Category Archives: LiveJournal

LiveJournal Academic Research Bibliography

Alice Marwick has recently put together a topical, semi-annotated bibliography of academic research on LiveJournal: LiveJournal Academic Research Bibliography. She has tried to surface all known scholarly research concerning LiveJournal. This bibliography was commissioned by LiveJournal (where I’m on the advisory board and played a role in making this happen). This is a great resource for all scholars who are interested in LJ-related issues.

(Note: this complements the bibliography I maintain of research on social network sites.)

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!

LiveJournal Advisory Board

I have exciting news. I’ve decided to join the advisory board of LiveJournal. It’s been brewing for a while, but it became official today. (Today seems to be the day for announcing things that have been brewing for a while…)

Anyone who has been following my work for a while knows that I heart LiveJournal with a passion. I’ve been on LJ in one form or another since 1999/2000 and it’s still the only community that I check in with daily for personal purposes. While I love LJ personally, I also deeply respect its history professionally. From its earliest years, LJ was home to many thriving subcultures: geeks, playa obsessed freaks, queers, goths, fans, camgirls, and even post-structural feminist cultural studies scholars. Because I’ve identified with or dated members of each of these subcultures, I’ve ended up back at LJ time and time again. Of course, LJ is much more than its subcultures. LJ is also home to teenagers, Russian activists, literary aficionados, knitters, and many many more. Like the community systems of the early web, LJ brings together communities around shared passions. Like contemporary social network sites, LJ serves as a hangout space for friends. Combined, LJ is one of the most powerful tools for people to gather, share, communicate, connect, and chill.

As much as I love LiveJournal, it has not been without drama. From the early days of camgirls to the fights between SixApart and fanfic folk, the various LJ communities have been active in defining what LJ should be about and what community identity looks like. The cultures that flourish inside LJ are vibrant, but often happily underground. Part of what makes LJ the ideal home for this is that LJ has some of the best tools for communicating and negotiating audience (think privacy features). When SixApart bought LJ back in 2005, I wrote a panicked essay called “Turmoil in Blogland” (published in Salon). I was worried that the well-intentioned folks at SixApart meant well, but didn’t understand what the cultures of LJ looked like. While they didn’t do that bad by LJ, their fights with the community over monetization and censorship showed that they were in over their heads. Not surprisingly, each incident incited a revolt by passionate LJers determined to stand up for what they believe. Each time, I couldn’t help grinning. I do love subcultural passion. At the same time, the last round of fanfic revolts saddened me. I understand why there are many who want to up and leave LJ, but I also feel as though much will be lost if they do. Given that LJ is not a psycho corporation and that I think most people on the inside wanna do what’s right, I kept wishing that LJ and its subcultural participants would find a way to resolve their issues.

Then, in December, I learned that SixApart was selling LiveJournal to the Russian company SUP. I have to admit that I panicked a bit. I knew that SUP had been pretty good to the Russian continent (having been running it for over a year), but I didn’t think they knew diddly squat about the communities that I loved dearly. I was also terrified of some logistics wrt the acquisition; Russia’s not exactly known for being a liberal nation state. Within days of the sale, one of the SUP founders (Andrew Paulson) contacted me. He had read my concerned blog post as well as my old essay on LJ. He asked if we could meet to discuss the future of LJ. He wanted to know if I had questions that he might be able to address and advice that might help in guiding the transition. We met and the one-hour meeting turned into four, at which point I had to bail out. Our conversation was intense. We debated some issues, educated each other on others. We found commonalities and talked about how we might resolve some of our disagreements. Above all, what struck me was that he was very willing to listen and open to ideas that would help LJ. We talked about how to handle different communities’ needs and how to make sure that activists, outcasts, and rabble rousers would feel safe. In the end, he asked if I would join the advisory board to help guide SUP and LJ in the right direction.

As the advisory board started coming together, I got even more excited. Brad Fitzpatrick, Esther Dyson, Lawrence Lessig… These are all people that I love and trust, that I feel confident will work to protect community interests. SUP has also decided that LiveJournal shall have two positions on the advisory board set aside for user representatives that will be elected by the community (more info on that coming later). To top things off, Jason Shellen will be leading the U.S. LJ product team. (Jason and I worked very closely together at Blogger/Google and I know that I can trust him to be community-minded.) In other words, lots of folks I respect and lots of opportunity for meaningful connections between users and the company.

The mandate of the LJ advisory board is as follows:

  • An international group of informed and trusted thought leaders from the online community, who will advise the management and Board of Directors of LiveJournal Inc in the operation and development of the LiveJournal platform;
  • Charged to meet, discuss, and post their position on the issues that are important to the community. The board will likely discuss a broad range of topics: freedom of speech, privacy, legality, policy, and security, to name only a few;
  • Charged to provide guidance to LiveJournal, Inc. management and the Board of Directors on new issues and controversies as they arise;
  • Charged to speak to and for the users, offering them a voice not only in LiveJournal, Inc., but also on LiveJournal’s role in the world;
  • Charged to oversee ongoing charitable work which the LiveJournal, Inc. Board of Directors supports.

Personally, I wanted to join the advisory board to help bridge gaps between the communities and SUP/LJ (the company). With help from the various communities, I hope that I can represent the passionate users out there. While I want to be able to advise the company to do the right thing, I also know that there will be times when compromises are necessary. My hope is that I can also help the company find the best compromises possible as well as help folks understand how decisions were made. Transparency is critical. Personally, I’m looking forward to the challenge. I believe in LiveJournal, I believe in the users. I want to see LJ be a safe home for those who have inhabited it for so long. New landlords are always a bit daunting, but I do think that these new landlords are well-intentioned and I deeply respect that they’re wanting to connect to the tenants and bring people in to serve as liaisons.

As much as change is always a bit nerve wracking (especially when it comes to community sites), I’m actually looking forward to this transition. I think that SUP gets that fucking with the thriving communities that are living inside LJ is downright stupid. At the same time, I respect that they want to figure out how to grow LJ in ways that don’t negatively affect the current active population. There are lots of issues to be addressed and innovation to be done, but I think that this can be done in a fashion that is beneficial to all stakeholders (including and especially active users). Given the opportunity to help, I just had to say yes.

My private LJ is going to remain private, but I decided to make a new public LJ as well: I’m not sure what all I will use this for, but I will definitely post things relevant to LJ there and be open to communicating with anyone who wants to talk.


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.

On LiveJournal and subcultures

LiveJournal is not a single community – it is a collection of communities. It is not all subcultural, all youth, all anything. Yet, for subcultural populations, LJ plays a very special role. It is for these communities – those who have found a safety net in LJ – that i decided to step back and write a piece for Salon – Turmoil in Blogland. I am not arguing nor do i believe that Six Apart is bad, misguided or clueless. I am fully aware that this sale is quite valuable for many different groups involved. And i’m very well aware that Six Apart (or at least Mena Trott) gets the value of personal communicative blogging. Yet, LJ culture is unique and often chaotic and scary. To nourish this will take a commitment and responsibility that i’m truly hoping Six Apart will embrace. For the subcultural populations on LJ, this decision will be key and it’s important that Six Apart works to learn from these communities before altering the social fabric in any way. For example, for many of us, there’s nothing comforting about pro-Ana communities, yet they’re very present on LJ. Understanding why these communities flourish on LJ says a lot about both the tool and the culture we live in. Efforts to destroy them will be devastating to the individuals and communities involved, even though the behavior seems so self-destructive. The trick is not to be patronizing, but to understand.

So, enjoy the piece. And thank you so much for the ongoing commentary – i’ve learned a lot from the different perspectives people have offered.

PS: to clarify on broader commentary – i identify as a blogger and i blog on four public sites, one private one, and various class ones. I also keep a private LiveJournal although i used to keep a public one. That said, most of the perspective that i’m offering comes from my interviews with bloggers and LJers, not my own personal experiences.

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?

  • 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.

    “LJ Killer”

    Rachelle Waterman’s LJ is filled with posts about her life, depicting not only her daily activities, but also her depression and thoughts of suicide. Yet, it is the final entry that has caught the attention of so many: “Just to let everyone know, my mother was murdered.”

    A few days later, reports started appearing that showed Rachelle was arrested for the murder and has since been arraigned. Thousands of speculative LJers started posting in threads on her final entry. While some were trying to understand what was happening, much of the thread devolved into obscenity. The Anchorage Daily News has a poignant article on the situation: People flock to online journal after 16-year-old’s arraignment

    Live Journal mood aggregation

    A friend of mine just sent me the first round snapshot of the aggregation of the mood of Live Journal that she’s helping Mark Handel do.

    When Jesse & Andrew put together imood, they added a feature that let you know how the Internet was feeling. This was great, although a bit problematic since many people didn’t update their profiles.

    Of course, with LJ, people put their mood in with each post and thus, an aggregator can collect this. Of course, it’s funny to think of a collective sense of LJers since they i would think that they are quite geographically diverse. Of course, they all seem to be tired right now so maybe it’s not as diverse as i’d think….