Like Facebook, Livejournal was built in a bright student room; but unlike Facebook, LJ is not built "for nonconsensually assessing the fuckability of stolen photos from undergrads, "but rather as a community-minded platform for self-expression and forging connections.
Nowadays, LJ is Russian owned and Russian is hosted, and although it remains enormously influential in Russia, it is also viewed with great sadness by its non-Russian exiles who left or were forced to leave due to a series of minor and major catastrophes a kind of microcosm of the ways in which online communities can both excel and fail.
Steven T Wright's history of LJ at Ars Technica is a fascinating lecture on the subject, following LJ's history of a non-profit project carried out by volunteers and using that space in a small ISP ( literally a cabinet) used to host itself, to a small, struggling company that tried to find a balance between an obligation to its users with the need to keep the lights on, to a division of Six to Start, where the new managers struggling to rebalance that dedication, sometimes wrong and sometimes unnecessarily tormented by both trolls and users who have refused all the change today, to the sad situation of the site.
The most interesting part of Wright's history is that there is a difficult balancing act between the commercial needs of the service and the ethos to give priority to users' comfort. Sometimes this made the service too timid, and at other times it was way too greasy. It is important to remember that in this day of gigantic services that almost no longer respond to the needs of users (from Facebook to Tumblr), there is nothing about "listening to users" that automatically guarantees that you produce something that they like find (or that you can keep it financially).
Several topics point to a certain situation as an example of the noisy user base of LiveJournal: a controversy in 2006 about naked breasts in user icons that the employees their & # 39; nipplegate & # 39; called. According to Paolucci, everything started when a trollish user set his standard user icon to a photo of The Golden Girls & Bea Arthur shot on the head of a naked woman. Because your default icon was used when indexing search, nudity on the policy for the whole site was not allowed, although it was fine elsewhere. The team asked the user to remove it, but instead of complying, the user decided to start reporting nudity that he saw on co-user icons, many of which were part of a pro-breastfeeding group that would like to breastfeed their children gave as part of their icons. The LiveJournal team recognized this behavior as malicious reporting, but they felt fascinated by their own rules. Soon the breastfeeding groups were asked to also remove their icons, resulting in a national PR nightmare for Six Apart. At least one large activist group protested outside their offices.
Hassan says it was a shock to Six Apart employees, especially those who were not dedicated LJ users. "It was during our weekly company meetings and we report on this new policy and whether you can show the areola," he says. "The rest of the company was not doing this, they were used to selling to companies, not dealing with the chaos that could bring a direct user base … Today, on Facebook or Twitter, everything is a form response, or an automatic response But early on we expressed the expectation that if you were to write to us, you would receive a personal answer, we should have been more serious, we did not have that level of nuance in our policies, it was true, his breasts OK? Then we should have taken a more position on what & # 39; sexed & # 39; meant, and moved towards community norms, such as what [image sharing site] Flickr had, instead of freedom of expression. & # 39;
Hassan's reaction is in line with a common chorus of these one-time LiveJournal employees: the slowness of user expectations would be almost impossible to overcome. Shortly after Six Apart had bought the company, a conveyor belt of project managers was, for example, attracted to try to use the chaos of the company in something more profitable. These new analysts focused on the freemium model of the site and were only hampered by the weight of earlier promises. "We always said that we were fighting for the users, that we would manage everything by the community before we would do anything", says Mark Smith, a software engineer who worked on LiveJournal and became a co-creator of Dreamwidth. "Well, it turns out, when you do that, you end up with the community that tells you they want everything to stay the same forever – we promised never to place ads on the site and suddenly we have our new management to tell us: & # 39; The site needs ads, the site needs ads. & # 39; It was an impossible situation. & # 39;
"The Linux or social media" -How LiveJournal pioneered (and lost) blogging [Steven T. Wright/Ars Technica]
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