Alex Payne is a writer based in Portland, Oregon.

since 2001, al3x.net has served as his online home.

Journaling vs. Blogging vs. Twittering

I’ve begun to keep a private journal/diary/logbook. The format I’ve adopted is simple: one entry per day consisting of two paragraphs. The first paragraph has a sentence for everything noteworthy I’ve done that day. The second paragraph consists of what I’ve been thinking about. Activities and thoughts.

Since I already record my activities and thoughts on this blog and via Twitter, I’ve had to rationalize the effort of keeping an additional record. Please excuse the meta while I explore as much.

vs. Blogging

The primary and obvious difference between journaling and blogging is that a journal is private. A journal exists only for the author’s personal consumption, or possibly as a posthumous record of a life. Without the modest audience my blog has accrued, I have no incentive to filter what I write for content or style. I can be as dry or as flowery as I like and nobody need suffer.

My earliest blogging was more diary-like. Over the years the frequency of my posts has decreased, but my personal satisfaction with what I write here has increased in kind. Now, rather than forcing myself to write every day (as I am with the journal), I wait to blog until I have a mostly-formed idea to share that I hope will appeal to others. I do this because it’s the style of blogging that I most enjoy reading. Daily, guaranteed, newspaper-like output is fine on the web, but it’s not what I think of as blogging, and neither is an open diary.

I was asked while musing on journaling via Twitter if there’s a practical reason not to simply keep a journal in a local installation of one’s favorite blogging software. I think the difference is in the aesthetics of the tools. When I see the “frame” of a blog around a collection of words, I’m conditioned to read and write a certain way. You wouldn’t write a novel in a paper diary; I’m sure someone has, but the tool doesn’t fit the task. A private blog for oneself seems to me like a different animal than a journal or logbook.

vs. Twittering

Twitter is a convenient way to record each activity of significance in my day, the sum of which comprises the first paragraph of my daily journal entry. But doing so would pollute my timeline with (even more) inanities, and I wouldn’t wish that on the more than five thousand lovely people who follow my updates.

The solution would be to create a second account, but I don’t want to use Twitter this way. Even though the question posed by Twitter is “what are you doing?”, I rarely answer it. In large part this is because my answers would be uninteresting. My favorite Twitterers crack jokes, link to engaging content, and post all manner of non-sequiturs and odd mutterings. I try to make my updates as enjoyable to read as theirs. Again, my primary barometer for style and voice is dictated by exemplars of the medium in question.

Using Twitter as nothing more than a log of one’s activities ignores the service’s social aspect. As well, not everything I want to record about my day or the ideas kicking around in my head will fit into 140 characters.

Conclusion

The difference between journaling and blogging or Twittering isn’t simply that a journal is private, it’s stylistic. Good blogging is not journaling. Good Twittering is not journaling. Good journaling may have elements of both media, but journaling entails a distinct voice shared within a well-considered context.

Because I have my own particular format for my journal (but one that may change), I’m considering storing it in CouchDB as a way to experiment with that document database. I’m curious to see what intelligence I can programmatically extract from the journal once the corpus of entries is sizable. Until then, journaling is purely an act of mental discipline, and one that will remain separate from the other ways in which I share my thoughts.

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