The Cultural Divide Between LiveJournal and Six Apart
Ah, shit. If Brad is willing to sell, i suspect that this rumor is definitely true. It doesn’t require a brain to know that buying LiveJournal would be a brilliant move on Six Apart’s part. That said, i’m not sure that i like this move at all.
Live Journal is a culture, not simply a product or commodity that can be bought. From an outsider’s perspective, it might appear as though they are similar properties – they are both blogging tools, right? Wrong.
Jump inside LJ culture. People who use LJ talk about their LJs, not their blogs. They mock bloggers who want to be pundits, journalists, experts. In essence, they mock the culture of bloggers that use Six Apart’s tools. During interviews with LJ/Xanga folks, i’ve been told that MovableType is for people with no friends, people who just talk to be heard, people who are trying too hard.
LJ folks don’t see LJ as a tool, but a community. Bloggers may see the ethereal blogosphere as their community, but for LJers, it’s all about LJ. Aside from the ubergeek LJers, LJers don’t read non-LJs even though syndication is available. They post for their friends, comment excessively and constantly moderate who should have access to what.
While you cannot generalize about LJers, a vast majority of them are engaged in acts of resistance regularly (think: subcultures, activists, youth rebels, etc.). They value LJ because it values them. They value LJ because it is a tool of resistance, an act of going against mainstream and representing those already marginalized by society – the geeks, freaks and queers among us. They don’t want to be mainstream. They don’t want their parents/authorities/oppressors using the same service. At the same time, LJ provides shelter, support, community. When someone threatens to commit suicide, LJ doesn’t throw up its hand and scream “not my problem.” There are folks who actually work to help friends help each other. They’re not just an anonymous service – they care.
I would love to know why people donate to LiveJournal. My hunch is that it has to do with cultural identity. When you donate, it says so on your page. When you donate, you signify that you value LJ. Forget increased features, you’ve just made the ultimate commitment to a community – a commitment of money. And aren’t you jealous of the permanent members and early adopters?
Friends have asked me if people care about Brad. Craigslist users often talk about knowing someone who knows Craig and that they value the intimacy of it because they know that Craig loves them. I don’t think the same is true for Brad. The geeks definitely give me the 6 degrees relationship status, but most people talk about it being their community. In other words, i think that as far as most LJers are concerned, LJ is run by an attentive benevolent dictator who cares about them. They don’t care about Brad – they care about the freedom that he appears to give them without any indication of reality.
Movable Type is a product; LiveJournal is a community. Six Apart is seen as a community that provides tools, not culture. I suspect that if LJ goes to SA, there will be discontent from LJ users even though the media and blogosphere will hail it as an exceptionally [insert business rhetoric here] deal. Even if Six Apart doesn’t change a damn thing, i suspect that LJers will feel wary, unloved and co-opted by The Man. I can’t imagine them going anywhere fast but i can’t see them being happy either, nor can i see them continuing to contribute economically.
My biggest concern is that a merger will stunt the cultural growth on LiveJournal that makes it so fascinating. My second concern is that Six Apart will not be prepared to deal with the userbase and will initiate practices that are more detrimental because of fear. [For example, what's the best way to handle an LJ community dedicated to cutters trying to outdo each other via images?] It takes a resistance-based culture to support a community of resisters and Six Apart is by no means a resistance-minded company. My third concern is that LiveJournal will shift because of investor value. It’s already compared to blogging, but as its own entity, it doesn’t have to be evaluated on those terms. If bought by Six Apart, i’m concerned that SA’s investors will evaluate it on SA blogging’s terms instead of in terms of LJ. My fourth concern is that fear of control will limit the evolving identity production/consumption that makes LiveJournal so valuable for youth and marginalized populations. It’s already far too public for more people, but easy access to LJ from MT/Typepad could be a disaster for many LJers.
While many bloggers love to talk about LJ with disdain, as a low-brow version of the culture, i adore LJ from the bottom of my heart and i’m truly concerned that LJ’s culture will be corrupted by an acquisition. It is not like any other blogging service and the needs that it serves are fundamentally different. I understand that Brad would gain much from selling, but it breaks my heart all the same. I can totally understand what he will gain, what Six Apart will gain… but what will LJ folks gain?
Sad sad sad. I hope Malik is wrong. And if he’s not, i hope i’m wrong. But i’m very very concerned about the impact of this should be it be true.