I think I’ve realized why LiveJournal and similar types of blogging* are dying, even for those for whom it was once practically a life necessity.  It has to do with this research (of which I have been familiar for some time–Pennebaker came and gave a talk here–but it came up in a recent colloq again and so it has been rattling around in my brain lately).

Basically, the effect I’m thinking about is this:  “Both projects found that with increasing age, individuals use more positive and fewer negative affect words, use fewer self-references, use more future-tense and fewer past-tense verbs, and demonstrate a general pattern of increasing cognitive complexity.

My argument hinges on the idea that LiveJournal is out of fashion, so it doesn’t get many new, young users (in the US/English-speaking world).  New, young users hop on Twitter or Facebook or Pinterist or whatever is cool today (nearly all of which involve massive numbers of short and/or multimedia postings rather than longer, textual entries).  So, the vast majority of LiveJournal users are aging out of the kind of communication that is best suited to the form.

So let’s break it down—with increasing age, individuals…

Image– Use more positive and fewer negative affect words: We all know that LiveJournal is (or was) for whining.  Very few people post long entries about how well their life is going—and if they do, it probably doesn’t make for very interesting reading unless it involves some unusual circumstances (e.g., “Here’s the story of how I won $HUGE_SUM in Vegas!”).  There is no story to tell when things are just good for no particular reason, or because nothing bad has happened recently. But if the above research is true… as you get older, you tend to whine less (and maybe count your proverbial blessings more).  So you feel less need to hop on th’old El Jay to gin up some sympathy for your latest bad day.


– Use fewer self-references:  This is probably the biggest one.  You talk about yourself less as you get older.  But these barely-Web-2.0 blogs* were the very beginning of self-centered social networking, and once you start talking about something else other than the microcosm of your ultimately mundane existence, your journal has become something else (i.e., a blog that someone other than your closest friends might actually want to read).  The vast majority of my former LJ friends who are still blogging have established a blog “topic” or are involved in hobby/fandom/etc. communities.  That is, we’re not 30-to-40-plus and still writing, in excruciating detail, about everything we did this weekend… we don’t feel the urge to talk about ourselves in great detail, to everyone who will listen, multiple times per day.

You might point out that many people in this age range have merely moved their social-network activity to another milieu, like Facebook.  True… but I would be highly interested in seeing a Pennebaker-style analysis of FB posts by age (which I’m sure has been done, many many many times, but I’m already procrastinating by writing this post in the first place).  My guess is that FB use differs across the lifespan.  Anecdotally, most people I know in my age cohort use FB to keep friends and family up to date on our kids more than ourselves.  My childless friends tend to fall off the social-networking grid for long periods of time, unless they have topical information to share.  With the Presidential election coming up, there are a lot of people talking about politics… but not about themselves.

Image– Use more future-tense and fewer past-tense verbs:  Here’s a case where Twitter/Facebook is much more suited to “older” than “younger” communication—When speaking in the future tense, “We’re going to Disneyworld next month!” is pretty much all there is to say.  Nobody wants to know your day-by-day itinerary.  Past tense is for telling stories, and stories require a longer form than those currently in vogue. So our more future-oriented language style finds a natural home on Facebook/Twitter; with fewer past-tense (and self-referential) stories to tell, we don’t miss the characters or feel a need to wander back to LiveJournal.

– Demonstrate a general pattern of increasing complexity: …I think this one is why people who were once avid LiveJournalers tend to lament its passing from time to time, especially those who have not found a good replacement outlet for thoughts more complex than a tweet.  But in our current social and economic climate, once you’re old enough to have “real” responsibilities, it’s also difficult to find time for such expressions.  Of course, even as our thoughts become more complex and more potentially interesting to other people… we’re less compelled to broadcast them to the world.

* By this, I mean LiveJournal or similar long-format, highly-socially-networked blogging.  This is not to be confused with either microblogging (e.g., Twitter, Facebook) or blogs that are more “broadcast” style, where people subscribe to you because they want to read articles on a certain topic or from a certain perspective (rather than because they want to interact with you, personally, in quasi-real-time and keep up with the minutiae of your everyday life). The aforementioned type is hereafter referred to as “LiveJournal,” much as facial tissues are often referred to as “Kleenex” regardless of brand.

** Shouldn’t we be on, like, Web 5.7 or something by now?