In messing around online yesterday (in other words, while doing something I do only on days ending in “y”) I stumbled across a very old, very inactive blog almost entirely dedicated to taking me to task for taking this person to task on the blog I had at the time. I wasn’t named, just as this person hadn’t been explicitly identified in my own posting, but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that this person expected me to read the blog and that if I did I’d know damned well that I was the topic of the one-sided conversation. The fact that I might be the only one to grasp this — and be one of maybe five people to even know that the blog existed — was not important. At issue were only the message and its packaging.
This person and I are very friendly now and so we enjoyed a mutual laugh about the whole affair, and it got me thinking about the general phenomenon of, in effect, sending people coded messages in publicly accessible places. In one realm it’s known by the portmanteau “vaguebooking” — posting status updates on a social-networking site that not only target an unnamed person but do so in a manner that will arouse the curiosity of others to varying degrees depending on their familiarity with the parties involved. But it’s part of blogging as well.
A lot of people use blogs as de facto diaries. If they are anonymous, they may even be just as forthcoming as people would be if writing in a literal, private diary. If they are not, they still reveal more about themselves and their lives than they would in any face-to-face conversation. I wrote a post here recently (and I won’t say which one) that I would have had a hard time telling several hundred people out loud (and I am not telling anyone which several hundred) despite having no reason to feel guilty about what I wrote (and some of you know exactly what I am getting at).
The existence of this kind of behavior is not surprising, and hence isn’t especially interesting on its own terms. What makes it intriguing is the different levels of success different people have with pulling it off. A well-done coded message involves a healthy degree of plausible deniability should the target react directly, either on his or her own blog or in meatspace. Yet it also has to be barbed enough and sufficiently well-aimed to leave no genuine doubt in the target’s mind.
The other side of this is the barb-thrower’s own ultimate reaction. Assuming no noise is made, how will this person know if the target even saw the coded message, and if so if he or she even understood it? Sitemeter accounts and such can often take care of the first question, but the second is far more elusive, and may rely, fittingly, on material subsequently appearing on the target’s own blog or Facebook page.
I am convinced that Carly Simon’s tongue-in-cheek song lyrics made hay of this subject long before the Internet in its present form was ever widely conceived, let along implemented.