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.