Paper presented at the 6th International Pragmatics Conference in Reims, July 19 – 24, 1998 on the panel "Discursive constructions of youth identities".


Anna-Malin Karlsson

1. Introduction

[1] On the Internet there are tons of discourse waiting to be described by researchers. The variety of text types and conversational forms seems almost as wide as in ordinary life. On one hand Internet can be said to reflect real life society, but on the other it is very different: there is an at least potential equality. Just as institutions and powerful people have their place on the net, so has the private person. And this is not only true for e-mail and Usenet discussion groups, but also for the more graphically elaborated Word Wide Web. On the WWW you can find public statements made by people who are not skilled copywriters, nor famous journalists, nor well known politicians or executives, perhaps not even adults. This gives us a unique opportunity to study the public discourse of ordinary people, the writing of people who are not thought of as writers and the self-presentations of people whose selves are normally not considered to be of public interest. One reason for such study is of course that it would make a piece in the ongoing description of what is sometimes called 'Internet discourse'. Another reason is that it would bring new data to the study of language use in general and the use of writing in particular.

[2] My interest here is the personal homepages set up by individuals, apparently with the main purpose to present the own person. In focus are the two separate homepages of "Veronica" and "Mia"1. They were found through a random and non-systematic search on the net, and chosen because I thought they promised to exhibit interesting differences. (The fact that the two homepage owners are girls is a plain coincidence which is not representative of the proportions of male and female homepage owners in Sweden.) The remainder of the material was collected with "Veronica" and "Mia" as starting points, following links back and forth. Both "Veronica" and "Mia" are teenagers. It is a statistical fact that most Internet users in Sweden are 25 years old or younger. The aim here is however not to provide a general description of the Swedish teenager's homepage, or of Swedish 'electronic youth discourse'. The two girls are individuals, and their homepages are formed by the specific cultural context surrounding each of them. One aim of this paper is to describe the selves constructed on these homepages, and the frames made use of in these constructions. Another aim is to provide some explanation of these differences, and this is where the rest of the collected homepages will be used. The activites and processes involved in the writing (and reading) of these texts will be discussed using concepts from ethnographic literacy studies, represented by among others Barton (1994, 1998).

[3] All interpretations and reflections presented below are based on the study of the texts only. I have made no ethnographic investigation in terms of participant observation or interviews. This would be a natural way to continue the study, but as a first step I found it interesting to see what could be understood from the texts and from their direct textual context (i. e. the texts with links to the homepage studied, or reached through links from it ).

2. Selves and frames on "Veronica's" and "Mia's" homepages

2.1. Electronic selves?

[4] The "goffmanian" notions self and frame have been used by Miller (1995) in an investigation of English homepages. Miller discusses among other things whether face-to-face encounters, according to Goffman the main condition for the notions to be relevant at all, actually can be said to occur on the Internet. If not, the selves constructed on the homepages would rather be 'electronic', existing in cyberspace without ever being exposed to "real" social interaction. Miller claims that homepages actually are interactional, although in a restricted way: "Web pages are intended to be read by others, often invite comment, can be interactive in various ways, and almost always have an email address for contact." (Miller 1995) The word Miller uses to describe the most characteristic quality of the homepage as a communicative device is "promiscuity". This uncontrolled avaliability would in Miller's view give rise to an infinite set of possible frames for interaction.

[5] Goffman himself writes like this about the frame notion: "I assume that the definitions of a situation are built up in accordance with principles of organization which govern events – at least social ones – and our subjective involvement in them; frame is the word I use to refer to such of these basic elements as I am able to identify." (Goffman 1986:10–11). In accordance to Goffman, Miller uses the concept to describe the knowledge people have about the interactional roles of themselves and of their conversation partners, about the purpose of the conversation and about the context in general. Thus, a frame is thought to work as a schema for organizing experience and thereby understanding the world. Here, the textual manifestations of frames are in focus.

[6] Miller, still discussing Goffmans work (1979, 1986), further points out the maybe most important task for the interacting individual: to present an "acceptable" self. What is an acceptable self is totally dependent on the current encounter, and thus on the frame at work. As computer-medited communication is often a matter of one-to-many, one-to-anyone or even "one-to-no-one" (Miller 1995), the risk of failure, and thus embarrassement, could seem obvious. However, I will not try to judge whether the selves constructed by "Veronica" and "Mia" are acceptable or not. In fact, I will assume that they are acceptable, according to the frames they have chosen, which in turn are assumed to be rational frames according to the their cultural and situational contexts. My assumption is that the infinite range of possible frames on the net is an abstraction suitable only to describe the potentials of the medium. The communicative frames of "Veronica" and "Mia" would as always have to be set in their interactional situations respectively and would thereby be as well defined as in any real life situation. Finding these frames, and the selves constructed within them, is the goal of the following descriptions.

2.2. "Veronica's" homepage

[7] "Veronica" does not call her homepage a 'homepage'. In fact, she does not call it anything, as she never refers to it. However, the label is found on the list of links from which I found my way to "Veronica's" site. At least someone calls "Veronica's" text a homepage.

[8] "Veronica's" page does not contain a lot of text. It can all be read on a normal sized screen without scrolling. The main headline, centered in black "normal" headline font (Times) reads "Veronica" [Efternamn] '"Veronica" [Last name]'. The text is divided into four subsections, each with a smaller headline: Hem 'Home', Skola 'School', Fritid 'Leisure' and Kompisar 'Friends'. To the right, below the main headline, we can se a photo of "Veronica", taken outside in front of a wall, shaded by a tree. Up on the left, a small UK flag shows the way to an English version2. The background consists of a light, soft, non-figurative pattern. The opening paragraph, starting right below the subsection headline Hem 'Home' reads as follows (1):

(1) Jag heter "Veronica" och är 13 år. Min mamma heter "Priscilla" och pappa heter "David". Min syster heter "Laura" och är 10 år. Jag har en hund också. Den är en tik (alltså en tjej). Hon heter "Sasha". Hon fyller 1 år i januari -96 ["Veronica"]
'My name is "Veronica" and I'm 13 years old. My mother's name is "Priscilla" and my father's name is "David". My sister's name is "Laura" and she's 10 years old. I have a dog too. It is a bitch (that is a girl). Her name is "Sasha". She will be 1 year old in January 1996'

[9] As this page is downloaded in June 1998, we can start by concluding that it has not been updated for over two years. "Veronica" would now be 15 years old. Whatever caused her to sett up this homepage does not seem to have made her kept her interest in it.

[10] The subsection's headline is Hem 'Home'. Home in "Veronica's" context seems to be synonymous with her family members, including herself. All sentences start with personal pronouns. All verb processes are relational3. People (and an animal) are attributed with names and ages. "Veronica" owns a dog också 'too', which suggests either that she also owns her parents and her sister, or – more probable – that the possession of a dog is just another kind of family relation. "Veronica's" self is thus relationally defined, as an older sister to "Laura" and as the owner of the dog. Interestingly enough, "Veronica's" own age is presented in this subsection, which makes age something mainly associated with the home or family domain.

[11] Relational processes dominate also the second subsection: Skola 'School', the third Fritid 'Leisure'and the fourth Kompisar 'Friends' as shown in the excerpts (2), (3) and (4):

(2) Namnet på min skola är Lövgärdesskolan. Jag går i 7:an. ["Veronica"]
'The name of my school is Lövgärdesskolan. I'm in the 7th grade.'
(3) Jag har en bästis som heter "Natasha" och hon delar de flesta av mina intressen. ["Veronica"]
'I have a best friend whose name is "Natasha" and she shares most of my interests.'
(4) Alla tjejer i min klass är kompisar med varandra. Vi är bara 10 stycken tjejer i klassen. Det är 24 stycken elever; alltså är det 16 killar. Det är bra att vi inte är fler tjejer för då skulle det nog vara mer bråk. "Natasha" ocn "Annlouise" går också i min klass. ["Veronica"]
'All the girls in my class are friends with each other. We are only 10 girls in my class. There are 24 pupils, so there are 16 boys [sic!]. It is good that there aren't more girls, because then there would probably be more trouble. "Natasha" [link] and "Annlouise" [link] are also in my class.'

[12] What is the page about? What is the main topic? The headline, and thus the expected macro theme, is "Veronica". The different subsections would then show different aspects of "Veronica's" self. The self constructed on the homepage is that of a daughter, a big sister, a dog's mistress, a happy pupil and a girl with one best friend and several other girls friends, most of them in her class (again the happy pupil). School is in all an important topic, dominating two of the three subsections (Skola 'School' and Kompisar 'Friends') and indirectly defining a third: Fritid ' Leisure', the time you are not in school. The self is marked out as if on a map, with the relations to family, school, non-school time and friends made clear. The framework is institutional rather than private, as are the topics. And futhermore, "Veronica" is defined by her relation to the institutions mentioned and by her attributes, not by her homepage or what she is doing of it. The homepage itself is not explicitly made a part of the framework and it is not topic anywhere in the text.

[13] If the ideational self is rather easy to reconstruct, the interpersonal frame "Veronica" makes use of to talk to us (if she at all talks to us) is less clear. We are supposed to know what city her school is situated in, but not that a bitch is a female dog. Furthermore, the idea that too many girls in a class causes trouble is presented as uncontroversial, which presupposes similar experiences of class life. The purpose of the page is not explicitly explained and the page is not labeled 'homepage', but '"Veronica" [Last name]'. To me, this seems to be the way you pretend to write for unknown readers when you are aware of that only people you know well will read the text. The lack of addressing, reading instructions or even references to the page as a text suggests that the actual readers do not reach "Veronica's" page through Internet, but rather by reading over her shoulder. The conversational frame must be situated "outside" the homepage.

[14] As has already been noted, "Veronica's" page is unchanged since the beginning of 1996, maybe even longer. Not surprisingly, there is no "last updated"-line. If there where, a frame would be established telling us that this page is under frequent change, and also, that we are supposed to be frequent visitors whose informational exchange of this page has to be supplemented or renewed. If a "last updated"-line presupposes repeted contact, no "last updated"-line, or no updating at all, presupposes a one-time-visit; in this case a one-time-visit more than two years ago (or no visit at all).

2.3. "Mia's", or Kioskis', homepage

[15] Kioskis is short for Kioskvältare [in a verbatim translation something like "news-stand over-turner", closest English equivalent probably 'best seller' or 'blockbuster'] and is the signature this girl uses as an e-chatter. Most of the time she uses her real name, "Mia", on her homepage. The is a huge amount of text on the site, with no less than 22 major subsections Each subsection is a separate document and presented on a menu constructed as a web frame (which means that it is on the screen all the time, no matter what document you are reading at the moment). The subsections are as follows: Startsidan 'Start page', Om mig 'About me', Foton 'Photos', Aktuellt 'Current', Polare 'Pals', Djur 'Animals', GL [probably short for the name of the local bus company], Försäljning 'Selling', Skoj 'Fun', Serien 'The comic strip', Länkar 'Links', Bio 'Cinema', Kokbok 'Cookbook', Tussen [name of cat], Låttexter 'Song lyrics', Kioskvältare ["Mia's" signature], Frågor 'Questions', Diverse 'Various', Dagbok 'Diary', Mail 'E-mail' and Gästbok 'Guestbook'.

[16] It is obviously not possible here to analyse all these subsections in detail. It should be noted, though, that each of these compositional pieces constitute a topic by which "Mia's" self is constructed. The list gives us the image of a private person, not at all institutionally defined in the same way as "Veronica". (The only subsection related to school is Försäljning 'Selling' where "Mia" offers ready made school essays and assignments for money.) The large number of subsections is in itself also important to construct "Mia" as a person with a lot on her mind.

[17] I have chosen to take a closer look at four of the subsections: Startsidan 'Start page', Om mig 'About me', Aktuellt 'Current' and Polare 'Pals', starting with Startsidan 'Start page' (5):

(5) Det här är "Mias" Hemsida....
Du är mycket välkommen att titta runt här på mina sidor samt skriva en rad eller tju i gästboken och får jag ett litet mail av dig blir jag himla glad!
Om du sedan känner för att surfa vidare till min och min pojkväns gemensamma sida full av bus hittar du länk på min länksida!
Senast uppdaterad: 980608
'This is
"Mia's" homepage...
You are very welcome to look around here on my pages and write a line or seven [funny spelling] in my guestbook and if I receive a short e-mail from you I get very happy!
If you then want to surf on to me and my boyfriend's joint page full of tricks you will find a link on my link page!
Last updated: 980608

[18] The main headline, Detta är "Mias" Hemsida... Välkommen! 'This is "Mia's" homepage... Welcome!', is written in a playfull, irregular font. It is centered over a small passport photo of a smiling "Mia". The background is light yellow.

[19] "Mia" starts by presenting her page, referring to it as "Mias" Hemsida '"Mia's" homepage'. The page is established as an artefact, partly detatched from "Mia" herself. It is as if there were an invisible master of ceremonies introducing the homepage and then turning directly to us saying Välkommen! 'Welcome!'. Then "Mia's" own voice takes over, continuing to address us directly and to refer to the homepage as a place where we have arrived and where we can look around. The verb processes are mainly mental; as when we are invited to titta runt 'look around', when "Mia" gets himla glad 'very happy' if we sign her guestbook and when we are assumed to känner för 'feel like' surfing on to the joint homepage of "Mia" and her boyfriend. "Mia" opens her mind to us and reads ours. We, as readers, are present as a topic in her text as well as the homepage itself. "Mia" here constructs the self of a friendly guide. Sometimes she even borrows the voice of a third person, framing in the interested visitor and the page, but framing out hostile by-passers.

[20] Let us go on to the subsection where "Mia" explicitly announces that she will present herself: Om mig 'About me'. Again we find the "professional" voice of the master of ceremonies setting the headline Om "Mia" 'About Mia'. A list of facts follows, organized by the following entries: Namn: 'Name:', Stamtavla: 'Geneaological table:' or 'Pedigree:' (where "Mia's" parents are presented in the same manner as the "parents" of a horse), Övriga familjemedlemmar: 'Other family members:', Bor: 'Lives:', Pojkvän: 'Boyfriend:', Äter inte: 'Doesn't eat:', Äter: 'Eats:', Motto: 'Motto:', Helt okej: 'Quite OK:', Bäst: 'Best:', Törstar: 'Thirsts:', Musik: 'Music:', Konst: 'Art:' and Framtiden: 'Future:'. It is a mixture of institiutionally oriented facts, such as name, family, age and place of recidence on one side and rather private, or at least non-institutional, identity features such as favourite food, music and art on the other. The self constructed is that of a happy, modern 18-year-old girl who talks with humor about her family and her suburb, who likes horses, partying, music, summer and chocolate, who is a vegetarian and who loves her boyfriend. Nothing controversial, but not conventional either. "Mia" cultivates her individuality through wordings like helgoa syrra 'really fab sis'', en håla vid namn Gråbo 'a hole by the name of Gråbo [name o suburb]', kanontavla 'superposter', and *åååångeeest* '*aaaangst*' speaking about the future (the asterisks being non-verbal expressions of emotions). One could claim that it is the rather stereotypical idea of a 'youth identity' that is created But sentences like livet gör mig törstig – den som bara kunde släcka den törsten... 'life makes me thirsty – who could only quench that thirst...' resist such labelling.

[21] In the subsection Aktuellt 'Current', we can learn about "Mia's" favourite computer game right now, her latest movie, record and book, her favourite expression, how many times she has visited the amusement park in her city and how many ice-creams of different kinds she has eaten this year as well as last year. (The Current-page of 1997 can also be found by a link from here.) Furthermore there are statistics, professionally edited in graphs, on the number of "Mia's" Internet connections each month 1997 and 1998. Here again, "Mia" talks about herself in third person, giving us the sense of being conscientiosly informed by an objective reporter, other than "Mia" herself. But there is an ironic twist:

(6) Här är statistik över hur många ggr per månad som lilla "Mia" kopplar upp sitt modem! ["Mia"]
'Her are statistics on how many times a month little "Mia" connects her modem!'

[22] "Mia" is the object of study and the homepage is the arena where this study takes place. The self constructed is a non-institutional one, but the very construction borrows modes of expression from institutional genres, i.e. media discourse (lists and tests in magazines and newspapers) and the visual communication of statistic surveys.

[23] The subsection Polare 'Pals', starts in the same "journalistic" manner. The friends with homepages are listed and commented upon, in third person. It is all done in a table with one column headed Namn 'Name' and the other Vem är han/hon? 'Who is he/she?', possibly alluding to a classical encyclopedia over famous persons. The presentations are explicit. At the same time they can be interpreted as group-internal 're-information', as when Mamma Noodle is commented on: Lilla goa Mamma Noodle, håller koll på oss alla 'Little sweet Mamma Noodle, keeps an eye on us all'. The interpersonal frame here obviuosly includes "Mia's" chat friends, the 'us', but is open enough to make it possible for others to peek in. The table ends with the following line (7):

(7) Om du av någon anledning blivit bortglömd eller av annan anledning inte är med här, men känner dig berättigad till en plats... skicka ett mail så fixar jag det! ["Mia"]
'If you for any reason have been forgotten or if you for any other reason are not included here but feel entitled to a place... send a mail [e-mail link] and I will take care of it!'

[24] The framework is probably more restricted than it might sound. I am not sure that "Mia" would include me if I dropped her a line, although it is not impossible. However, I am not "forgotten" or left out by any particular "reason".

[25] Later in this section, "Mia" switches between two interpersonal frames. The switching takes place in a table headed "Mia" hälsar till sina kompisar! (Ingen inbördes ordning så klart!!!!!) '"Mia" says hello to her friends! (In no particular order of course!!!!!)'. Already in this line we can find two frames. One frame is open, "journalistic", turning towards us and referring to "Mia" and her friends in third person. The other frame, found in the second sentence, clearly addresses the friends on the list and is more closed. In the table the left column is used to identify the friend – the more open frame – and the right one for the message to the friend. The right column contains lines like (8), (9) and (10):

(8) Vilka fina gympaskor du har... *GARV* ["Mia"]
'I like your sneekers... *BIG LAUGH*'
(9) Vi får allt ta upp vår intressanta ;-) mailkontakt igen! Ha ett bra år! ["Mia"]
'We must catch up on our interesting ;-) mail contact again! Have a nice year!'
(10) Hoppas livet är bra med dig o att du inte glömmer att pingla för ofta när du åker 520 bussen! ;-D ["Mia"]
'Hope life is good with you and that you don't forget to signal too often when you ride on bus 520! ;-D'

[26] The mode of addressing is here direct, using the pronoun du 'you', and the frame could not be more clearly established. It is said above the table that these are greatings to "Mia's" friends, and that is what they are. The topics are implicit and emotion markers such as *GARV* '*BIG LAUGH*', ;-) and ;-D confirm the intimate contact between "Mia" and her friends. They form a team towards the "anybody-reader". The switch between an intimate framework and a more open, "journalistic" one runs through the homepage. My impression as a reader, however, is that the open frame is dominating, and that the more intimate parts are explicitly framed off.

3. An attempt to explain: networks and literacy practices

[27] So far, "Veronica's" and "Mia's" homepages have been read as if they existed in a vacuum, which of course they do not. As indicated from the start, the explanation behind their different faces is likely to be found in the social world surrounding the texts. I have chosen to approach the contexts of "Veronica's" and "Mia's" homepages from two aspects: in terms of networks and literacy practices.

[28] Within linguistics and social sciences network is a concept commonly used to describe social groups from the perspective of the individual. Instead of constructing groups on the basis of certain social criteria such as age, sex och socio-economic status, the network concept tries to reveal what is thought to be authentic groups, by following links from individual to individual. Often, this kind of contact-based groupings are said to better account for linguistic behaviour than the more abstract groups based on statistics (c.f. Milroy 1980). I will use the network concept not only to describe webs of people, but also for the webs of texts that can be reconstructed through the homepages. This first kind of network, a kind of intertextuality that explicitly links texts to other texts, I call textual networks. The webs linking people together, I call social networks, or rather socio-texual networks, when it is the homepages that actually link the people together (as far as we know). This differentiation can be helpful to explore to what extent the homepages form a major communication channel, or rather communicative arena, within the social network in relation to which they are created. Are the homepages central cultural products? Or are they rather peripheric results of an activity that might have other main domains? To discuss this, I also need concepts for the activities around the pages.

[29] The notion literacy practice is central in the ethnographic study of reading and writing. Barton (1994) defines literacy practice as "common patterns in using reading and writing in a particular situation" (p. 37). In Barton & Hamilton (1998) the literacy practices of a handfull of people, all living in the same neighbourhood outside Lancaster, are surveyed. Shirley, it is said, uses literacy in "getting things done in the community" (p. 93 ff.). June's reading and writing aims at "living a local life" (p. 112 ff.). And Cliff's literacy practices are summed up under the headline "Leisure and pleasure" (p. 129 ff.). The concrete, situated manifestation of a literacy practice is in this study the literacy event, a concept earlier used by Heath (1983) in her study of the everyday language use surrounding children in American communities. Literacy events are explained as "occasions in which the talk revolves around a piece of writing" (Heath 1983:386), a phrase revealing how Heath stresses the presence of talking around the use of witten text. Barton (1994) uses an example where a man is discussing what he read in the local newspaper with a friend:

  (...) the two of them sitting in the living room planning a letter to the newspaper is a literacy event. In deciding who does what, where and when it is done, along with the associated ways of talking and the ways of writing, the two participants make use of their literacy practices. (Barton 1994:37)

[30] Viewing "Veronica's" and "Mia's" homepages as the results of different literacy practices is in my view crucial to explain the differences between them. By understanding the specific literacy events in which the homepages were made and are used, we can hopefully reconstruct the literacy practices and compare them to one another. Interesting questions are: what role does the homepage play in the literacy event where it is made or used? Is this particular literacy event central, or typical, for the literacy practice it is part of? And what kind of talk (or at least parallel discourse) is surrounding the making and the use of the homepages? This is where I think we can make use of the distinction between textual and social, or socio-texual, networks.

4. "Veronica's" network(s)

[31] The textual network of which "Veronica's" homepage is a part, is school-based. "Veronica's" homepage is situated on the web directory of her school, and is listed in a catalogue of pupils' homepages. The list is in its' turn linked from the Pupils' main page (Elevernas huvudsida) where you can find information on various activities such as the school café (a text written by "Veronica"!). The Pupils' main page is a subsection under the school's start page (Lövgärdesskolan start page), together with sections on the school building; different educational programs; Annat 'Other [things]' and Information 'Information'. The main page of the school was probably updated some time this year (as it contains information on a recent sports event). The Pupils' main page dates from 970101 and the catalogue over pupils' homepages from 970115. "Veronica's" name is found in the list of 8 graders. Actually she would have now just left the 9th grade.

[32] Other pupils with homepages in "Veronica's" class are "Annlouise", "Natasha", "Marek", "Camilla" and "Benny". The six homepages are not directly connected to each other, with one exception: as we have noted, "Veronica's" page contains links to "Annlouise's" and "Natasha's" pages. Apart from "Veronica's" page, only "Benny's" contains links: three links to game sites. It should also be noted that all these homepages have an English version, an almost verbatim equivalent to the Swedish one.4 The school-based homepage network can be described as in figure 1.

Fig. 1: The school-based homepage network of

[33] The six homepages look almost identical. They are all rather short and contain the same subsections: Hem 'Home', Skola 'School', Fritid 'Leisure', and Kompisar 'Friends'. "Natasha" has chosen Vänner instead of Kompisar, a less informal equivalent for 'Friends'. On "Marek's" page Fritid 'Leisure' is exchanged for Intressen 'Interests'. The degree of individuality on this level is low. The main headlines show some differences. All the girls ("Veronica", "Camilla", "Annlouise" and "Natasha") state their full name here, no more no less. "Camilla" adds an exclamation mark and "Veronica" chooses not to write her name in blinking capitals as the others. The two boys, "Benny" and "Marek", head their homepages somewhat differently. "Marek's" headline simply says "Mareks" hemsida '"Marek's" homepage' and "Benny's" headline is Välkommen till min ultimata hemsida! Av: "Benny" [Efternamn] 'Welcome to my ultimate homepage! By: "Benny" [Last name]'. All pages except for "Marek's" contain a photo of the owner, placed up to the left, or to the right (only "Veronica's"), parallel with the text. "Marek's" page instead contains three pictures from computer games. "Benny's" page also has a game-related picture, and a game logotype. His page is the only one with an explicit ending: Du är välkommen tillbaka! Besök gärna igen! 'You are welcome back! Please visit again!'. As can be seen in figure 1, none of the six homepages contains links back to the list of homepages or to the school's main page. The figure gives us the picture of sex separate islands connected only by a large institutional super-structure where links between the different sections are far more frequent.

[34] The selves constructed by "Veronica" and her class-mates fit very well into the common description of boys and girls in the classroom (c.f. Einarsson & Hultman 1984). The girls are loyal to the goals of the school wheras the boys act out (a little). "Veronica", "Natasha", "Annlouise" and "Camilla" all write about how nice their school is, how well the activities, like the little café, work and how good friends all the girls in the class are. "Marek" and "Benny" both take a stand against school, not in any revolutionary way, but to the exent that can be expected from an ordinary boy. Sometimes, having a negative opinion about something can be enough:

(11) Jag går i Lövgärdesskolan och mitt favoritömne är rasterna. Och jag hatar verkligen Tyska.. ["Benny"]
'I go to Lövgärdesskolan [school's name] and my favoirite subject is the breaks. And I really hate German..'
(12) Den bästa ämnen är SO och den tråkigaste är matte. (...) Jag hatar klassiker och jag älskar pop. ["Marek"]
'The best subject is social science and the most boring is math. (...) I hate classical music and I love POP.'

[35] The fact that the boys spend a majority of their space on activities that are not school-related also matches the stereotype. Common for both boys and girls is the lack of explicit reference to the homepage itself ("Marek's" and "Benny's" headlines are exceptions). There is nothing in their texts suggesting that they consider their pages to be important cultural products. Rather, they presuppose a frame where the page is taken for granted, and where it is more important to fill it with certain given components.

[36] The school-based homepage network around "Veronica's" site is not a socio-texual network. The texts are not used to communicate within the group, as all the information in them is probably already known to the people involved. (The fact that the pages are probably never updated indicates that they have no communicative function ever anymore, not even outside the group.) In addition, there is no channel for feedback (such as e-mail addresses). The social network related to the production of these homepages must have other means of communication. I suggest the social network, within which "Veronica's" homepage once was created, would look something like figure 2. As is normal in a class-room situation, the teacher is a central actor, communicating with each of the pupils and setting the topic of the discourse. To what extent the pupils communicate with one another is not clear. My speculation, as seen in figure 2, is that some of the girls are friends and talk, while the boys form a team of their own.

Fig. 2: The school-based social network of

5. "Mia's" network

[37] "Mia's" textual network can be labeled 'Internet-based' as it is built up by individuals who claim to only know each other through the Internet, and who keep in touch mainly through their homepages, e-mail and e-chatting. This makes the textual network a socio-textual one as well. The network is established by the lists of "net friends" that can be found on almost every e-chatter's homepage. Following "Mia's" list of friends with homepages will lead us to new homepages with lists, that will lead us to new homepages with lists, and – if we are lucky – back to "Mia's" homepage. And in this case there actually is a circular path, leading to X-boy, on to Medea and then back to "Mia". The three homepages form a triangle, as shown in figure 3. The names marked by ellipses are homepages linked to by all three of them while italic marks pages linked to by only two. Not included are the links unique for each of X-boy, Medea and "Mia" (and of course all the links found on the others' homepages). The examples below come from the ellips-marked homepages of Noodle, Alva, Svempa, X-boy, Medea, Mamma Noodle and Ms Noodle. (The homepage of "Per" V-rås could not be accessed.)

Fig. 3: The Internet-based network of

[38] At a first glance, the homepages of the network seem very different. It is hard to notice any visual similarities at all. X-boy's page starts with an monochrome page containing only this line (13):

(13) ...det känns som jag ignoreras för mina tankar och handlingar... Varför ? ? ? [X-boy]
'...It feels as if I'm ignored for my thoughts and actions... Why ? ? ? [link]'

[39] A click on the third question mark will bring us to X-boys list of net friends, which is about all we will find on his site. Alva's page is all in English, containing personal reflections, poems and aphorisms. English is also the dominating language on Medeas's page, "Medea's corner on the net", where we find "Info about me", "Greetings to all the ones I've met on the net during my time online" and "links to all my friends homepages". So far, we can notice that most of the pages contain a list of friends, which thus seem to be an important compositional feature. The three members of the noodle family, Noodle, Miss Noodle and Mamma Noodle share a site that only contains e-mail links to each of them. Miss and Mamma Noodle also have their own homepages, Mamma's reads (14):

(14) mimis HämTMateriaL
Här kommer inom kort min hemsa att finnas.
Vill du titta in igen?
Lägg adressen som bokmärke!
Under tiden vaktar den lilla ängeln över dig och mig!
[Mamma Noodle]
'Mimi's "fetcH-iT-MateriaL"
'Soon my hemsa [short for hemsida 'homepage'] will be found here.
Do you want to drop by again?
Add the address as a bookmark!
Meanwhile this little angel will watch over you and me!
[picture of angel]
[e-mail link]'

[40] The topic here is the homepage, and the homepage only. Mamma Noodle is marking out the place where her homepage will be, thereby where it already is. Here, the space-establishing function from "Mia's" homepage is recognized. The homepage-oriented discourse is furthermore accentuated by the headline, where the capital letters read "HTML", the coding language used when homepages are made. The homepage-contruction framework suggests that the material we will be able to fetch here will be related to web design and HTML-coding. Throughout the homepages of "Mia's" network the pages are central topics repetedley referred to. The most thorough meta-discourse is found on the homepage of Miss Noodle, dedicated to Anti-veckans hemsida klubben 'The anti-homepage-of-the-month-club' (15):

(15) Nu är jag less...
Här slavar och sliter man som ett djur och anstränger sig för att göra en fin hemsida och förhoppningsvis då kapa åt sig den fina utmärkelsen Veckans Hemsida. Men inte det. Jag har då inte vunnit än, nej de tar ut sidor med strutsar och delfiner på istället. Så jag har beslutat mig för att inte vara snäll lä more miss nicegirl. (...)
[Miss Noodle]
'Now I've had enough...
You struggle and work like a slave to make a nice homepage and hopefully win the fine award Homepage of the Month. But no. At least I haven't won yet. Instead they pick pages with ostriches and dolphins on them. So I have decided not to be good more miss nicegirl. (...)'

[41] Miss Noodle then announces the founding of a anti-club as a protest against the jury at Passagen, the homepage administrator most of the pages in "Mia's" network belong to. The framework here is obvious. The readers know about Passagen's Homepage of the Month-contest, have homepages themselves and haven't yet won the award (and are thereby likely to be frustrated). Miss Noodle offers a new project.

6. The literacy practices

[42] As has already been implied several times, the texts in "Veronica's" and "Mia's" networks are likely to be part of very different literacy practices. A complete round-up of these practices would take a more thorough ethnographic investigation. Here, we will again see what can be understood from the homepages and their direct intertextual context.

[43] The homepages of "Veronica" and her class-mates are part of a school-based writing activity. As they all have an English equivalent, the English teacher is likely to be involved, as well as the Swedish teacher. Probably, what is too difficult to express in English is also left out from the Swedish versions. Through the homepage of the school we can get information about how the pupils use the Internet. Except for the personal homepages, "Veronica" has written a presentaton of the school café. Other pupils have written about harassement and about the pupil's council. All these texts are old. It seems that Internet was used to practice presentations of different kinds, personal as well as more organizational, and then left for other projects. The literacy event of homepage-making was sudden and occasional. The literacy practice, writing at school, goes on but in other media. The homepages have long since lost their function.

[44] In "Mia's" network the homepages are central arenas for social interaction and individual self-construction. "Mia" tells us that she has made her homepage with the help from her boyfriend Svempa, who is also part of her socio-textual network. Interestingly enough, Svempa has made his homepage quite recently, and it is the one in the network most structurally similar to "Mia's" page. Svempa's page contains facts about himself, a couple of pages dedicated to his interests (the TV-soap Skilda världar 'Separate Worlds' and the football team VF), a reload (diary) and a guestbook. The other people in the network are spread over the country and probably do not work with their homepages side by side. The geographical distance is most certainly one reason for why the homepages, along with e-mail and e-chatting, are so important for their social contact. They all have e-mail links, most have friends-lists and many of them have guestbooks. Internet-mediated feedback is important, as there probably is no other channel. As the homepages are the main arenas for self-presentation, they are as individual as possible, without being incomprehensible. There is no point in conformity, just as "Veronica" and her friends probably show individual selves in their private social interaction, outside school.

7. Discussion

[45] This small investigation has shown that personal homepages on the WWW can be part of rather different socio-cultural processes. "Veronica's" page is a presentation and a construction of her self as a family member, a pupil and a fellow class-mate. It is also a presentation of her school and her class. But most of all it is a school assignment, and as school assignments are occasional, so is "Veronica's" homepage. "Mia" constructs her self as a friendly and slightly self-ironic net friend, but above all as a homepage owner. Her page is a repetedly used cultural product. It is functioning more or less everyday to construct her identity and to serve as an arena for her meeting her net friends, but also other people who could become her net friends. At the same time as the already established contacts are manifested, "Mia" opens up for new ones. These partly different "sub-functions" have resulted in several subsections. Different functions, and different contextual settings require different frames. Therefore "Mia's" page is much more stylistically heterogene than "Veronica's". For the same reason, the pages of "Mia's" network are much more heterogene than those of "Veronica's" network. Medea, X-boy and the others choose different aspects of the self-presentation that they after all have to make. They put the emphasis on different sub-functions and thereby their pages look different. In the school context, striving for structural and formal conformity is fully rational as there normally is one right way to fulfil an assignment. Doing the page the right ways is more important than presenting yourself as an individual. In "Mia's" network a kind of over all functional conformity is more important. All pages are interactive and work as social manifests of the selves and the group, but in different ways.

[46] One could now ask if these homepages are similar enough to both be part of the new variety said to be the result of CMC, computer-mediated communication (c.f. Collot & Belmore 1997). Do they at all match the descriptions of this variety? Exploring this has not been the issue here, but the answer I think would be 'no'. Many, perhaps most, researchers in CMC have studied the written conversations taking place on chat sites such as IRC or more game-like arenas such as MUD. This focus has usually lead to one of two directions of discussions. One is the exploration of the properties of spoken vs. written language, including the study of interactional patterns and the catalogization of various graphic equivalents to the extralinguistic signals of face-to-face interaction. Another focus is the interest in 'virtutal communities', 'virtual bodies', and 'virtual identities', which is considered to be a possible result of people's activities on the Internet. The prototypical conception of CMC is probably dependent on the rather limited slice of material mostly studied. Thus Internet language is mainly thought to be speech-like written conversation often involving identity games of different kinds. Herring writes in the foreword to what is probably the first volume gathering linguistic and social aspects on the subject: "While some empirical studies of CMC have been carried out, futhuristic speculation and popular stereotyping still far outstrip the avaliability of factual information. There is thus a pressing need for descriptive and empirical research on computer-mediated interaction..." (Herring 1996:1).

[47] The texts on "Veronica's" and "Mia's" homepages are not very "speech-like", which is not at all surprising as their interactional contexts are not "speech-like". The pages are both part of literacy practices (as are in fact also BBS-conversations and IRC-chatting though the practices of "Veronica" and "Mia" better match the traditional view of how writing works). Furthermore, I have found nothing that denies my assumption above – that "Veronica's" and "Mia's" use of the electronic medium is submitted to the laws of social interaction of "real life". That is what Miller finds in his material too. Instead of electronic selves, constructed within electronic frames, Miller interestingly enough finds a collection of rather traditional self-presentations, almost always possible to connect to a "paper-equivalent" such as the penpal letter, the company report, the CV and so forth:

  An interpretation of Goffman's work, and that of the Symbolic Interactionalist school in sociology (REFXXXXXXX) [sic!] is that self is developed and maintained, as well as presented, in interaction. Perhaps the electronic self of the homepage can not be developed and maintained in EC [electronic communication], but has to derive from face-to-face interaction, or at least email interaction. Or are there kinds and categories of electronic selves which can be presented and maintained in cyberspace, apart from our corporal selves? (...) My feeling, as an old-fashioned psychologist, is that sociality and interaction are necessary for us to know who we are and what we can say about ourselves to others, and much more depth and richness in EC is needed before 'electronic selves' can emerge." (Miller 1995)

[48] By sorting the self-presentations in terms of genres, Miller manages to point out when and how there might be a common ground for electronic communicative acts and non-electronic ones. Concepts like literacy practice and literacy event serve the same purpose. As I understand it, genre is closely intertwined with both these notions, only more text- or product-oriented. In this view, the literacy practice(s) of "Mia's" socio-texual network would be textually manifested through a commonly recognized set of genres – facts lists, friends lists, link pages, diaries and so forth – coming to use in a number of literacy events – the daily check on the "reload" (diary) of the net friend, the updating of the ice-cream list side by side with the boyfriend, for example. I think these are the concepts best suitable for further investigation of this piece of "Internet discourse". In my view there is no doubt that most homepages are part of communicative and cultural processes, though these do not have to take place on the Internet only.


Barton, David (1994) Literacy. An introduction to the ecology of written language. Oxford: Blackwell.

Barton, David & Hamilton, Mary (1998) Local literacies. Reading and writing in one community. London: Routledge.

Collot & Belmore (1997) Electronic language: A new variety of English. In Herring, Susan (ed.): Computer-mediated communication. Linguistic, social and cross-cultural perspectives. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Einarsson, Jan & Hultman, Tor G. (1984) Godmorgon pojkar och flickor. Om språk och kön i skolan. Malmö: Gleerups.

Goffman, Erving (1959) The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Doubleday Anchor.

Goffman, Erving (1986) Frame analysis: an essay on the organization of experience. Boston: Northeastern University Press.

Halliday, M. A. K. (1994) An introduction to functional grammar. Second edition. London: Edward Arnold.

Heath, Shirley Brice (1983) Ways with words. Language, life and work in communities and classrooms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Herring, Susan (ed.) (1996) Computer-mediated Communication. Linguistic, social and cross-cultural perspectives. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Lövgärdesskolan start page: (June 9, 1998).

Miller, Hugh (1995): The presentation of self in electronic life: Goffman on the Internet. Paper presented at Embodied knowledge and virtual space conference, Goldsmith's College, University of London, June 1995. Avaliable on Internet at (June 22, 1998).

Milroy, Lesley (1980) Language and social networks. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Homepages studied ("Veronica") ("Mia"/Kioskis) ("Annlouise") ("Natasha") ("Marek") ("Camilla") ("Benny") (Noodle) (Alva) (Svempa) (X-boy) (Medea) (Mamma Noodle) (Miss Noodle)
(All pages avaliable June 9, 1998.)


1 The ethical conventions for electronic data collection are far from firmly set (c.f. Herring 1997:5–6). As for this investigation, I have considered the homepages to be public material. Thus, I have collected them without asking for permission. In the name of openess, and in order to give the owners credit for their texts, all the web addresses are listed under References. In a somewhat opposite ambition, above all to stress that I am not interested in pointing out individuals, I have in my text changed the first names of all the people involved. Last names I have simply left out. Signatures, that is pseudonyms chosen by the participants themeselves, are kept. This means that "Veronica" and "Mia" are a pseudonyms chosen by me (and marked with quotation marks), while Kioskis, already a signature, is authentic. (Back.)

2 The English versions, if any, will not be in focus here. All English translations are made by me. (Back.)

3 For the brief linguistic descriptions I use concepts from Halliday's functional grammar (Halliday 1994). (Back.)

4 In some cases, it is the English version that is linked to the catalogue. (Back.)

Document created July 17, 1998.
Document moved from to April 16, 1999.
Moved to www.amkarlsson/se/ipra/ipra.htm December 23, 2010.
Paragraph numbers added December 7, 2000.