14 May 2012
[bdj] How To Blog Anonymously (and how not to) … Brooke Magnanti (aka Belle de Jour) gives a master class in how to avoid detection from the press and nosy bloggers like me

The timing of everything as it happened was key to why the papers did not immediately find out who I was. The old blog started in 2003, when most press still had to explain to their audience what a blog actually was. It took a while for people to notice the writing, so the mistakes I made early on (blogging from home and work, using Hotmail) had long been corrected by the time the press became interested.

Today, no writer who aims to stay anonymous should ever assume a grace period like that. It also helped that once the press did become interested, they were so convinced not only that Belle was not really a hooker but also that she was one of their own – a previously published author or even journalist – that they never looked in the right place. If they’d just gone to a London blogmeet and asked a few questions about who had pissed off a lot of people and was fairly promiscuous, they’d have had a plausible shortlist in minutes.

26 July 2011
[blogs] This Blog’s 10th Birthday … a remarkable achievement – Feeling Listless completes ten years of consistently well done longform blogging … ‘If I was to sit down and write a thesis, perhaps something I’d also consider is whether blogging existed initially because it was insanely difficult for most amateurs to post anything to the web but text. In 2001, although some video and picture sites were available but not a lot of people, at least in the UK, used broadband and it took hours to upload anything via dial up.’
27 September 2010
[ukblogs] Blogging like it’s 2000 … Katy Lindermann On The Early Days Of UK Blogging … ‘Whilst the world may be a very different place, in some ways, our blogging style of shorter, more frequent & often link-based entries isn’t hugely dissimilar to the way we use Twitter or Tumblr – it’s just that we spread our microcontent over different platforms…’
28 February 2010
[blogs] The Power Of Ten … Meg Pickard celebrates 10 years of blogging. Congratulations Meg! :) … ‘A decade feels like a long time in so many ways – when I look back at my early posts and think about what I was doing back then and where I was in life, I am amazed how far away it feels. But throughout those ten years there have been very few of the 3692 days (more or less) when I haven’t written something on the blog, or scribbled something in draft, or at very least thought about it and felt guilty for not having sufficient time to devote to doing it.’
20 November 2009
[bdj] For Whom The Belle Tells … another old-time UK blogger breaks cover and admits he guessed who Belle de Jour was … ‘The first blog to link to BDJ was in fact this humble blog, Parallax View. And the lead? An email from a fellow blogger casually asking whether I’d noticed on the UK Blogs aggregator a blog by a prostitute. The blogger? Oh, you’re ahead of me… Dr Brooke Magnanti.’
19 November 2009
[bdj] How Belle de Jour’s Secret Ally Googlewhacked The Press … First personal post I ever do makes the front page of the Guardian. Never again … ‘The sympathetic online diarist, who gives his name only as Darren…’
17 November 2009
[bdj] Add a blog to the updated list? … The original email Belle de Jour sent asking to be added to the Updated UK Blogs List.
16 November 2009

Me and Belle de Jour – “Could it be Brooke?”

Let’s break out of this self-imposed link blogging format for just one post… it’s not every day the biggest secret you’ve ever kept gets revealed on the front pages of the national press.

I have an admission to make about Belle de Jour.

It’s time for me to admit that I solved the puzzle of her identity almost at the very start after she (as Belle) sent me the link to her new blog to add to the list of Updated UK Blogs. Sending the link to me implied somebody who knew quite a lot about how UK blogging worked at the time and I found it hard to believe that an escort that had starting blogging would use me to announce the blog to the world. Then, after BdJ proceeded to knock the ball out of the park in the blog writing department, I started to seriously consider if it was somebody I knew.

In late 2003 I was well placed to guess Belle’s identity. I’d been blogging myself for three years at that point, I had met many London bloggers and briefly read most of the UK-written blogs during 2000 and 2001. UK blogging was (and still is) full of young, smart people and anyone of them might have written Belle’s blog. I never believed that a professional writer could be BdJ – apparently effortless blog writing takes practice, and required an understanding of a new medium which not many people had at the time. So I asked myself: which blogger is it?

A couple of months went past, and after Belle de Jour won the award for Best Written Blog from the Guardian and the whole BdJ phenomenon kicked off, I had my eureka moment – I was sitting on the tube one morning and suddenly thought: ’Could it be Brooke?’

Brooke at the time ran a couple of blogs – A link blog called Methylsalicylate and another science blog called Cosmas. She also had done a few short, smart pieces of writing online – The Autopsy, What The Dead Remember and one called Malted. Malted was about whiskey and was the bit of writing that gave it all away. I remembered reading Malted a few months previously and realised the style and content was reminiscent of Belle’s and was suddenly convinced I had the answer.

I then spent the first three months of 2004 “internet stalking” Brooke Magnanti, collecting together a whole bunch of circumstantial evidence that Brooke was indeed Belle. I also slowly became aware of the heightened stakes, as Belle became increasingly famous and obviously wanted to maintain her pseudonymity.

For a while I believed that Brooke would get outed immediately – but it turns out the British press could not investigate anything not handed to them on a plate, and were never looking in the right place – the small clique of people who starting blogging in the UK in 2000/2001. Belle de Jour remained pseudonymous and the mystery remained intact even after two TV series based on her books.

During this time I published a googlewack hidden in my blog – the words “Belle de Jour”, “Brooke Magnanti” and “Methylsalicylate” were published and available in Google’s index on a single page on the internet – my weblog. This “coincidental” collection of links could in no way reveal Belle’s identity. But I wondered if anybody else knew the secret and felt that analysing my web traffic might confirm my strongly-held belief. If someone googled “Belle de Jour” “Brooke Magnanti”, I would see it in the search referrers for LinkMachineGo.

I waited five years for somebody to hit that page (I’m patient). Two weeks ago I started getting a couple of search requests a day from an IP address at Associated Newspapers (who publish the Daily Mail) searching for “brooke magnanti” and realised that Belle’s pseudonymity might be coming to an end. I contacted Belle via Twitter and let her know what was happening. I didn’t expect to hear anything back.

And then early last weekend I received an email signed by Brooke that confirmed that she was outing herself in the Sunday Times because the Daily Mail had discovered her identity.

It was finally over, the secret was out. I no longer have to worry about inadvertently revealing her identity. If I’m honest, solving the puzzle of the biggest literary and blogging mystery of the last six years has been fun and exciting. I’m just really disappointed I don’t get to dig up a gold hare as a prize!

One last thing: Good Luck Brooke, I’m very glad you’ve managed to maintain some control over how and when your real identity was revealed to the public. I think I probably owe you a bottle of your favourite whiskey. Let me know what you like and I’ll see what I can do. – Darren/LMG.

Update #1: Belle has confirmed the story in the comments to this post.

Update #2: Googlewack Screengrab Published

Update #3: How Belle de Jour’s Secret Ally Googlewacked The Press – the Guardian cover the story.

Update #4: The End

[bdj] Now that I’m Not Anonymous — Belle de Jour outed herself yesterday in the Sunday Times. Old time UK bloggers may remember her other blog Methylsalicylate from 2000/2001. The Times described it as a “science blog” but as I remember it was a link blog in the style inspired by Jorn Barger. That’s right… I’ll say it again: Belle de Jour was a LINK BLOGGER.
5 June 2009
[sex] Lesson’s Learned … Twenty-Five lessons learned by Diamond Geezer about Sex during the last quarter century … ‘You should always know where your towel is.’
12 May 2009
[press] Diamond Geezer on the New Evening Standard ‘…to underline the paper’s new upbeat stance, a full page feature on inspirational pupils in the “poor borough” of Dagenham. I skimmed over it to be honest, because good news rarely sells, but it was encouraging to observe the paper looking optimistically eastward for once.Not so hot on pages 6 and 7, however. A full page advert for Fendi handbags opposite articles on Mayfair dining, Harvey Nicks and tax-whingeing financiers. Don’t care, not listening.’
14 August 2008
[ukblogs] Taking the shine off: Why blog publishing failed in the UK … a co-founder of Shiny Media looks at the state of blog publishing in the UK … ‘The obvious reason why UK new media companies haven’t achieved the same success as their US counterparts is down to economies of scale. US sites have at least five times more readers to aim at and that counts for an awful lot when most online advertising is still based around a CPM model (advertisers pay a between 50p-£20 depending on the campaign per thousand people who see their ad). What makes it even trickier is that most UK advertisers for obvious reasons only want their ads to be seen by UK readers…’
21 July 2002
[blogs] One last quote about Great British Blogs, from Life as it Happens: ‘What does Anita Roddick know about blogging? And Alan Rusbridger? Granted, something of this response is the idea of the Outside World peering into the blog golfish bowl (“But you don’t understand!” “You’re not one of us!” “You don’t get it!”) Assuming they are reading as everyday readers, why should they not? On the other hand, those who do not blog on a regular basis may well miss the fine points of the game.’
20 July 2002
[blogs] Couple more quotes about the Great British Blogs Competition

  • Blogjam: ‘…the Internet has turned me slowly from an outgoing, gregarious, popular fellow into a shallow, reclusive computer dweeb with very few remaining friends, and blogjam is the nearest thing to a serious relationship I’ve had in some time. In summary, I think blogjam warrents some recognition for putting up with me. It’s the very least she deserves.’ [via Wherever You Are]
  • Blogadoon: ‘I suspect Blogadoon is too strong on cock and spite, too weak on tech and eye-candy to rate well in any kind of mainstream beauty contest.’

18 July 2002
[blogs] As always the conversation around the Guardian’s Great British Blog Competition makes it much more interesting…

Meta-Blogging: #1, #2, Blogjam, Inkiboo, Metafilter, Grayblog,,, Wherever You Are, Venusberg, Blogadoon Troubled Diva #1, #2, #3 … ‘if you look at the opinions that matter to people, it’s mostly not celebrities or media figures. In many ways, for a large number of people, they’re almost the enemy! They’re relics from the past where for the most part we are kind of the future – the future where everybody is a superhero! Where we all get a slice of the cake, a bite of the cherry. And more importantly, there’s a real feeling that these people most often don’t understand what we’re doing anyway! We’ve seen people like this for years – it’s all PR blurb and airbrushed skin. I don’t think that’s what the weblogging publishing revolution is about! Make them start their own weblogs!’
8 July 2002
[blogs] Gerard and Dan find each other. From this

‘I’m saying, you simpleton, that to claim that the RSPCA is wasting its time complaining about the welfare of animals while people are dying all over the world, when your own life is so utterly and comically meaningless, is hypocrisy. Or, more precisely, stupidity.’

To this (in about 17 moves) …

‘Mr Dan, where do you live? If it’s London, I’d love to meet up for a (non-alcoholic) drink. You seem like an interesting fellow.’

29 June 2002
[blogs] The Top 40 Most Popular UK Weblogs — The Usual Suspects, basically. I’m most surprised by #25, The Edge of England’s Sword, which I’d never heard of.
25 June 2002
[underground] Look Deeper.
[blogs] The Subterranean Journal of Tom Coates … Tom is Brave. Cal is Naughty … ‘There is *nothing* wrong with Paul Simon’s Graceland. It’s the first album I ever bought and I still listen to it and love it. Fucking Guardian smart-arse bastards…’
19 June 2002
[blogs] London Bloggers Tube Map — stalk your favourite bloggers via Cal’s tube map … [Related: NYC Bloggers]
7 June 2002
[plasticbag] Tom is doing a survey about Weblogging
[underground] Tube Map — Cal’s been busy again… ‘I know about 374 connections between 272 stations.’
10 April 2002
[blogs] Graybo’s infamous Passport Gallery‘and it was only ever meant to be a bit of innocent fun. that’ll teach me.’Graybo
8 April 2002
[blogs] Feeling Listless Logo Archive — I really like these logos… my favorite‘the best option was to combine the name of the site with it’s subject matter, my life and how I feel about the latest cultural events. And so I struck upon the idea of cultural artifacts which mean something to me (to a greater or lesser extent) also expressing the name of the site. The picture at the top would be as much a part of the weblog and the writing. This is an ongoing record of these logos …’ [Related: Feeling Listless]
29 March 2002
[blog quote] Inkiboo: ‘Really think I shouldn’t call this site a ‘blog’ anymore. Two reasons for this. First being that there seems to be a high percentage of male bloggers who are gay. This is all well and good, but it could reduce my chances of getting laid. Second, a lot of bloggers are just self obsessed assholes.’ [more]
15 March 2002
[colon] LMG supports the campaign to pursuade Tom to irrigate his colon. [banner courtesy of Dave]

The Tom Coates Colon Irrigation Fund

‘I’m as yet unconvinced by the idea of the sponsored defudging – but I’m open to persuasion.’
13 March 2002
[logo envy] Feeling Listless has moved — which gives me an excuse to rip-off another one of those excellent logos …

Elizabeth Wurtzel... Feeling Listless

…and mention that he’s pretty popular with Middlesbrough football team… check out Stuart’s guest book: ‘Like your site. You must put a tremendous amount of effort into it. I spend most afternoons checking it out, after my morning’s training. I shall get more of my teammates to follow suit. The links are impressive. I only wish I had a laptop so I could access it from more places.’
22 February 2002

Think you can drink and Blog? Think Again.

5 February 2002
[blogs] A bit of UK Blog history — thinking about a UK Blog Timeline …

Any others? Tell Me.
30 January 2002
[uk blogs] One last link about UK Blogs … Watch a nation of 419 blogs update with the Recently Updated List.
[uk blogs] The GBloggies have a website‘What’s it all about!? UK Bloggers like to complain! So we’re giving them an opportunity. As Five should have said, “Let’s Bitch!” NOW WHAT?’
[uk blogs] Meanwhile in UKBloggerland… (in the style of Graybo and Cal) …

  • Dan is wondering about Human Cocks.
  • Dave is pondering the future.
  • Matt is filing things for the future.
  • Meg is burning CD’s for her sister.
  • Mo has got water in his bathroom.
  • Tom thinks he isn’t Arch, Illicit or Warped.

While we are on the subject of UK Blogs… the GBloggies. ‘Most likely to fantasize about Thatcher’ [via Graybo]
15 January 2002
[blogs] Nick Jordan or Nick Jordan? Would the real Nick Jordan please stand up? [via Nick Jordan]
14 January 2002
[blogs] Dutchbint is back‘And now this site is pretty much finished. It’s probably still riddled with little teething problems, but I feel it’s ready enough to open the doors and let the world in. I’ll just curse and sweat quietly while fixing things in the background.’
10 January 2002
[blogs] Digitaltrickery is back‘So, what’s pissing me off today?’
8 January 2002
[blogs] Logo Envy…

Rachel from Friends... Feeling Listless

Check out Feeling Listless for a new logo…
5 December 2001
[weblogs] Watch the UK Bloggers update… Recently Updated GBlogs is back and is vastly improved — it cycles through the list of 369 GBlogs every thirty minutes to find out what has changed… [Related: Jezuk’s Version]
3 December 2001
[blogs] Who or what is the Orbyt Collective? ‘So, if you, the “readership” think that Team Orbyt are a bunch of twatsticks and chimneyfuckers, tell us what you’d do differently. Prove wrong the theory that weblogging occupies the time of those unable to write and those unable to edit. Make us better.’
6 September 2001
[web] Dutchbint started the National Online Decency Compliance Standard page… baited it with search-engine referrals from her weblog and redirected a few choice words — cuntbusters being a particular favorite apparently — soon the appeals started to roll in‘I am a hardworking man who does not need permission from anyone on weather or not i can look at pretty women catfighting. Why don’t you idiots concentrate on the perverts trying to find kiddyporn? They are the ones who need help. Meanwhile leave people like me alone. Don’t try to take away my rights. If you guys tried loosening up a little bit you might have a little more fun. Maybe try to enjoy life a litte more. It should be guys like me watching guys like you. I’ll bet your the ones cheating on your wives.’
15 August 2001
[weblogs] Wacky Brit has done an updated list of the Most Popular Links on UK Weblogs. [Related: Blogdex continues to improve — it’s well worth a look.]
21 June 2001
[blog different] Two-fisted blogging cock tales… Swish Cottage‘Yes, in laymen’s terms, I had broken my cock.’ Vs. Nick “Torsion of the Testicle” Jordan‘I woke in agony; it felt as though someone had kicked me very hard in the gonads. Perhaps I’d somehow managed to catch myself while I slept, I thought, so I waited for the pain to subside as it normally would. It didn’t. In fact, if anything, it grew worse. Now somewhat concerned, I examined myself, but could detect nothing obvious. My calls for assistance were heard by my mother who came into the room to ask what all the fuss was about. “My balls!” I cried.’ [Related: Meg responds earlier]
15 June 2001
[important question] Which UK Blogger would you most like to see naked? [via Plasticbag]
18 May 2001
[blog] Dan asks the questions other blogs shy away from: ‘Have you ever wanted to shove a glass rod right up Nick Jordan’s cock?’ [Related: Nick’s Posting]
27 April 2001
[blog] David is walking across London… and it’s being blogged LIVE here via “cyber-Boswell” Ian. ‘Hopefully he’s going to stop for a cup of coffee; this pace is killing me. (At this rate he’ll be at Heathrow by dusk!)’
24 April 2001
[blogs] The Coffee Grounds has a new version of the Updated UK Blogs page available. It takes the list of names to check from Gblogs whichs means you can watch pretty much every UK Blog as they update…
17 April 2001
[blogs] Dan has some interesting comments on the Barbelith / UKBloggers cross-over — I’ve noticed a number of UKBloggers have joined the Underground and there are plenty of Barbelith bloggers… (if you’re reading this post late look at Dan’s blog for 15/4/01). ‘Still, as microcultures both are absolutely fascinating. I for one am looking forward to the increasingly inevitable joint meeting, given Tom’s deitic status within both and the increasing cross-pollination from one to the other.’
5 April 2001
[blog] is back along with Recently Updated UK Weblogs. Incidentally — I just noticed this neat Updated UK Weblogs sidebar for Netscape and IE from Jez at the Coffee Grounds
3 April 2001
[blogs] I’ve been remiss in not mentioning that Tom Ewing’s Blue Lines has returned — renamed as Groke…. ‘I’m already having awful template trouble, though. You can’t go home again.’
4 February 2001
[imitation] The Coffee GroundsAnd now in the style of LinkMachineGo… :)
1 February 2001
[weblogs] Tom wins Best European and GLBT weblog at the 2001 Bloggies… Congratulations Tom.
31 January 2001
[plug] The Updated UK Blogs List continues to grow… it’s a quick way to surf around all the UK weblogs which have recently updated…