Monthly Archives: January 2005

what does Live Journal own?

I’m in complete awe of the feedback that i’ve received on my most recently post. I’ve also been getting feedback in other channels, including via email, IM and my LJ. I couldn’t answer a question posed by one LJ commenter so i thought i’d throw it up here because i think it’s interesting:

So what does the IP ownership here look like? Because there are two parts to this; the software, and the community. So I have no idea how saleable the following are:

  • Old posts, text, images, etc.
  • The software, seeing as it’s open source and basically freeware — can they revoke the rights of others to use the existing version of the software?
  • The community itself — the network, the linkages, the usernames.

    What I’m wondering is, in the event that LJ was sold, what legal obstacles are there to me gathering all of my friends, paying for hosting elsewhere, running a recent rev of the software, migrating all of our old posts, and replicating the network topology, node names, the whole nine yards, somewhere else. Basically, what does LJ own?

  • Music-Driven Networking

    [From OM]

    I’ve been actively watching last.FM lately [1] [2]. I believe that the value of this tool has yet to be truly uncovered (partially because it’s buggy as hell and there are key features missing). Still, i think that it is quite relevant for this discussion and important issues arise when considering it.

    In an article entitled “The Focused Organization of Social Ties,” Scott Feld discusses the role of interests in social networks. You and i may both know five people, but if we also have five diverse interests in common, we are far more likely to get along. Furthermore, if you and i have five diverse and rare interests in common, we are very likely to know many people in common. In his article, he introduces foci to the structure of social networks, emphasizing that “foci tend to produce patterns of ties, but all ties do not arise from foci” (1018). Foci are not simply interests, but also people, places, social roles, etc. [Anyone interested in issues around modeling foci in social networks in applications *must* read this article.]

    Music is one of the best focis out there. We naturally turn to our friends for music recommendations. People access music through their friends and people (most notably subcultural youth) find friends through music. Particularly among younger groups, i would posit that much about social network can be understood through music distribution and tastes. [Anyone have good research on this?]

    Music is a cultural foci, one that i think has a lot of salience for these tools. It is present in most of the sociable articulated social networks and the most important factor for MySpace (built on indie rock bands) and (built on Burning Man culture which is fundamentally a music/art festival). Yet, it is last.FM that takes it to the next level and lets you connect for and because of the music, directly appreciating others’ music tastes.

    This is not to say that there aren’t oddities involved. Your behavioral musical profile says so much about you that articulated versions of your tastes do not. I have already found myself temporarily banning certain artists because their dominance in my profile gives the wrong impression of my tastes. In other words, the visibility of my behavior has resulted in a behavioral change. That is indeed a very interesting end result of publicly visible behavior-driven social data.

    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.

    43 things

    And while i’m at it…. 43 things is a voyeuristic hoot even if nothing else. It humors me endlessly to see what people’s goals are. But i also realized that i am not really willing to cough up my resolutions for this year. Call me superstitious, but publicly announcing them seems like a recipe for never completing them. Of course, this is one of my issues, undoubtedly. I mean, when i blog something, i never write about it properly because i’ve already done it. Of course, i never think through things well enough on a blog, but … welcome to danah neurotic land.

    In any case, voyeurism… fun… My favorite is currently “use ‘yellow arrow’ to hyperlink real life”. And i love the folks that want to procrastinate less – they’re off to a bad start….

    wanting to like books we like

    By now, y’all know that i have a book fetish. Just a small one. [Wanna help me move???] So, i really really want to like Books We Like, especially now that i’m revisiting content-motivated recommendation networks. And i do really like their intention (and their kind request for participants to “Be forgiving.”). There’s one small problem: i have *ZERO* desire to input all of my books again. Zero.

    Most people bitch about creating a new profile on each service. I feel this way about my books. I currently have two Excel files: one for all books that i own and one for all articles that i own. I am awaiting the kind soul who will build my ideal application for text management. It would start with a XML or DB schema that would access my and Amazon purchasing habits, record when i bought it (which indicates more label material than anything else seeing as i buy books while writing papers or starting classes). And it would allow me to scan what i already have using Marc Smith’s magic toy.

    What makes last.FM so valuable to me is that i don’t have to do much but listen to music which i do all the time anyhow. I don’t even have to tag anything since i’ve already done that work for other purposes, namely to listen more without painfully crashing Gwar into Nina Simone (even if some whacked children think this is a good idea… hrmfpt).

    Why can’t something like Books We Like connect with my already present habits? Why can’t it help me organize my books. I already write commentary on them – why can’t it help me connect this together? Why can’t it let me simply rate my books for others when i don’t feel like writing a commentary? Why is there so much overhead for participation? Sadly, i can’t be bothered to input information in there – i just don’t see the value as outweighing the effort required. And this is super sad because i really want to like the people’s republic of books.

    Academia and Wikipedia

    [Also an M2M entry in direct response to various points in Clay’s K5 Article on Wikipedia Anti-elitism which responds to Larry Sanger’s Why Wikipedia Must Jettison Its Anti-Elitism]

    First, let me acknowledge that i have excessive privilege in this lifetime. That said, i’m not convinced that academia operates solely on an aggressive exertion of privilege nor am i convinced that any institution in the United States can be discussed without an assertion of privilege. But that’s another story.

    I would argue that many librarians, teachers and academics fear Wikipedia (not dislike it) because it is not properly understood, not simply because it challenges their privilege, just as most new systems and media are feared by traditionalists of all sorts. Have we not had enough conversations about blog fear amongst journalists?

    As a contributor to and user of Wikipedia, there is no doubt that i have a deep appreciation for it. All the same, i roll my eyes whenever students submit papers with Wikipedia as a citation. This is probably a source of much Wikipedia dislike amongst academics.

    Wikipedia appears to be a legitimate authority on a vast array of topics for which only one individual has contributed material. This is not the utopian collection of mass intelligence that Clay values. For many non-controversial topics, there are only a limited authors and we have no idea what their level of expertise is. Hell, i submitted a bazillion anthropology entries while taking Anthro 1 based on my textbook and most of them remain untouched. My early attempts to distill anthropology should definitely not appear as legitimate authorities on the topics, yet many students take them as such.

    On topics for which i feel as though i do have some authority, i’m often embarrassed by what appears at Wikipedia. Take the entry for social network: “A social network is when people help and protect each other in a close community. It is never larger than about 150 people.” You have *got* to be kidding me. Aside from being a patently wrong and naive misinterpretation of research, this definition reveals what happens when pop cultural understandings of concepts become authorities.

    I have extreme respect for those who seek to define concepts such as those who craft the dictionary and encyclopedias. It is extremely challenging to define a term because you are trying very hard to capture and convey excessive amounts of information in an abbreviated fashion that cannot be misinterpreted. This takes talent, practice, precision and a great deal of research. Consider, for example, the difference between a good science writer and a bad one. Not everyone can convey large bodies of research in an easily accessible manner.

    This does not mean that i dislike Wikipedia, just that i do not consider it to be equivalent to an encyclopedia. I believe that it lacks the necessary research and precision. The lack of talent and practice mostly comes from the fact that most entries have limited contributers. Wikipedia is often my first source, but never my last, particularly in contexts where i need to be certain of my facts. Wikipedia is exceptionally valuable to read about multiple sides to a story, particularly in historical contexts, but i don’t trust alternative histories any more than i trust privileged ones.

    My concern – and that of many of my colleagues – is that students are often not media-savvy enough to recognize when to trust Wikipedia and when this is a dreadful idea. They quote from it as though it cannot be inaccurate. I certainly distrust many classic sources, but i don’t think that an “anti-elitist” (a.k.a. lacking traditional authority and expertise) alternative is automatically better. Such a move stinks of glorifying otherness simply out of disdain for hegemonic practices, a tactic that never gets us anywhere.

    I don’t believe that the goal should be ‘acceptance’ so much as recognition of what Wikipedia is and what it is not. It will *never* be an encyclopedia, but it will contain extensive knowledge that is quite valuable for different purposes. If the fuss dies down, i’d be exceptionally worried because it would mean that we’ve lost the ability to discuss the quality of information.

    Alternatively, i too would love to see a vetted version of Wikipedia, one that would provide a knowledge resource that is more accountable and authoritative.


    “The user who visits Wikipedia to learn about some subject, to confirm some matter of fact, is rather in the position of a visitor to a public restroom. It may be obviously dirty, so that he knows to exercise great care, or it may seem fairly clean, so that he may be lulled into a false sense of security. What he certainly does not know is who has used the facilities before him.” – Robert McHenry is Former Editor in Chief, Encyclopedia Britannica

    [From Tech Central Station via Preoccupations]