LiveJournal and SixApart, Take 2

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.

23 Responses to “LiveJournal and SixApart, Take 2”

  1. Isaac Says:

    I agree with your second scenario. Ideally, the first would be the one to happen, but I don’t anticipate 6A just sitting on their hands. They’ll want to play with their new toy, not just buy it to watch it do its thing.

    You’ve hit upon everything I think LiveJournal is lacking: a quick & easy support system and better customization usability.

    But I think this merger/buyout/sale will be completed a little sooner than people would like or expect. :/ I’ve heard already that some are making plans to move, which makes me ๐Ÿ™

  2. katster Says:

    I use both LJ and Movable Type. LJ is my personal journal; MT is the software underlying my freewheeling multiple-user politics blog. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.

    One of the reasons I started on LJ for a personal journal in the first place is simply because I don’t have to go to the website to make an entry, which was a feature I found very pleasing after trying (and hating) Blogger. Besides, all my friends are on LJ. Movable Type works well for the politics blog because I can host it on my own domain and control the styling of my journal a lot more than I really feel I can on LJ. (S2 is cool, but complicated. My friend hacked out a layout for the MT blog in a day.) Plus, trackbacks make politics blogging much easier on MT. (I’m rather disappointed to hear that you wrote trackback code and folks have been sitting on it, because I think that would have been a rather cool LJ feature, even if I never used it there.)

    Another interesting thing that I’ve got to point out is the question about what happens to those of us who have permanent accounts? I guess it was a gamble to lay out the money in the first place, but will 6A honor the committment Brad made to those users? It’s another troubling question that I don’t know if I have an answer for.

    Just my thoughts on the matter, I’m hoping 6A opts for options one or two, but I don’t think it necesarily will be so.

    -kat

  3. drewzhrodague Says:

    Go figure. What’s with all the consolidation in the varying industries? This can’t be good. I use and enjoy LJ quite a bit, and hope I can continue to do so, without any “evil” behavior.

  4. Roger Benningfield Says:

    “The key to me that I have not seen in any other situation has been threaded comments, with email notifications built into the interface.”

    JournURL has both, and we’re about to roll out a new interface to replace the current mess. If you’re ever in the mood, drop me a line and I’ll set up a beta-interface account for you.

    “…you have to remember to read a post again to see the comments someone sends to you, and thatโ€™s just not the right way to do it.”

    I agree, but I don’t think email goes far enough. For example, if you subscribe to my blog’s RSS feed in one of the better aggregators (RSS Bandit, Newzcrawler), you’ll automatically get my entries *and* a threaded version of my comments. You just can’t beat a complete RSS implementation for keeping up with an ongoing conversation.

  5. firasd.org » Six Apart to buy LiveJournal? Says:

    17;s posts at Mefi, it’s obvious that he’s unhappy… Here’s another post Christopher Schmidt. I still think that if anything bad happens, his […]

  6. Anthony Says:

    I think there is at least one other possibility: SixApart wants some of LJ’s technology without having to release the source. SixApart would then incorporate some LJish features into TypePad and possibly Movable Type.

    Meanwhile, MT offers blog owners the ability to do email notification, as do several other systems, I think. But I can’t think of any other than Slashdot’s system which offer threaded comments.

  7. acb Says:

    If SixApart do merge the MT and LJ codebases (merging LJ’s social-network data into TypeKey and reimplementing other LJ features as MT plug-ins), they may relaunch the LiveJournal brand name for their teen-oriented line of low-power personal publishing products, with the full-featured version being Movable Type.

  8. idle thoughts » LiveJournal to be bought? Says:

    t?
    Filed under: geek — mid-afternoon

    I’ve been keeping an eye on this story over the past week and it looks like it may be true. […]

  9. Anthony Says:

    acb – I doubt that 6A wants to “merge the MT and LJ codebases”. But there are features in LJ that would be nice in MT, like threaded comments and configurable privacy, some of which might be more useful on TypePad than on individual MT setups. I’d also really like to see a Textile plugin for LJ…

  10. Scatmania Says:

    LiveJournal May Be Sold

    I hear that LiveJournal – one of the world’s biggest blogging communities (and home to most of the blogs syndicated by Abnib) – is to be sold to SixApart, a TypePad/MoveableType-based blog-host.

    What effect this will have on holders of existing Liv…

  11. Paul Says:

    Since it seems that the news about LiveJournal and SixApart becoming one really is true,

    Not saying that it isn’t, but could you provide a source for this? The front pages for LJ and 6A don’t show anything about it; neither does Mena’s Corner.

  12. Christopher Schmidt Says:

    Paul –

    Wait 24 hours. If it hasn’t been announced by then, I promise you, I’ll post a full retraction and apology. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Seriously, I’ve heard confirmations from sources that I’m not allowed to disclose. However, I expect that there will be more sites listing things like this eweek article in the very near future.

  13. Paul Says:

    Nothing personal, but I’m hoping you get to post that retraction. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’d rather not see the two combine.

  14. Jay V Says:

    I used to refer to some people as bloggers and others as LJers, and I like to see someone in the field acknowleding the difference between blogging and journaling. ^_^

  15. Life | Journalized » Blog Archive » Classes and more Says:

    eers over at LiveJournal? Chris Schmidt, a volunteer at LiveJournal, hypothesizes here and here .” Sources close to LiveJournal creator Bra […]

  16. xoe Says:

    I’m hoping that the first scenario is the true one, simply because it would make the most sense as far as selling goes. Brad seems quite excited about LiveJournal from what I can tell & I’d have a hard time believing that he’s ready to give it up completely. One would hope that he has enough business knowledge to make an educated decision about the matter.

  17. M Says:

    It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, ’cause MT/6A is for blogs, and LJ, well, it’s not really blogs. An LJ is blog-y, but the communities/comment threading and e-mails/icons/etc., not to mention the intentions of the LJers, make it much less like a real blog and more like, well, something else, a journal community, I guess. Blogs are more newsy, more about sharing information or views. LJs are more about sharing the news of your personal, day-to-day life, less about attracting readers and more about reading about your friends.

  18. djchuang Says:

    A little different perspective – I’ve found much more interaction on non-LJ blogs, like those using MT, Typepad, Blogger, and the MSM so much more often refers to blogs using these tools, than LJ. I just fond out the other day that LJ blogs aren’t even searchable via search engines, so there’s less traffic. LJ is great, like you’ve alluded to, for a circle of friends, but if one has something to say to the Internet public, some other blog tools may be more helpful. And of the 3 blog tools I’ve mentioned, I do have a email-me-when-someone-comments function.

  19. Christopher Schmidt Says:

    Regarding your statement on not being able to search LiveJournals: that’s a personal choice, specified in the user options, to specify anti-spidering meta tags. For example, a search for “inurl:www.livejournal.com/users/crschmidt/” brings up 2100 hits on Google.

    Regarding comment emails: it’s not that the author can’t get email, but, for example, I have no way to have email sent to you when I post this comment. I’ve not seen any other sites that do this either, including the ones you mentioned.

    There is a major difference between using LJ as a blog and using it as a journal. Most weblog software can only be used as a blog: LJ *can* do both, although it’s better as a journal.

  20. matt at lightwind Says:

    Six Apart to buy LiveJournal

    There have been rumors circulating for a couple of days about a potential buyout of Danga by SixApart, MT’s parent company. Chris, who’s blog I read a bit now and again, had a couple of write-ups about it, and it’s…

  21. Paul Says:

    Okay, you win. ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. Shannon Ahern Says:

    I LOVE this:
    “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 thatโ€™s just not the right way to do it. Push, not Pull, is the way to improve communication.”

    This is why I *hate* standard blogs. And Newsgator is just the poor man’s substitute for the genious and LOGIC presented by the LJ email notification system. I have been begging my developer fiance to write a “friends list” functionality for his DasBlog site for well over a year. I think it is utterly stupid that one has to click on each listsed reference to another cool blog. It is lame, and LJ does it SO MUCH BETTER.

  23. Noumenon Says:

    to crschmidt who parenthetically introduced me to the “inurl:” search syntax: Thank you so much!