgirl/index2.html

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