Posted by: rcieri | January 10, 2010

Regrettable But Relatable: Anonymous Microblogging Web sites

The following was originally published on and exclusively owned by www.HerCampus.com, an online magazine for college women. View the article on HerCampus.com by clicking here.

By Rachel Cieri

Jan. 10, 2010

Feeling down? Put down the Ben & Jerry’s. According to college students, one of the best ways to make yourself feel better is to log onto the Internet and read a few posts on FMyLife.com, TextsFromLastNight.com, PostSecret.com or MyLifeIsAverage.com

With millions of visitors each day, these blogs allow any user to share his or her thoughts with the masses in the form of a few lines of text, or, in the case of PostSecret, a single post card.

Hood College junior Rachel Morgan is just one of the many who turn to anonymous microblogging sites like these when they need a quick pick-me-up.

“When I have bad days, those stories make me feel better because they’re so much more ridiculous [than my own],” Morgan says.

It started with PostSecret.com in 2005, a community art project and blog that allows people to anonymously mail postcards with their secrets written on them. Some are sad and serious, but others are silly and lighthearted, evoking a mix of emotions some students say is just right.

To date, PostSecret.com logs more than 200 million visits, and a 2008 Youth Trends report called the site the tenth most popular among female students. But its popularity seems to have been replaced by more recent, less meaningful (though possibly more entertaining) projects.

In 2008, Web entrepreneurs Maxime Valette, Guillaume Passaglia and Didier Guedj launched the English version of one of the most popular French Web sites to hit cyberspace. Viedemerde.fr, which translates to “life of sh–,” spawned its English language equivalent FMyLife.com, a blog that serves as a “recollection of everyday anecdotes likely to happen to anyone,” according to its Web site.

Whether it’s a middle school teacher who got fired from his job for telling an eighth grader that Santa wasn’t real or a woman whose boss gave her a workout video for Christmas, the people who share their stories invite laughter, not sympathy.

“It’s really entertaining to read stories about random hilarious things that happen to other people,” Elon University junior Jordan McNeill says. “It makes you realize that things that happen to you really aren’t that bad.”

College students are particularly fascinated with the terrible tales, and the site collegefml.com serves as a portal to more than two dozen sites devoted exclusively to “FML” stories from a particular college.

In the spirit of making the negative funny, the site TextsFromLastNight.com was created in February to provide a forum for regrettable drunk text messages. Users can anonymously post text messages sent either to or from their phones with the area code as the only form of identification.

Roanoke College senior Susanna Bonig admits that the site is a good “pick-me-up” after a particularly rough night.

“As bad as it sounds, it makes you think, ‘At least my night wasn’t that bad,’” said Bonig.

Bonig’s school, like hundreds of others, has its very own version of the site, a Facebook group that takes the anonymity out of the posts but remains popular nonetheless. The problem with TFLN, students say, is that their posts are never chosen for publication.

However, University of Maryland senior Kelly MacBride-Gill said she does not subscribe to this fascination with the macabre that TFLN and FML promote. Instead, her latest obsession is with an FML spin-off, MyLifeIsAverage.com.

We believe that for every fail story, or good story, there are about a million normal stories,” the Web site proclaims.

People like MacBride-Gill take the sentiment to heart.

“TFLN makes me feel skeezy, and FML makes me feel bad for people, but MLIA just makes me laugh,” said MacBride-Gill. “Whereas the other ones complain about things that happen, this one just has funny stories. Like, ‘Today, I saw a man in a banana suit chasing a man in a gorilla suit.’”

Whether students enjoy positive or pessimistic posts, they still find themselves on these Web sites for the same reason—procrastination.

“It’s one of those things like Facebook, that, whenever you’re in a time crunch, you suddenly find yourself on it,” MacBride-Gill said.

Bonig said these sites’ big draw comes from the fact that people can relate to them. Who wants to read about the unrest in the Middle East when you can read about the girl whose sister covered everything in her room with ketchup?

These sites can fall just short of an obsession, with iPhone applications that allow instant updates and access from anywhere.

But MacBride-Gill, like millions of others, will spout the famous last words of addicts everywhere: “I can quit anytime I want.”

Whether the reason for visiting is procrastination or the need for a good laugh, this craze will keep college students coming back.

Think you might have a problem?

This handy checklist can help determine if you’ve become addicted to anonymous microblogging sites. If you agree with three or more statements, a procrastination intervention is in order.

  • I’ve downloaded an iPhone app for one of these sites.
  • I frequently form thoughts beginning with “Today…” or an area code.
  • I refresh the page more than once an hour.
  • I suffer from anxiety if new PostSecrets are not up on Sunday by noon.
  • I regularly scan my text messages for TFLN material.
  • FML or MLIA comes at the end of more than half of my Facebook statuses.
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Responses

  1. I love these sites, even if there are some repeats. I saw another idea for one. Check it out http://bit.ly/dnd0bi Someone should make it if it doesnt exist.


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