WritersCafe.org vs. Facebook


This article seeks to explore "how individuals and online communities use genres like blogs, social networks, and wikis rhetorically" through the analysis of practices surrounding two social networking sites, WritersCafe.org and Facebook.com. Two years after Facebook launched, Writerscafe.org started a social community for those interested in writing and publishing ("The Online Writing Community," Carlson 1). Upon first glance at the website, it is apparent that the structure of Writerscafe.org mimicks Facebook with its profiles, status updates, newsfeed, and “friending.” One member of the site even has the Facebook logo as part of his profile page (Hill). Due to these similarities, new users of WritersCafe.org automatically start comparing experiences on Writerscafe.org to experiences on Facebook. In The Breakup 2.0, Ilana Gershon borrows Bolter and Grusin's term, remediation, "to describe the ways that people interlink media, suggesting that people define every technology in terms of the other communicative technologies available to them" (Gershon 5). Because of this remediation and the similar structure between the two sites, new users of WrtiersCafe.org initially think that idioms of practice (the ideas that people agree upon as the appropriate social uses of technology) would be the same for both Facebook and Writerscafe.org (Gershon 6). That idea is wrong. Although some practices (such as sending a private inbox message to someone you do not know or creating a fake profile) elicit the same response on both networking sites, Writerscafe.org has developed its own idioms of practice and rhetorical functions surrounding commenting on posts and friending.

Key Terms

What is WritersCafe.org?

www.writerscafe.org is an online writing community. Members range from junior high children to retirees, but all of them love writing. They log into this website to share poems and short stories, review other members’ writing, discuss topics related to writing in forums, search for publishers, and even enroll in free online writing classes. Each member of writerscafe.org creates a profile within which they state where they are from, describe themselves, post statuses, and link to “friends’” profiles. This website requires a membership to post comments, but most of the members’ writing itself and forums are open for any viewers on the web.

Borrowed Idioms of Practice: “Creepy” Behavior

In the two years prior to the creation of Writerscafe.org, users became familiar with idioms of practice on Facebook. These idioms included “do not send private messages to strangers” and “do not create fake profiles.” When Writerscafe.org came about, these idioms were adapted to use in Writerscafe.org. The actions of assuming a level of familiarity with a stranger and creating a fake identity are now regarded as “creepy” on both websites.

Definition of "Creepy"

The definition of “creeping” or “creepy” best suited for Writerscafe.org is relatively the same as Gershon’s definition in relation to Facebook. “Letting people know that you know something when knowing expresses too much interest in another person’s life is creepy…Any form of claiming inappropriate familiarity can be labeled ‘creepy’…” (Gershon 145). Essentially, "creepy" behavior is assuming a relationship exists where there is none.

Sending Private Messages to Strangers

On Facebook it is commonly acknowledged that sending an inbox message to someone you do not personally know or are not friends with on Facebook is “creepy.” That being said, one user of WritersCafe.org received the following message from someone that was not listed as a "friend" less than 24 hours after creating a profile (Steel):

I was just in Bloomington last week for my job. It was Bloomington, Illinois though…Have a great evening and I hope I haven't frightened you away with this rather unusual message…!


“Steel” discussed Bloomington in his message to the new WritersCafe.org member. He had to have looked at the user's profile on Writerscafe.org in order to know that she was writing from Bloomington, IN. By doing this he “let her know that he knew something when knowing expressed too much interest.” In other words, Gershon would have said it was creepy. By saying, “I hope I haven’t frightened you away with this rather unusual message,” he admitted that he knew it was a creepy behavior and could potentially scare the receiver. That particular user is not the only one that is unsettled upon receiving private messages from strangers. Dylan, a Writerscafe.org member, said the following in an interview: “People sending me private messages just to say hi or whatever when I’ve never reviewed any of their writing is weird. It’s just not what you’re supposed to do. I feel the same way about strangers messaging me on Facebook. It’s just not normal” (Dale). Dylan agrees that sending private messages to someone out of the blue is "creepy," though he adds the stipulation that it is not as unusual to send a message if the receiver has reviewed the sender's writing first. Dylan confirms that it is an idiom of practice on Writerscafe.org to avoid sending someone private messages, while also using remediation to compare this practice with idioms of practice surrounding Facebook.

Fake Profiles

Sending inbox messages to unfamiliar members of a social networking site is not the only action worthy of the title “creepy.” While browsing profiles on Writerscafe.org, a new member came across a profile that was quite obviously fake. The operator of the fake profile, named “Kyle,” had uploaded photos of “himself” onto the site and added captions such as “This is me cooking vegetables!” “This is me wearing a tie!” (Kyle). Ordinarily, this would not be cause for suspicion. What made the new user wary about the authenticity of the profile was that each person within the various photos had different hair color, body build, and subtle differences in facial bone structure. The new user showed the photographs to a few friends who immediately agreed the profile was phony and creepy. When asked if he had ever come across fake profiles on Writerscafe.org, Dylan said, “Sure…more than once, though one time in particular it was a male pretending to be a female…so he would be talking to me from two different places, one as a 'girl'. He did finally confess to that and also the fact that he was gay. I deleted him as a friend. It bothered me for quite a bit” (Dale). Dylan’s reaction to a fake profile on Writerscafe.org sounds almost identical to the response from Eric, a Facebook user, to a fake profile on Facebook. “Usually if I find a fake profile added me, I delete them and mark them as spam,” he said (Holk). From these examples it is apparent that creating fake profiles on either Writerscafe.org or Facebook is not a socially acceptable practice.

New Idioms of Practice: Trying to Build a Community

As mentioned, new WritersCafe.org members initially think that people have the same idioms of practice for WritersCafe.org and Facebook because both are social networking sites. After using and browsing the site a little, this notion is proven incorrect. The findings that do not fit with this initial hypothesis are the new idioms of practice regarding friending and commenting that Writerscafe.org seems to be developing in contrast to Facebook practices. The reason for the differences between WritersCafe.org and Facebook lies in the differing purposes for community building.

Definition of Community Building

Community Building occurs when members of a website interact and form a relationship with each other. This is evidenced by both Facebook and WritersCafe.org calling their links between users "friendships." Members of the site bond over common interests and goals, forming a sort of "community," though users are spread across the globe. The rhetorical purpose of creating these communities can differ because the members of each site have different goals they wish to accomplish by using it.


On Writerscafe.org it appears to be acceptable to friend request strangers as long as the person requesting has reviewed some of the writer’s work. On Olive’s “About Me” section of her profile she writes, “I think it odd that some want 'friends' here only. I usually delete 'friends' who never read anything I write, or even respond to what I say to them.” (Olive). Many new users find that a stranger will review one of their poems and then proceed to add them as a friend. One new user in particular said this happened four times in less than a week after joining the site, leading her to believe it is a common practice within the site. On Facebook, friending someone you have not previously met is considered another "creepy" behavior, but on WritersCafe.org this is a perfectly acceptable practice.

What exactly are members of WritersCafe.org trying to accomplish via friending that members of Facebook are not trying to do? Users of WritersCafe.org friend people that they do not know in order circulate work and establish connections with other writers. On the homepage of WritersCafe.org, the makers of the website listed "befriend other writers" and "get reviews & suggestions" as two top objectives for joining the website. From this it is apparent that users are not expected to be friends outside of WritersCafe.org before being friends on the site. In fact, WritersCafe.org was made for the purpose of creating friendships. It is a community of complete strangers drawn together by their mutual love of writing. Contrarily, Facebook is for staying in touch with friends that were made outside of the website. This is exemplified by the bold writing on Facebook's homepage: "Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life." Facebook itself says that its purpose is for keeping in touch with people that already exist in a user's life before joining the site. In summary, WritersCafe.org is used to make friends interested in reviewing writing, while Facebook is used to keep friends that have already been made.

While investigating these two social networking sites, an anomaly popped up that blended the rhetorical functions of Facebook and WritersCafe.org together. A WritersCafe.org member named Amit Parmessur uses WritersCafe.org in order to recruit friends on Facebook. In a message sent to another user he writes (Parmessur 11):

I have got the chance to read your works. I must say you have the talent. You are welcome to submit to The Rainbow Rose… my online magazine. http://therainbowroseezine.blogspot.com/

On facebook I have my poetry page profile.
Would you add me? There I post my best poems!

It's http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002548496702

It would be sheer pleasure having you as friend. :)


Amit uses WritersCafe.org for its rhetorical functions of reviewing work (He comments that the writer has talent), circulating work (He advertises a poetry magazine full of other writers' pieces and also advertises his own poetry found on Facebook), and establishing friendships (He suggests a relationship will be formed by adding him on Facebook). By establishing a connection on WritersCafe.org first, he also is following the idioms of practice surrounding Facebook. Facebook is for connecting with friends made outside of the Facebook website itself. Amit makes friends outside of Facebook on WritersCafe.org. Therefore he is not adding strangers on Facebook, but people he is familiar with through the use of WritersCafe.org. Amit blends the purpose of Facebook and WritersCafe.org here as he shares work, establishes friendships, and continues these prior friendships within both of the social networking sites. He adheres to the idioms of practice for each website while still using them for his own personal goals and community building.


As mentioned, before adding a friend, members of WritersCafe.org usually comment on a piece of writing another member has uploaded. The majority of commenting on everyone’s profile comes from complete strangers that browse through recently uploaded writing and then proceed to review it. At first it shocks new users that everyone is okay with strangers commenting on their personal writings and then requesting to be linked to their profile. This was not at all what Facebook users are used to. New users' expectations for WritersCafe.org and the behaviors considered socially acceptable on it are often a direct result of those users' experience with Facebook, exemplifying Gershon's borrowed concept of remediation. After skimming through others’ profiles, however, new users soon realize that it is standard practice to review strangers’ work and add them as a friend. Later in an interview, Dylan confirmed this idea when he said, “No, it’s not unusual to review strangers’ work. In fact, that’s what the whole site is for. You get reviews from all sorts of different people” (Dale). Dylan confirms that new users' expectations of social behavior on Writerscafe.org are incorrect according to the idiom of practice. These new users quickly get used to the idea of strangers reading their work and then adding them as a friend. They adapt their ideologies about Writerscafe.org to fit with the new idiom of practice established independent of Facebook.

While browsing, one can note that the comments on various pieces of writing are all noncritical. Writers on Writerscafe.org often make only positive remarks on a person’s writing. One user purposely uploaded cliché love poetry assuming someone would suggest improvements. Instead literally all of the comments she received read like this one by Sunny Hostess: “I love this poem. The emotions are just so real! It's great” (Hostess). The review is really general and offers no specific compliments or suggestions for improvement. This type of review is not just a one-time occurrence. For example, Alex Miller wrote “Beautiful and I completely get where you're coming from, amazing write” on Olive's poem, “Untouched” (Miller). According to the "About" section of Writerscafe.org, "The most important part of WritersCafe.org, though, is the writers. They make WritersCafe.org what it is: a friendly community where people—friends—can offer advice, share ideas, and encourage you in your writing" ("The Online Writing Community"). Even the website makers themselves outline the main goal of writerscafe.org as creating friends and offering encouragement, not offering harsh criticism. The only way this peculiarity can be rationally explained is that writers do not want to seem rude or overly arrogant when critiquing other writers. No reviews are anonymous. All comments are linked back to the reviewer’s profile. Reviewers want to portray themselves as friendly and nice in order to establish “friendships” within the community. As mentioned, people often add the authors of the writing they just reviewed as a friend. Nobody wants to accept the friend request of a grumpy person or someone that hurt their feelings. By commenting only nice, uplifting comments, writers build up a broader community and circle of friends.


So how exactly do individuals and online communities use genres like social networks rhetorically? For both WritersCafe.org and Facebook, members use the website for community building. How the members of each site go about building these communities is quite different, however. New users of Writerscafe.org expect it to have the same practices as Facebook due to remediation, the concept of evaluating one mode of communication in terms of experience with another. They are mistaken. Though Writerscafe.org does have a similar structure to Facebook, only some idioms of practice were transferred from one site to the other. Sending private messages and creating fake profiles are actions deemed "creepy" on both websites. Commenting on a stranger's work and friending them is common on Writerscafe.org while not socially acceptable on Facebook. In Writerscafe.org, these comments are typically positive encouragements rather than criticisms. WritersCafe.org members use the website in order to create friendships and do not want to come off as ill-tempered or unfriendly towards potential friends. Facebook users do not worry about being overly friendly because the friendships on the site represent preexisting connections between people. The community of writers is therefore strengthened through their collaborative efforts; it is obviously not simply a showcase of an author's works. Instead, the site becomes effectually one organization, one unit that works together to promote and improve members' work. Conversely, Facebook does not necessarily promote such collaboration through its users' practices in the medium (i.e. someone reading another's work may not feel compelled to post a review/response, as it is not considered normal). All this is to say that idioms of practice are not necessarily shared between websites with similar structure, and Writerscafe.org is creating its own idioms of practice as a social networking site independent of Facebook.


1.Carlson, Nicholas. "How Facebook Was Founded." Business Insider. 5 Mar. 2010. Web. 8 Nov. 2011.

2.Dale, Dylan. Personal interview. 2 Nov. 2011.

3.Gershon, Ilana. The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting over New Media. Cornell UP, 2010. Print.

4.Hill, Griffin. "About Me." Writerscafe.org. Aresta Enterprise LLC. Web. 8 Nov. 2011.

5.Holk, Eric. Personal interview. 2 Nov. 2011.

6.Hostess, Sunny. Rev. of What I Come Across While Cleaning my Grandfather's Attic. Writerscafe.org. Aresta Enterprise LLC, 29 Oct. 2011. Web. 31 Oct. 2011.

7.Kyle. Photograph. Photos. Writerscafe.org. Aresta Enterprise LLC. Web. 8 Nov. 2011.

8.Miller, Alex. Rev. of Untouched. Writerscafe.org. Aresta Enterprise LLC, 29 Oct. 2011. Web. 31 Oct. 2011.

9.Olive. "About Me." Writerscafe.org. Aresta Enterprise LLC. Web. 8 Nov. 2011.

10."The Online Writing Community." WritersCafe.org. Aresta Enterprise LLC, 2006. Web. 08 Nov. 2011.

11.Parmessur, Amit. "Hey" Message to the author. 5 Dec. 2011. E-mail.

Steel, Daniel. "Things I Came Across…" Message to the author. 28 Oct. 2011. E-mail.