This week, the site www.opendiary.com closed down once and for all. OD, as it was affectionately known by its many users, was one of the earliest social networking/blogging sites out there. Here, have a link to Wikipedia. It was a surprisingly innovative site – maybe not as well-known as Live Journal, but it solidly paved the way in a few areas.
Ladies and gents, this is not my first blog – I wrote over at OD, under various pseudonyms and at various levels on privacy, for about thirteen years, on and off. It was more of a journal than a blog, though. I certainly didn’t hold back on subjects there that I don’t even mention here.
I started writing in my first year of university (2001) and never fully stopped using it. It wasn’t a fad for me like MySpace. Facebook wasn’t a thing for me until 2007, and I never ever, pretty much until now, told anyone in my real life that I had a diary on OD. Still, OD laid the groundwork for a lot of features used on the more public social networks. So, whenever I read yet another person’s thoughts on why they hate or do not use Facebook or Twitter or any of the many sites out there these days, I would think of OD and realise that I’ve been doing this social media thing in some form or another for a very, very long time.
Now OD is gone, though I hadn’t written there for a while, it really does feel like the end of an era.
A substantial difference between OD and, well, every other social network, is that it was set up and run by volunteers who had no interest in selling people’s information. It felt like a small, personal space of mostly lovely people. There was the odd skirmish between writers, but genuine trolls were weeded out very quickly. Mostly what I, and many people there, found were supportive strangers and, as the years passed, readers that turned into friends.
When I found out the site was closing, the first thing I did was scan through my favourite diaries to see where people were going. The nice (I suppose) thing is that the people I would really want to not lose touch with have already crossed into the real world. I have friends that I made on OD that I am still, thanks to the newer networks, in touch with on a near daily basis. We’ve met in person. We write to each other – they are still people that, when things get really tough, I have no hesitation about emailing or writing to for advice or just to vent. It’s freeing to know that there are a very few people out there who know my best and worst secrets of the past ten years and still love me and do not judge me for them. The same thing applies from me to them.
The second thing I did? I downloaded my entire archive. 13 years of writing. I considered letting it vanish into the ether, but after reading (and laughing at) my first few entries, I decided doing that would be tantamount to burning my teen diaries. A lot of the writing is embarrassing, and at times I was a total dick. But as I scan through it, it’s kind of novel to be able to see how much I changed over the years. I’m often still a dick, but not in the same way. It reminds me of events I don’t even recall. There are entries where I’m so indignant about a small thing that it made me choke on my tea to reread it. I’d like to be able to pull up the files in another 15 years and see if I’ve gone full circle.
19-year-old me is someone I barely recognise, and having her filed away neatly on a hard-drive instead of blathering on, still, in cyberspace, feels like heavy doors have been closed very firmly. This blog, Facebook, Twitter are not the same thing – they are so glossy and tweaked. They’re a photoshopped portrait compared to OD’s finger-painting. There’s none of the raw emotional mess (or, you know, for some people there is, but not me).
What I’m really pleased about, though, is that the archives automatically include the replies and comments: good advice, mostly, and guidance, or just reminders that people are reading. I’d forgotten many of the earlier readers, to be honest, but the memories flooded back with the names, and I bet I still have some of the email addresses stored.
By the second year of writing, those people who are still in my life start to appear, and I’m really bloody grateful to still have them around. But the other folks, and the people who were written about that you started to feel like you knew, from the endless stories – I wonder how those people are doing, or if they’re still alive.
I know for a fact that a few people referenced in the early years have died. That information, the way it didn’t hit me (or you, you know who you are) as hard as you or I would think it would, from reading the diary entries, is the best example of just how long OD was a part of our lives, and how much time does heal wounds. In 2002, 2003, we thought we would never recover – but here we are.