The Lost Cemetery of Prose – a Tribute to Open Diary.

by Christina

In March 2001 I started writing in an online diary called Open Diary. It was the predecessor to pretty much every blog that currently takes up space on the Information Superhighway. It existed alongside Livejournal, it’s really that old.  This weekend just gone, on 7 February 2014, it disappeared from the Internet forever, leaving thousands of people bereft, because for anything up to 16 years (Open Diary was founded in 1998) they had relied upon it to house their secrets, their friendships and the prose that spilled from their brain as often as needed, because before the world existed in Facebook statuses or 140 characters, there were places you could go to write down your thoughts and share them, anonymously or not, with the world, and Open Diary was one of those places, and Open Diary was that place for me.

The Front Page of Open Diary. For 15.5 years.
The Front Page of Open Diary. For 15.5 years.

When it began, I was just 17, and still at school. I would log on at lunchtime, from the sixth form IT room and write about how hard my day was and how much coursework I had to wade through and how much I loved my boyfriend and hated my best friends. I would write about my after-school job and what I wanted to study at University and then my Grandma died and I was close to her so I wrote about how that made me feel, and I wrote about how irritating I found my younger brother and how I didn’t know which boy to choose and what festivals I was going to that summer. I wrote about my favourite songs and my social life and my petty quarrels with people I cared about, thought I cared about or wanted to kill with a spade. And I carried on doing that for 12 years, although I had no idea what I was starting when I began typing that first day. All my friends had Open Diaries too and we used them to squabble among ourselves – it became the height of teenage passive aggressive behavior, and I was perhaps the biggest culprit of all. As the years went on, my school friends dropped off this early example of lifestyle blogging (although much more personal and mostly without the pictures of home baking) and went out and got Real Lives, and I kept on writing. People I’d never met before began leaving notes and before I knew where I was, I’d made friends. Internet friends! Back in the day when we were all told that Internet friends were all axe murderers waiting on tenterhooks for us to give our location away so they could come and kill us.

I can tell you now that none of the friends I met through Open Diary were murderers. Some of them went on to become some of my best friends and favourite people. In fact, the night that Open Diary went offline forever, I was staying in Cardiff with my friend Jess, because we both loved Frank Turner and we both loved Cardiff and we live at opposite ends of the country, so we met there and got drunk and exchanged messages with Open Diary users from all over the world from the comfort of the pub next to our Cardiff hotel the night we found out Open Diary was finally being pulled from the airwaves. That night was special and poignant, because even though a huge part of my life was disappearing forever, I got to spend it with someone I had become close to via that web site, watching a gig by one of my favourite musical artists – and a running theme throughout my diary was music – some days it was all I wrote about – and it was somehow just as life intended.

Jess and I kept online diaries for over 10 years and now we have matching tattoos! We are the ultimate Internet geeks.
Jess and I kept online diaries for over 10 years and now we have matching tattoos! We are the ultimate Internet geeks.

I can’t explain to you what Open Diary meant to me, what it means to me. I can’t explain unless you were there. You’d think I was strange if I told you that the people whose online diaries I read for 12 years knew more about me than the friends I saw every day, and still do. You’d wonder what the hell kind of dynamic that was – how people could be completely honest and open with one another who had never met one another. And I’ll tell you that you don’t need to know because if you were there then you GOT it – but you should know that there are different types of cemetery, different types of memorial, and some do not exist in the physical world. They cannot even be accessed by computer – and Open Diary is one of those things, because it no longer exists, anywhere except in our memories. And so the beauty of what we wrote and what we had when we wrote it and the relationships we have with each other as a result lives on in our hearts and in our minds, and that makes Open Diary exactly like a Victorian Londoner who never got to be buried in Highgate West or Brompton or Kensal Green. There are a lot of ways to remember a person or a thing or a time in your life. Some of the ways aren’t physical monuments – sometimes there are no giant mausoleums.

But if Open Diary were a physical monument, it would be very grand indeed. Grand enough for one of the Magnificent Seven.

If Open Diary were a monument...?
If Open Diary were a monument…?

Russian Doll Tattoos by Tasha Pollendine at Physical Graffiti, Cardiff. 

Bottom photograph by Christina Owen – Abney Park Cemetery November 2013

19 thoughts on “The Lost Cemetery of Prose – a Tribute to Open Diary.

  1. Yeah, I joined a month after you and – though I stopped writing regularly years ago, turning to this blog instead – OD changed my life. I have at least a dozen real-life friends whom I met through the site, and I consider them my closest friends of all. As if that weren’t enough, my wife is a fellow OD’er – we never would have met if not for that place! Though I had some bad experiences there, the good outweighs those. Thanks for this stirring tribute. RIP, OD.

    ~ plushcreep

  2. Aloha…
    Maui Jim here…
    I joined O.D.February 21st, 1999… diarist #3499… over 3,098 entries… over 109,139 visits to my site… there is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss it…
    Aloha oe…

  3. This is one of the best wrote entries I have read. Thank you! Christmasangels, you noticed me, when I was invisible, ~Kimber~

  4. I also loved Open diary. I live an isolated life andit gave me opportunity to connect with others allover the world.”Favorite” people became like pen pals and we could note one and other as often as we wished. I made friends in America and England. After I stopped writing for a two months or so, I have found that all my entries are gone, vanished, and I have now lost contact with those friends. It’s all a bit sad really. We will all live though, and I am sure face book will fill a little hole for all of us, as well as actually reaching out and speaking face to face with those around us who also need our love and attention!

  5. I just found out today that everything I wrote all those years ago for so many years is gone… It’s completely heart breaking. Your blog entry almost had me weeping at work over it. I was there too, and I’m glad I have the memories, if only I still had the random musings.

  6. I can totally relate to you and all these bunch of people who wept with the death of OD 😦 Is there really no way to retrieve our archives? Most of my growing up memories and deepest moments were there…. Sigh.

  7. I started writing on the diary Oct 27, 1998. Diarist #68. I went through so much there, even met my husband. When it was announced the diary was shutting down after all those years, it left a hole that can’t be filled by other sites. However, I do have friendships, bonds actually, that I built there that will never be broken. Your tribute was beautifully written. Thank you for sharing. Diarist #68,Jacqui

  8. I haven’t logged into open diary since my daughter was born last November. I started mine in 1999.

    Years of memories… Gone.

  9. I have been trying to log into opendiary since last year. For some reason I never got any search results telling me it was taken down, I just religiously tried to bring up the website so I could see the familiar screen and write an entry. I wanted to leave comments for my best friend, whom through open diary we had become closer than I have ever been to anyone. She passed away in August of 2013. I did download both of our diaries at that point, then my son crashed my laptop. We started our open diaries in 1999 and wrote until she passed and until mine was erased, forever. No matter how good or bad those memories were, they were mine and they made me who I am today, there is no way to get them back and the most important person with whom I shared them with is also gone. This tribute is absolutely beautiful and I thank you for sharing.

    ❤ Lindsey
    also known as:
    neon stars.
    (hers was false elevation and it had been others before)

  10. I am really sad that Opendiary is no more. I miss redreading entries and reliving my high school angst and college madness. A diary formerly known as Scissors.

  11. Hi! Im Fahlein, I used to have an open Diary account too. I miss it too so bad and more than that I miss my friends there. I just hope they’re all okay and living merrily. I am in Prosebox now. It kinda seems like OD. And I somehow like it there. Anyway, Take care you guys and Godbless.

  12. I miss OD as well, thank you for the moving and well written tribute.

    I still can’t believe we received so little notice, not even an email. I logged in only every couple of months or so, and it was shortly after it was taken down that I tried to log in and discovered it was gone forever. I had my diary for 14 years, started when I was 14, and at the time my real life friends were using it too. There are so many things we wrote to and for each other that we would never have had the guts to share in person. I struggle with personal relationships and it really helped me to feel an intimacy with my friends that I couldn’t get any other way. After high school we all drifted apart and I have not seen or spoken to them in years. I enjoyed going back and reading those older entries of theirs and mine, to feel connected to them again. I feel like my memories of that time have faded so quickly, and I struggle to remember how those deep connections felt without OD to remind me. I understand that nothing lasts forever, I didn’t expect OD to be around my whole life, but I did expect to get more notice so that we could download our diaries. I feel like a piece of my adolescence is gone, like keepsakes burned in a fire.

  13. A dear friend from OD and IRL shared this post with me. This is a beautiful tribute, and OpenDiary will always have a special place in my heart.

    The diarist formerly known as Kvetch

  14. Dear all

    Thank you all so much for your replies. I’m not part of this blog anymore but I still check the comments on this post because it’s so good to know that I’m not the only one who loved The Open Diary so deeply! Im glad this post has struck a chord. Keep on commenting, it’s great to hear from you all. Christina xxx

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