My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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Six Apart sells LiveJournal. Baroo??

In 2005, I penned an article in Salon (“Turmoil in blogland”) to address my concerns over Six Apart’s acquisition of LiveJournal.

When Six Apart bought LiveJournal, it did not simply purchase a tool — it bought a culture. LJ challenges a lot of assumptions about blogging, and its users have different needs. They typically value communication and identity development over publishing and reaching mass audiences. The culture is a vast array of intimate groups, many of whom want that intimacy preserved. LiveJournal is not a lowbrow version of blogging; it is a practice with different values and needs, focused far more on social solidarity, cultural work and support than the typical blog. It is heavily female, young and resistant. There is no doubt that Six Apart values this, and it should. But at the same time, the act of purchasing someone’s house does require responsibility if you want to do right by the tenants, even when those tenants look nothing like any other tenants you have ever seen.

Over the last 2.5 years, Six Apart has had regular collisions with the LiveJournal community, most notably this spring when their decision to delete 500 LJs sparked serious conversations (and a revolt) over censorship, copyright, freedom of speech, and sexuality. In an effort to balance user desire with legal statute, Six Apart ruffled the feathers of the LJ fan community and other geeks and freaks who live their lives on LJ. Sadly, this created a severe rupture of trust between the users and Six Apart.

Today, Six Apart announced that it is selling LiveJournal to a Moscow-based company called SUP. I can’t make heads or tails of what this might mean. Based on the press release, it seems as though SUP has a rich understanding of the Russian community, but I don’t get the sense that they have the first clue about the various English and Japanese speaking subcultures that are active on LJ.

For those who aren’t aware, the second largest community on LJ is the Russian community. Historically, this subgroup was primarily comprised of Russian academics, but LJ’s popularity spread in Russia through word-of-mouth to other Russian groups, including activists. While Russian participation is extremely vibrant on LJ, Russian users are completely disconnected from English-speaking users (see Language Networks on LiveJournal for an interesting analysis of language/network patterns). Furthermore, because the base network was Russian academics, the Russian patterns are quite different from the subcultures that grew out of the camgirl and fandom communities. Even the activists are different.

On one hand, I’m stoked that one of the sub-communities on LJ is going to be well-cared for, but I don’t know what this means for the sub-communities that I know and love. [LiveJournal is still the only SNS that I’m personally (not just professionally) passionate about.] The optimist in me hopes that this is indeed a “reset” that will allow the subcultural communities to flourish again; the pessimist in me fears that the cultural disconnect between the freaks and geeks and SUP will be even greater than was with Six Apart. But I don’t know… I don’t know SUP and I don’t know what their intentions are. I do know that the emotions on LJ are already running wild – a mix of confusion, hope, and sheer panic. It’s never fun to get a new landlord.

Anyhow, I’ll come back to this topic when I know more. In the meantime, if anyone has a better sense of SUP, please let me know.

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16 comments to Six Apart sells LiveJournal. Baroo??

  • This is just… weird. What were the Vegas odds on this one?

    Although, if you think about it, imagine a sale to someone here. There would have been a bigger revolt of the sale was to Yahoo! (who would have made ‘em all login with Yahoo! IDs), or to IAC (who just fired Jakob Lodwick for “creative differences”. If they had to sell it, what US company with the money to buy it could have possibly gone to? By selling to some unknown Russian group with at least some ties, they deflect a lot of criticism.

  • I was discussing what I would do if LJ started to majorly suck. The value in LJ, for me, is that I can create a blog where 8 out of 10 of my posts are private, viewable only to the network of friends that I trust. Unless my entire network picked up and moved wholesale to a new service with functionality similar to or better than LJ (unlikely), I think I’ll be stuck using LJ forever. The value of my network of friends is just too great.

    Some people are saying, “Oh, you can just use RSS and keep up with your friends in the same way,” but again, it’s the privacy that matters to me.

  • Meg

    It’s certainly going to be an interesting time, in the apocryphal sense of the word. I’ve been an active user of LJ since 2000 as one of the fannish users and while this change isn’t going to force me off the system immediately, it’s certainly something I am going to seriously consider.

    As for SUP, well, there’s certainly a lot of outcry from the Russian user base about this, although mostly in Russian. I’m hoping more about that appears in English.

  • Dan

    I’ve been following some of the reaction to this on Russian LJs, and it has been impressively positive (*). Bear in mind that the Russian lj-users are generally as tetchy as their anglophone counterparts – and many were *very* sceptical when SUP first started managing russian-language livejournal a year or so ago.

    So obviously SUP have made a good impression over the past year. Yes, some of the current support is just national pride that a Russian company is taking over – but mostly, it’s because SUP have built up trust. Not least, they’ve managed to communicate with the LJ community in a way that 6A never got the hang of.

    The effect on other subcultures? SUP seem very connected to subcultures on LJ – just not the same subcultures. If you’re one of the (young, american, liberal) geeks, freaks or queers, the early-adopter groups who have personal contact with the LJ staff, then maybe you will lose out because your gang’s not in control any more. Other groups can now celebrate that somebody who understands *them* is now in power. And a lot (e.g. the fandoms) weren’t understood by 6A, and won’t be understood by SUP either.

    Darius: what you really need is for greatestjournal &c to implement openid. Then we’re home and dry, and we can flit between livejournal-like sites at ease

    (*) i.e. there are lots of worried, angry users – but there always are when LJ changes in any way. Happy users seem to outnumber angry ones, which is much rarer. I’d expected people to be far more negative.

  • yeah, umm. I sure hope SUP is better… 6A chapped my ass repeatedly as it sold the community down the river in favour of being able to buy boxes of Pepsi for your userpage. Every other development was “flashy thing” more userpics (which degraded as currency when everyone got 30)” or “new idiotic gifts” — It seemed to me that 6A ushered in the part of the recent internet that bothers me the most… when “Tools become Products”

    Maybe SUP will save LJ, but the general trend and word on the street is that all the ‘cool kids’ just stopped using LJ around the time 6A took over. Some got a blog, some got a life, some got fed up with life in a public sphere… I’m getting fed up with lack of familiarity… I would feel horrible if someone changed the color of my paper journals, put Lisa Frank stickers in it, changed the orientation or dotted my ‘i’ with smiley faces when I was away. Its small, simple design choices, but tinkering with formats, almost makes the space, to me, feel “less mine”, “less safe.”

    In short it’s still what I use as my primary site, but ain’t the place it used to be.

  • Putin

    Are we going to see arrests of LJ Russian Activists?

  • danah:

    what dan said, with the addition of pointing out that SUP actually *bought* the entire LJ staff as part of the deal, and put Brad on the advisory board, so this doesn’t change who is in power in the same sweeping way that the 6A sale did. After reading lots of communities, the general consensus is a) lots of “in soviet russia” jokes and b)lots of confusion/i don’t know what to make of this. the support team is feeling a little gobsmacked, because normally we hear things like this first and SUP wanted to control the release of the news. at the same time, we know that SUP has been really good to our russian userbase and to us as a support team, and they have money to throw about and the incentives to throw it at LJ in a way that 6A doesn’t. Your point about the other language communities is well taken, but 6A didn’t understand them either.

    –kathy

  • While SUP might “have an understanding of the Russian segment”, I cannot say they are very popular among such, having been caught several times logging in as other users, with lots of publicity fallout, caught adding counters and not removing them but saying they did, and other stuff, emphasis on “caught”. (I can’t spare the time for tracking down the relevant links right now, but the noise kept reaching me even though I’ve abandoned LJ years ago and don’t even read the Russian side of the net much these days either.) Whatever support they do have has mostly to do with simplifying payment options drastically, since getting money out of Russia is a major pain in the posterior, and with actual Russian-speaking Abuse Team.

    What makes it very, very important on this side of the Atlantic, though, is that for most of Russia’s blogging history, unlike the rest of the world, where “A Livejournal is a blog” was true, in Russia, “A blog is a Livejournal” was true instead, even the word “blog” itself was not in common usage up until 2005 or so. Only very recently this started to change, and this had more to do with SUP coming in and significant activist exodus due to suspicions of abuse of powers for political reasons, than it had to do with competing local services showing up.

    I am inclined to believe this has to do with Livejournal’s political importance in Russia more than with anything else — delaying the announcement until just after the elections were over is very likely to have more to do with the outrage that would happen if it were announced before the elections…

  • Rose

    As an lj inhabitant for years and years, I’m at a loss to know what to make of this. The small subgroup I hang out with are posting a number of background articles to SUP, which – more than strikethrough, more than any of the current outrage about the ‘flagging’ system – gives me concerns about the future of lj as an environment which allows such a diversity of voices.

    Hi, by the way. I’ve been reading your blog for a while, ever since I attended the edna.au conference (which was fabulous!) in Melbourne earlier this year. I was the one down the back who went w00t! when you mentioned HP fan fic. :)

    Rose

  • Russia? Which one? I believe they are several countries with this name:
    – one is a lawless digital anarchy, from the Ultima hackers, Virus Kings and Spam Czars to MP3.com; couldn’t care less about sexuality unless you are selling it (in which case they already did it for you, too late);
    – another one is a regime so hard on dissidents it doesn’t have to push to get Banana republic scores, and doesn’t even need anymore to resolve to the classical political “Nuke” option: make believe the opposition is made of. . . Horrors of horrors: gay people. Good thing, because there is not such thing as gay people in good Russia.
    – yet another one is a mad mix of Oil magnates, their “wifes”, Popes with a feverish followings, and Kmlelmwmer (How you write that word?) fiddlers.

  • It is weird to me to hear people discuss “Russians,” “Americans” or “Japanese” as if they’re a single homogeneous group with similarly-aligned motives. It seems really 19th-century, you know?

  • Snyggast

    American Jeffrey McManus of Scottish ancestry who’s on the left side of the political spectrum, I assume. I think ‘people’ here are simply talking about the current state of Russian politics in ‘general.’ ..no need to be anal.

  • tsgeisel

    I’m finding it amusing that LJ is the only SNS that you feel passionate about, and yet you’re posting using blogger.

    I know, the right tool for the right job, but still…I’m amused.

  • tsgeisel

    I’m finding it amusing that LJ is the only SNS that you feel passionate about, and yet you’re posting using blogger.

    I know, the right tool for the right job, but still…I’m amused.

  • I’m posting using MovableType, not Blogger. MT is a tool and I very much appreciate it, but it is not a SNS. Blogging communities with articulated friends lists like LJ and Xanga are.

  • skyliner

    SUP say they will be bringing back Brad Fitzpatrick to be on the LiveJournal Advisory Board.

    As for SUP itself, while their capital is clearly of Russian origin, their management team seems very international: founder and CEO Andrew Paulson is an American who, apart from building and selling successful businesses in Moscow, has lived in Paris, London and NYC; marketing director Benjamin Wegg-Prosser has cut his teeth at the Guardian and has worked as the director of strategic communications for the British Prime Minister Tony Blair; strategy director Edward Shenderovich has spent years developing tech businesses in San Francisco and then some more teaching in Italy before moving back to Russia last year, or so I hear. A rather colorful bunch.

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