Dear Web diary 

What’s gotten into kids these days?

Apparently, the Internet. And depending on what you read, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Two weeks ago, the New York Times wrote about a rash of teenage “gossip” sites appearing on the Net. In one example, Manhattan private school students went online to cast votes for their “most promiscuous” classmate. Some 150 names had been posted before authorities shut down the site. Big surprise: Concerned parents had filed complaints.

Fair enough, but there’s something here even the venerable Times has missed. It’s true, young people are using the Web to challenge an older generation’s long-held notions of privacy. But it’s not all sinister and disturbing stuff.

Visit Diaryland (diaryland.com) for a clue about what’s really happening. The concept behind the wildly popular site is simple — young people post their diaries to the Web. Since its debut in 1999, the site has built a steady following and is now one of the most-talked-about sites among chic wired youth.

How do I know? Well, to be fair, plenty of Diarylanders are over 18. But plenty of them aren’t. One visit will take you back to your misspent youth — even if it’s still going on. You’ll bristle at countless pages of bad poetry, rants about parents and enough “He said, she said” exchanges to make you grab for your learner’s permit and leave town.

But Diaryland is also undeniably fun. Especially if you have an exhibitionist streak. It’s standard practice here to open your diary up to commentary — from anyone who cares to read it. And why not? For a generation raised on talk-show confessionals and reality TV, Diaryland is the quickest route to online celebrity … of sorts, anyway.

For a teen or 20-something, I can see why it’s so addicting. Diaryland keeps track of who’s got the most recently updated diary — promising more traffic to your particular journal. Unpopular in school? So what … keep your Diaryland pages current and you’ll be the virtual Diaryland prom queen.

“Are you a Diaryland dork?” asks Virgincherry from her (his?) diary page: “Here are some warning signs: You have had more than one entry in a day. You have made friends because of Diaryland. Because of you, your ‘real life’ friends have a diary now too.”

Even so, with hundreds of online diaries (and counting), Diarylanders quickly learn that it requires a bit of marketing savvy to attract readers. “I’m a teenager, plain and simple,” says Angelcake on the Unofffical Diaryland Forum (pub12.ezboard.com/bdiaryland), where dozens of other Diary addicts implore new users to visit their secret journals. Adds Angelcake — as she plugs her diary to anyone who cares to listen: “I may not be the best of the best. I may not be completely deep and philosiphical (sic), I may even ramble about stupid things at times (ahem, ex boyfriend). But this is me, outside and in.”

Imagine that — a teenager asking you to peek at her journal. Clearly, this is not your father’s “The Brady Bunch” episode (cue Marsha: “Mom, Cindy’s reading my future memoirs again!”).

Meanwhile, over at the Makeout Club (makeoutclub.com), thousands of young people are taking an even more direct approach to online social success. “It’s like a dating service for emo-kids!” is how one 20-something friend described the site to me. She wasn’t wrong … in a matter of moments, users can search for “boys” or “girls,” filter by locale and find their very own black eye-shadowed dreamboat. You even get access to their AOL instant message address, so you can immediately ask if they’re free later tonight.

MOC (as regulars call the site) is billed as “an online community for people like you — people into indie, hardcore, and pop music.” But despite the name, the Makeout Club is more than just computer dating for music geeks. Users often join the site “just to make friends” — and hopefully, those friendships will extend beyond the virtual realm. My most recent visit uncovered invites to an album-cover photo shoot, an all-night rave, and a water-gun fight in Portland.

And that’s what it’s really about, isn’t it? Sites like Diaryland and Makeout Club are helping a generation of previously marginalized kids realize they aren’t alone after all. Most of us freaks didn’t figure that out until college. Or in some cases, even later.

Of course, it’s just a matter of time before some parent notices all this is going on. And complains.

Until then, the kids are all right. So leave ’em alone … OK?

Procrastination department: It’s been way too long since I’ve mentioned a “waste time at work” link. So in the interest of corporate subversion, here’s something that will keep you from contributing during business hours.

The object of the Kick-ups Flash Football game (www.vectorinternet.co.uk/games/kick-ups.html) is simple — bounce the little black ball without dropping it. Created by Scottish programmer Liam O’Donnell, Kick-ups uses an amazingly realistic physics model to simulate a real game of “keep up.” In fact, it’s so addictive you’ll play it straight through lunch (and that important client meeting).

My working theory — if this link makes its way to the Big Three, we can slow car production — and the spread of greenhouse gases — by at least a couple months. So forward to your autoworker buddies. And start clicking.

Adam Druckman wanders the Web for the Metro Times. E-mail adruckman@metrotimes.com

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