Internet applications such as Web-based blogging and instant messaging tools or social networking sites often provide their users with the possibility of displaying small graphic elements. Such “pictures” or “icons” allow users to represent and mutually identify themselves. This text is an analysis of user icons displayed on the LiveJournal blogging site. I treat such a user icon as a medium with particular characteristics and patterns of usage. LiveJournal users use such icons to participate in what John Fiske (1992) calls popular culture. A case study of user icons discloses the life cycle of the media form, during which a medium with initial characteristics coded by its creators begins over time to support a wide variety of uses, innovation in usage, and active participation in culture. In this chapter, I consider user pictures and practices that are tied to them as an example of the manner in which popular culture functions in the digital age.
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