The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Features November 3, 2006

First-year Creates Online Phenomenon

Described by its users as “escapist,” “ignoble” and “so addicting that it’s sick,” the newest staple on campus, the Oberlin Confessional website, has drawn thousands of posts and comments from an eager student body. Launched in all its pink-and-purple glory at the start of this year by first-year Harris Lapiroff, the website provides a forum for Oberlin students to post confessions, questions, comments and suggestions while keeping their identity a secret.

Lapiroff first got the idea for the Confessional from the Oberlin LiveJournal community, which has some popular anonymous threads.

“I noticed that [the LiveJournal community] wasn’t perfect,” said Lapiroff. “People had trouble navigating through the comments. There were complaints. I saw an opening, a way to establish myself on campus by creating a website where the anonymous threads could be separate from the LiveJournal.”

Having taught himself web design by looking at source codes from other websites and by reading web design tutorials online, Lapiroff had the skills needed to design the Confessional. He remembered his first website, which he described as “animated” and “cheesy.”

“Gosh, it was pretty silly. But I’ve been working on the skill ever since,” he said.

Though Lapiroff foresaw the Confessional’s popularity, mostly due to the popularity of the LiveJournal community, he has been surprised at the results of his creation: “I expected that people would take to it initially because I advertised it on the Oberlin LiveJournal. What really surprised me is that it has sustained itself. I thought people would use it for a week or two, and then it would die down. The volume of comments keeps coming in!”

And, according to Lapiroff and the Confessional’s users, it is this constant stream that makes the site’s appeal.

“What’s addictive about it is that it’s constantly updated. You constantly have to check to see if someone posted your name! It’s in real time,” he said.

 Many of the posts are along the lines of “I should be working/writing a paper/studying right now,” and the general consensus seems to be that the Confessional is most used as a means of avoiding unpleasant tasks.

“It is a good study break, if not detrimental to our grades,” said sophomore Chris Sherwood.

One post from Oct. 4 reads: “Guess who should be studying? Me. Guess who’s not? Me again. I’m on a roll.”

 “It’s the shit, and I’m failing everything!” First-year Tommy Morello agreed. 

Although he’s pleased with its popularity and endurance, Lapiroff feels that the nature of the site has not turned out as originally planned: “I expected a lot more actual confessions, along the lines of…I had been hoping for confessions that were real confessions, that showed people as people and showed what they really want but can’t express. What it ended up showing me is that a lot of people are a—holes.”

Lapiroff confesses to feeling disappointed in the confessions, especially the negative feeling that pervades the site.

“I guess that was idealistic of me. I also hadn’t expected people to post their own names or others’ names to see what people think about them, but I understand why [they do it]. People are really curious about what other people think. If you walk up to someone and go, ‘What do you think about me?’ you probably won’t get an honest response. Because the site is anonymous, it’s easier to get an honest response.”

First-year Haley Jones agrees: “It’s a fascinating place to get honest, sugar-free opinions…Oberlin may like to think of itself as all-inclusive and accepting, but the truth is that it’s in many ways not, and here is where people feel less of a need to stifle their more taboo feelings.”

Lapiroff encountered controversy when he first deleted a post from the site: “There were a few posts that I found mean and unnecessary, that attacked specific people by name. As soon as I deleted the first one, someone posted, ‘Harris is censoring my posts. That’s not cool.’ I responded, and people have been discussing it since.”

This ongoing discussion has raised questions such as “What is appropriate/inappropriate?” and “Who should decide?”

To address this, Lapiroff plans to form a student editorial board to decide what the Confessional’s policies should be. For now, he’s “going by the rule that you can’t attack a specific person, but lately I haven’t been deleting posts unless someone asks me to.” But, like everything on the Confessional, Lapiroff believes that this controversy has been “blown out of proportion.”

Several Confessional users have weighed in on the issue:

“Although negative feelings are valid, socially destructive immature Internet behavior should be kept under control,” said Jones.

“If you’re going to say something to someone else directly, do it in person. Don’t use the site,” advised sophomore Jack Ryerson.

“I think it’s always important to put to voice things that have lain too long beneath the surface, no matter what the forum,” said senior Sean Nagamatsu.

“It’s easy to say that that shows that a lot of people at Oberlin suppress their feelings, and now that they have an anonymous outlet, they can get out all their anger,” said Lapiroff. “But it’s a little misleading to say that, because one person posting can look like a lot of people posting. It was over-idealistic of me not to expect it to be negative, because when people post anonymously, [negative thoughts] are what they need to get out.”

Besides the editorial board, Lapiroff has many new ideas in the works, including advertising.

“I have thought a lot about selling ads on the website, and I’m definitely planning on it once the site becomes a little bit bigger,” he said. “I want to advertise for groups around campus and local businesses. This won’t be some stupid Google ad thing. Confessional users won’t have to worry about obnoxious, irrelevant ads. A group or a business would be able to post a large ad on the front page for a small daily fee. That ad would be the only ad on the page for that day, and would reach all the Confessional users, and would be relevant to the Oberlin student body.”

Due to requests from non-Obie college friends, Lapiroff also plans to design Confessionals for other schools but feels that “the layout of the website is too much in flux to expand it now, what with the censorship controversy and all.”

“Anonymous Crush Day” is also in progress. Lapiroff, who received two crush notes himself, plans to “sit outside of Wilder with a table of heart stationary so people who don’t feel artistic can leave crush notes. I think that will encourage people to participate.”

Sherwood dubbed the site an “interesting social experiment.” But what has this experiment taught us about ourselves?

Are we cowardly, horny or just plain mean? Visit and see for yourself.


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