Archive for the 'LiveJournal' Category

Social Networks and Business Plans

Posted in LiveJournal, Web Publishing on September 28th, 2014 at 10:20:27

Like everyone on the internet, I’ve seen a lot about Ello in the last week or so. While I’m not convinced Ello is the next big thing, more recently, there have been articles about how Ello must be planning to sell you out, because their proposed business model can never work, and all Venture Capitalists require an exit strategy. Regardless of how true the latter may be, I am not convinced the former is true at all.

My initial forays into the online world were based on GeoCities and Tripod, like many other people of my generation. In my transition to college, LiveJournal became my home on the internet. It was my first work with an open source project. It was where I made friends, and it was even the website where I met my wife. It was also a website which was run, for years, based on a funding model which was entirely ad-free, at a time when banner ads were the way of the internet.

When the website started, in the early 2000s, “No ads, ever” was the mantra of the site (like Ello). The site was originally invite-based, so that growth was somewhat limited (like Ello). The site didn’t collect and sell your information to advertisers (like Ello). The site was funded by users who paid for additional features (like Ello); for LiveJournal, features included things like more user pictures, the ability to make posts by making a phone call, domain forwarding, advanced customization options for look and feel.

LiveJournal functioned as a business this way for a number of years; from at least 2002 - 2005, when it was bought by Six Apart, LiveJournal seemed like a functional business from the outside. It was a small business run by a small number of employees and supported by a dedicated volunteer base who worked to run areas like user support. There was enough of a business here to result in a sale to Six Apart in 2005; while no details of the deal were ever published, it seems reasonable to assume that it was considered to be a viable business at the time of the sale.

Now, LiveJournal was never started to be a business. It was started as a way for the creator to keep in touch with his friends. It was run as a semi-business, but as with many things started by people in their idealistic years during and shortly after college, sometimes they lose the ability to maintain the dedicated interest necessary to keep them going. (See also: Most of my early software.) After the sale to Six Apart, the “No ads on LiveJournal” policy slipped somewhat, and a number of social shifts caused a bit of a fall from grace in the somewhat utopian ideals that LiveJournal had. (Not the least among them that ads probably became significantly more profitable and effective…)

But LiveJournal isn’t the only social network that had this policy. After LiveJournal’s sale to SUP, some of the volunteers from LiveJournal decided that the things LiveJournal stood for were good, and that the system it had was workable, but it needed a bit more realistic business approach, and started Dreamwidth; like LiveJournal, the site is funded through people who purchase additional features for their accounts, rather than advertising. (One of the site’s Guiding Principles is “We won’t accept or display third-party advertising on our service, whether text-based or banner ads. We are personally and ideologically against displaying advertising on a community-based service.”)

Dreamwidth was founded in 2008, and opened to the public in 2009; it started with invite codes and later was able to move away from them. The site has more than 2M registered accounts, and although it’s not going to be the next Facebook, it’s probably reasonable to assume that the site isn’t losing money hand over fist. (It has been around for 5 years, and shows no signs of unhealthiness that I can see from the outside, though I have no inside knowledge.) It is funded by people who purchase additional features for their accounts.

The idea of free accounts being paid for by people who want additional features is not new. The claim from some that “…no one has ever tried it as a central business model, at least not in social” is clearly false. Some people have tried it. It has even, to some extent, been successful. And although it may be that Ello is not planning to do what they say they’re going to is possible, it seems entirely more likely that Ello is trying to follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before it and created social networks that millions called home in the earlier days of the internet.

If what Ello wants to make is a “sustainable business”, as they’ve claimed, then there is no reason to think that they can’t do it by following exactly the funding model they have proposed. I hope all goes well for them, and that they’re able to hold onto those principles. If they’re not, and you’re still looking for that ad-free, friendly environment that you miss from the earlier internet… there’s always the comfort of Dreamwidth.

LiveJournal Rumor Confirmed

Posted in LiveJournal on January 6th, 2005 at 00:59:35

LiveJournal has been bought by Six Apart. After reading what Brad, Mena, and Six Apart have to say, I’ll admit I’m not too concerned. I do wish that I could still be involved in the Development effort at LiveJournal: I have a lot of things that I’d like to see done there. However, that door closed a while ago, so I’ll just have to deal with whining about it ;).

Current Mood: Optimistic, from Mena
Company FAQ, from 6A
Press Release, From 6A
LJ FAQ, from Brad.

According to Brad, they’ve finally got Trackback code going. Of course, we’ll see how long it takes to actually get anything done, since the entire office is moving.

Congrats to LJ and 6A. Hope for the best for both of you. It seems that my options from my previous post are looking like they’ll be Option 1, possibly with a leaning towards option 2 - and that’s something I’m happy about. So, Thanks.

LiveJournal and SixApart, Take 2

Posted in LiveJournal, Web Publishing on January 5th, 2005 at 00:50:45

Since it seems that the news about LiveJournal and SixApart becoming one really is true, I’ll toss some more thoughts out there. Someone will probably read through all these posts eventually, especially if they want to avoid another snafu like the one that Movable Type’s licensing changes caused.

Despite all my praises of LiveJournal and the effect that it’s had on me and that I’ve had on it (in my own small way), there are a number of things which could definitely use some work to get up to “snuff” on a customer service level. User interface has never been a strong point for LiveJournal, and although with the addition of some new developers in the past year it has improved greatly, it is still not nearly as easy to use in many respects as something like Typepad.

Here’s what I expect to see, if Six Apart decides to take an “active” role in continuing the development of LiveJournal as a seperate service from its currently existing products, while still maintaining a position as “stewards” more than corporate whores:

  • Implementation of some “basic” parts of site usage for “weblog” type users: I expect Categories and Trackbacks will make their way into the code. (Sadly, I wrote and submitted 90% of the code needed for Trackback starting a year ago today, which has been ignored since then.)
  • Improvement of User Interface in some key areas, especially the customization area.
  • Improve customer support. Sadly, I fear this will be the end of the LiveJournal Volunteer support system which I strongly support: I met the love of my life via doing support for LiveJournal, and it will be sad to imagine that others will not have that same oppourtunity. However, I expect that will go, along with most volunteer development.

I also hope that some other sites will wake up and realize that there are several things that LiveJournal offers that almost nobody else does. The key to me that I have not seen in any other situation has been threaded comments, with email notifications built into the interface. The lack of threaded comments, and the lack of email notifications, is something that I believe has led to the fact that most other blogs have much less interaction than LiveJournal does: you have to remember to read a post again to see the comments someone sends to you, and that’s just not the right way to do it. Push, not Pull, is the way to improve communication.

The way I see it, there are several ways that the LiveJournal project could go, if it is aquired by SixApart:

LiveJournal is left as is. All employees are being retained, so LJ is really just under the protection of a corporate entity. Some things that would get the company in trouble may change slightly: for example, Abuse reports may shift to being employee-answered only (as it should have been for quite a while anyway, in my opinion). Other than that, LJ doesn’t change: the same development practices stay in place (which means that almost all development is done in house, nothing ever gets done in a timely manner, etc.) and the site continues on as it did before.

LiveJournal is taken under Six Apart’s stewardship: Brad, who owns LiveJournal, leaves to pursue more interesting projects, and LJ’s employees eventually move into Six Apart and do whatever they’re best suited for. LJ administration changes, and the development efforts externally move internally. The volunteer community basically dissapears as LJ becomes 6A, and at the user-level, nothing changes. For people closer to the administration, they see changing faces and things like development and support close their doors to outsiders.

LiveJournal and SixApart merge completely, and the Typepad and LJ platform become one. I don’t expect this, and don’t expect that it will be successful if attempted.

SixApart migrates all current LJ users to their Typepad platform. Again, most likely not a successful move, as Typepad is very different in usage than LJ, and is lacking many of the features LJ has.

I’m honestly hoping for option 1: that LiveJournal doesn’t really change, and that this “merger” is just a “handing over legal control to someone else who is there just in case”. However, I expect that it will probably be something nearer to number two, meaning that there will be no more development like what I experienced in my time at LiveJournal. I do not leave much trust to hope on this one, unfortunately.

A few thoughts, through the eyes of a current and active LJ user: Why do people keep saying that this merger will “make” one of the biggest blogging companies out there in terms of users? So far as I can tell, LiveJournal has more users than anybody else: Typepad’s extra million is a drop in the bucket. Is there some other service out there that has as many users, or are people really just finally waking up to the fact that LJ is way huger than they realized?

Will volunteer development really go away? That would be really sad to me, because before personal issues (such as the fact that I think development should have a method to its madness) left me outside of the social circles, I really did like developing on LJ. The code is a mess, but it’s fun. And that’s one of the reasons I have stuck with LJ: because I can do things like that, to help get the site to do what I want. Similar feelings on support. Being a part of a site is way cooler than being a user of one.

My primary hope is that SixApart is smart enough to realize that the “blogging” and “journalling” users on the web are very different, and doesn’t try to mash them together in one mold. Doing so can only result in bad things, not good. Please, to whoever might be reading this: I implore you. Think before you act. Ask the people you’ll be affecting before you do anything, and you’ll have much happier users on your hands.

However, maybe now Brad will be able to buy his Porsche.

LiveJournal to be Bought out by Six Apart

Posted in LiveJournal on January 4th, 2005 at 22:26:01

If there’s one thing that I had hoped to never hear, it was that LiveJournal was being bought by someone. However, it seems that today is a day for hearing exactly that: Six Apart Will Be Buying LiveJournal. A thought that hits me hard, given how much time and effort I’ve put into that site, both in my personal journal and in work in the backend.

Obviously, this is an early announcement: there’s no indication of what exactly is happening, or how solid this deal is. As a long time (2.5 year) LiveJournal user, this is something that I have absolutely no interest in.

I was a beta tester for the Typepad service when it first came out - and it was an interesting change from LiveJournal. However, in all my time as an LJ user, I always enjoyed the fact that it was a “personal” project. Something that I could participate in, something that my friends could participate in. Something that let me be a part of it. Something that I fear will change when LJ becomes “corporate”. One need look no farther than the Movable Type licensing mess to see things that Six Apart has changed for the worse.

I’ll wait until I see further information on what’s actually going on before I blow off too much steam: after all, this is a preliminary announcement. However, as a user of the site, I’m frustarated that I didn’t hear more information through any of the available channels about this beforehand, and if it really is happening, I definitely fear that I’m going to see LiveJournal take a turn away from its current status and move towards the worse.

I just hope that this isn’t true.