My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & 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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User Elections for LiveJournal’s Advisory Board

LiveJournal’s Advisory Board helps advise LJ about policies, business, user practices, and product development. Currently, the Board consists of: me, Esther Dyson, Brad Fitzpatrick, and Lawrence Lessig. LJ has decided that users should also sit on the Advisory Board (recognizing that Brad and I are both also active users). So, LJ is having an election!

It is with great pleasure that I announce that LiveJournal has opened the nominations for user elections. LJ has decided that, in order to make certain that different communities are represented, there will be two user representatives in the Advisory Board. One will be elected to represent the Cyrillic language community and the other will represent the non-Cyrillic users. This may seem a bit odd, but it’s probably important to note that a large percentage of LJ’s users are Russian and they engage in very different practices on LJ than non-Russian users. To make sure both sides are represented, we decided to divide things this way.

LJ will accept nominations for representatives from now until May 15, 2008. Users must nominate themselves and obtain 100 comments of support from different users. The election poll will be posted on May 22 and users can vote until May 29. For complete details, click here.

  • To nominate yourself for the Cyrillic position, click here.
  • To nominate yourself for the non-Cyrillic position, click here.

I’m super excited that we’re doing this and I can’t wait to meet the user representatives!

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1 comment to User Elections for LiveJournal’s Advisory Board

  • Hi Danah. My name is Mark Kraft. I am probably best known on LJ for being the “All things business” manager of the site back in the early, pre-corporate days.

    The biggest problem I see with having an advisory board election on LJ is that, under normal circumstances, the serious voices would be drowned out by some very non-serious candidates, viewing this thing as some sort of popularity contest.

    That’s why I created LJ United, a community that’s running on a platform linked to trying to restore and defend the original promises that were made to LJ’s members, and other issues such as the free speech, privacy, support for the issues that effect other LiveJournal Code sites, and for a rebirth of community involvement in the longterm development and success of LiveJournal.

    Our hope is that by creating a unified, diverse group of supporters, we can see to it that the serious candidates aren’t overwhelmed, so that we can actually see to it that the advisory board’s role has real meaning for the rights of LJ’s members.

    There are quite a few serious users of LJ… and we’re reaching out to them. Former LJ developers, longstanding members, people who oversee prominent communities on the site, people running other LJ code sites, etc.

    We recently endorsed a candidate and we’re helping her campaign, and we’re also looking to back a candidate to represent our Russian community. Hopefully we’ll build up enough support to get them appointed, although it will be difficult, as we’re competing against some people pretty skilled at popularity-based memes.

    So, yes, there will continue to be drama as per the norm, but we hope to accomplish something useful anyway… and ideally strengthen your hand as well in helping to defend LJ’s unique culture, and in keeping you and others on the advisory board aware of our concerns.

    From a business standpoint, my largest concern is that LiveJournal is shrinking in site activity, with posts per day of 1,488,723 at its peak in June ’05, down to 952,195 today.

    From the average user’s perspective, that translates into over a third of the site’s activity, wiped out, roughly since the time that LiveJournal was acquired by SixApart.

    I say over a third, because new users are being added every day still to LiveJournal, and many of these post to the site, at least for awhile. Unfortunately, I suspect that they are increasingly less connected to the existing community. So, from the perspective of a longtime user of LiveJournal, the number of posts they read in their friends list every 30 days could’ve dropped by as much as 50%.

    My concern is that a certain point will be reached at which time, these longstanding users will move on. Unfortunately, the recent policies of LJ/SUP have only served to encourage such an exodus. Increased commercialization and more restrictive rules regarding what is proper or improper content only serves to push people on to other LJ Code sites.

    Evidence of this can be seen in the very considerable growth that sites like InsaneJournal have experienced very considerable growth lately. They recently had a major fundraiser in order to improve the site’s server infrastructure.

    It seems to me that two key issues are at the heart of the matter:

    1> Trying to cut open the golden goose to get at the eggs.

    I would love to see LJ be a profitable business, as that lends itself to longterm sustainability… but it also needs to acknowledge that its competing against a culture of free.

    And not just free, as in free software or free blogging services, several of which run the same LJ Code that LJ does, but also free, as in ad free, as can be seen at sites like InsaneJournal. Sure, the front page has ads on it… but the actual journals do not. None of them. And they’re more fully featured than LJ journals by default too.

    Back around Sept. 2000, Brad Fitzpatrick stopped giving out free “early adopter” accounts, and put banner ads on all new accounts. Being a statistics wonk, I tracked how this effected the site… and noticed a 30% decrease in site growth during this period. Which is why I advised him then and always to be supportive of site growth, because that is key to site profitability, especially on a site where a very dependable percentage of free users *used* to convert to paid accounts.

    I think that the methods used to monitize LJ’s newest users have been counterproductive, and have helped to destroy growth, thereby decreasing site loyalty and activity. I also think that there are numerous methods that users *would* welcome, such as sharing their favorite or most recently read books, records, latest songs listened to, etc. that could be tastefully, functionably, and usefully monitized in a way that would benefit all involved.

    If LiveJournal users are already sharing a “Current Music:” listing of one of their favorite CDs, why not have that link to a page where people can sample the song and purchase the album, courtesy of Amazon, listen to the entire song with Rhapsody, or purchase it as a download on iTunes? Doesn’t that sound like a far more valuable transaction than your standard banner ad… and far more useful for the users of LJ itself? And wouldn’t actually lend itself to site growth, rather than potentially decrease it?

    The second issue I see threatening LJ?

    2> A conflict of cultures.

    Recently, while searching for a post I made, I stumbled upon a very insightful post you made back in 2005.

    In it, you cited the conflict of cultures between 6A and LJ, and how “LJ folks don’t see LJ as a tool, but a community.”

    You were definitely on to something. More than half right… but you missed one key element.

    LiveJournal folks don’t see LJ as a tool, but as THEIR community.

    “THEIR” is the key word here, because it answers the other question you asked.

    “I would love to know why people donate to LiveJournal. My hunch is that it has to do with cultural identity.”

    Not just identity. Ownership. They bought a piece of something they love and believe in.

    So, when LiveJournal breaks its promises, pushes ads on its users, and starts behaving like yet another corporation, it loses the kind of incredible, site-sustaining loyalty that made LiveJournal so successful in the first place.

    It’s a bit like comparing fundraising for the two current Democratic candidates. Originally, most of the Clinton campaign’s fundraising emphasis was on traditional means and big money donors. And yes, that has some advantages and some disadvantages. However, that old, standard method, the tried, true, expert way of doing things, was completely overwhelmed by Barack Obama’s army of 1.5 million online donors.

    Those people didn’t just donate to Obama, from their POV. They bought themselves a real sense of ownership. And ownership is the ultimate loyalty. In for a penny, in for a pound… and in for the duration. It was only very late in the game when the Clinton campaign seemed to finally get this fact.

    This also goes some way to explain the very strong feelings that either of the candidates have in cedeing any ground to the other, even when the outcome seems obvious. You *really* see this in campaigns like that of Ron Paul, where reasonable people shake their heads and ask themselves “Why do they *still* bother?”

    Ownership.

    Getting back to the issue of a conflict of cultures, I think we have also seen significant problems as far as how traditional dotcom businessmen deal with LiveJournal’s already existant cultures of ownership and identity.

    It is very typical on LJ for people to have multiple senses of identity… and you can see this in people’s list of communities and interests, which span all counter-cultures, including, oftentimes, ones that simply don’t have much of a home anywhere else.

    This is not accidental. This is, in part, by association AND by purposeful promotion. Some of the earliest users of LiveJournal were Brad’s developer friends, college friends, etc. The next unique culture added was camgirls — several of the biggest ones made their home on LJ, followed by those who were fans or identified with them. There were also others on the site early on, such as .netart webdesigners like Auriea Harvey, who won something like the first three webbies ever given for artistic websites, with her entropy8 (now entropy8zuper).

    That’s what I saw when I first joined LJ back around Aug. 2000, back when there were about 10K users. I admired the level of honesty and online expression that people on LJ had, and wanted that level of openness for myself. To me, it was oftentimes like Justin’s links.net, writ large, albeit more ephemeral and not as interconnected.

    Within a month of my joining LJ, I was working with Brad on some significant issues, trying to take a bit of the burden off his shoulders, and helping him with the ideas that led to our original business model. I told him to ignore an offer to buy the site by a questionable dotcom that used VC money to buy and slap banner ads on a hodgepodge “network” of affiliate sites. I told him not think about approaching VC firms until he had a profitable, successful business with which to negotiate fair terms. I advised him against banner ads, and encouraged him simply to ask his members to help out the site by buying paid accounts, even though at the time there was VERY little difference between paid and non-paid.

    Well, it all worked. And what’s more, that dotcom that wanted to buy us went under. Why? Because when bad times hit the dotcom world, the advertising revenue dried up and the price of banner ads crashed. That is why LJ didn’t just survive the dotcom crash, but thrived through it, doubling in size every 50 days or so.

    One of the most important things I did in LJ’s earliest days was to cook up the idea of LJ’s communities. I saw the site growing fast, and thought we risked losing a kind of common culture. New people were coming on to the site, but just not being socialized into our culture. Oftentimes, they’d make journals with a handful of entries, never make any friends, and then leave. So, I thought communities would be one way to connect people around cultures, interests, etc. I also thought it would be the best, most empowering, most egalitarian way to handle our communications for actually running the site, as it would allow your average user to peek in on what we were doing and even take an active role in the site’s operation.

    So, I made a bit of a blueprint of how it would work, passed it on to Brad… he seemed kinda puzzled about it for a bit, but cranked it out rapidly.

    Basically, it was designed for anyone to create any kind of community, in a non-structured, non-hierarchical, non-Usenetty kind of way. Anyone could create a community, and everyone did. And I made a big effort to promote these communities on other websites and forums around the web, especially for the less represented interests at that time. I have to admit it… I *wanted* the pervs, the freaks, and the outcasts to join us. I encouraged it, because their communities were underrepresented elsewhere on the internet, because I was one of them and knew how to reach out to them effectively, and also, because it was just plain good for business.

    Likewise, I also encouraged LiveJournal’s internationization project by doing directory searches on the site in order to create communities for people of various nationalities, encouraging these people, many of whom didn’t even know about communities on LJ at that point, to join up. And once they were there, those communities were used as a jumping off point for internationalization projects for their respective languages. They also encouraged overseas growth of the site. Again, good for business.

    So, what evolved was not accidental. A world culture of subcultures, misfits, and outcasts who found a home and a voice. Narrowcasting for the masses, you might say.

    So, what happens when Japanese cultural ideas like dojinshi — a common Japanese pursuit for young girls — helps to drive the growth of slash fiction in American culture? Chaos ensues, and, under the current management of LiveJournal, teenaged girls are mischaracterized as potential pedophiles. And what happens when free speech finds a home in Russia? Apparently, people get arrested.

    The end effect, however, is a widespread “chilling effect”, as civil liberties advocates would say. The potential cost of free speech on so open a platform becomes too much, so it is either driven elsewhere or underground.

    And both of those discourage growth, and are simply bad for business.

    So, in short, LiveJournal is in the business of distributing content that would be profoundly disturbing to many people, some of it completely inappropriate for minors. It also distributes kitten pictures. It’s a common carrier. But when it starts making judgements about what is or is not appropriate in situations where there are no clear, obvious victims, it undermines its own defense, spreads that “chilling effect”, encourages its customers to go elsewhere, and makes it abundantly clear that any sense of ownership, identity, and pride that they had in being a part of LiveJournal was obviously misplaced.

    In your post at the time of the acquisition of LJ by 6A, you said:

    “my . . . 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.”

    Indeed. That is what we are seeing with the LJ/SUP acquisition as well, and it’s part of the reason why LJ is in decline.

    You also told one commenter:

    “There’s a difference between hands-off and actually doing what’s necessary when things go wrong. I have the UTMOST respect for the abuse/support people at LJ for knowing what to do in suicide situations, when people are hurting themselves, etc. Sooo much respect.”

    Exactly. The key words being “when things go wrong”.

    You can be prepared and have policies in place that tell you what to do when things go wrong, but what kind of preemptive actions are ever appropriate when there is no clear victim, but only a theoretical one?

    Of course, when you resort to censorship, there will always be plenty of people who feel victimized.

    And btw, thanks for saying those kind words about LiveJournal’s volunteers knowing what to do when it comes to potential suicide situations. I have to admit… that was my doing… and yes, I’m very proud of that fact.