Livejournal circling the drain?
January 6, 2009 5:50 AM   Subscribe

Is the death of Livejournal immanent? After being bought by a company in Russia just over a year ago, Livejournal may be on the rocks. They've just announced big , big layoff of tech folks at Livejournal. allegedly with no severance for or warning to the employees.

If you want to back up your livejournal, here's a couple of ways:
posted by rmd1023 (63 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Is the death of Livejournal immanent?



posted by ericb at 5:58 AM on January 6, 2009

Immanent like "taking place within the mind of the subject and having no effect outside of it"? Until companies are sentient, I think we can safely discard that philosophical improbability.
posted by A-Train at 5:59 AM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

There's also LiveJournal Backup (for PC only), which is what I used when I decided to leave the service. This isn't to be confused with the other LiveJournal Backup out there, which as far as I could tell doesn't work.
posted by limeonaire at 6:00 AM on January 6, 2009

As long as people still spell words like "immanent" and "existant" livejournal will exist in our hearts.
posted by DU at 6:02 AM on January 6, 2009 [18 favorites]

Harry looked up from the computer in shock. He could not believe what he had just read. What about his Owl community? He looked over at Ron's bed, and only then did he realize that Hermione was there, and she was ...

Poor LJers.
posted by bonaldi at 6:14 AM on January 6, 2009 [18 favorites]

Shit shit shit. I've posted in my LJ less and less, but I'm still a paid subscriber and I use it to catch up with many friends and acquaintances. I appreciate the voice posting and have used it to chronicle road trips, deaths, births, the morning I was married.

I met my wife on LJ in 2004. Significant parts of my in-person social circles have been built on LJ.

It would suck if LJ went down simply from bad business decisions and poor management, but they'd be far from the first.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:17 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

LJ has sold 'permanent accounts' on numerous occasions. I'm sure that, if and when the ship goes down, this dedicated group of early adopters and longtime supporters will all get big fat refunds.
posted by box at 6:35 AM on January 6, 2009

The python script in LJDump opened in Coda on OS X. I tried Building an app or whatever the right click option was but that app didn't work. Now another thing I have to worry about getting around to figuring out how to do.
posted by Brainy at 6:36 AM on January 6, 2009


meanwhile, if LJ does go away, i'm curious what will happen with openID and the plethora of lj-code-based imitators.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:39 AM on January 6, 2009

LJArchive is the bomb. Not only does it let you export to HTML or XML, but you can read and browse the archive from inside the app itself. Very nice.
posted by DWRoelands at 6:40 AM on January 6, 2009

Significant parts of my in-person social circles have been built on LJ.

fiercecupcake, I've got you pegged as either a Vancouver goth or a Portland emo-kid. Amirite?
posted by mannequito at 6:41 AM on January 6, 2009

> The bubble in social networking has burst, decisively.

Oh, Valleywag. You always know how to open with a stinger! Don't ever change.
posted by ardgedee at 7:03 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sorry, mannequito, crunchy Texas lesbian ;]
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:14 AM on January 6, 2009

Can't we just stick the sensors on Blogger and get to work with the pillow?

[I watch too many cheap thrillers.]
posted by mandal at 7:14 AM on January 6, 2009

Well, shit. I really hope it doesn't die off, given that I have a pretty huge investment in the community over there. I do archive regularly, though, and I'm sure that if it did go belly up that the slack would eventually be taken up by one of the rival clones (probably insanejournal and/or journalfen, I should think).
posted by marginaliana at 7:23 AM on January 6, 2009

I use LiveJournal as my blog.

But I don't have very much invested in it. Maybe a week's worth of entries. And I'm not interested in the social-networking features at all.

What would you guys recommend as a replacement blogging service, if this goes under?
posted by jason's_planet at 7:35 AM on January 6, 2009

jason's_planet: there's several lj-clones -- insanejournal, journalfen, some others.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:39 AM on January 6, 2009

Ditch the LJ format and create an account on
posted by exhilaration at 7:53 AM on January 6, 2009

hey, weblog hosting for $4/month at god knows how many places. Plus, it's a standard App like movabletype or wordpress that you can backup, reinstall, move, whateverever whenever you want.

Also, you get your own fricken email address and corporate monkeys can't use your data to spam you.
posted by Freen at 8:00 AM on January 6, 2009

Oh no!

Aw, I really like my livejournal!
posted by lunit at 8:06 AM on January 6, 2009

Freen - the point of Livejournal (for me, I suppose I should say) is more the communities than the stand-alone blogging element. A basic wordpress blog doesn't have the same ways to interact with other people that LJ does. Hence the social in "social networking."
posted by marginaliana at 8:16 AM on January 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

Is there a blogging community that has a similar feature as LJ's friend's page? I realize I can cobble together an RSS reader, but the unique thing about LJ was that it allowed a very direct and reciprocal access to the ideas and writings of the people and communities you follow, unlike say facebook/twitter/blogger which allow mainly for exchange of useless one sentence updates or hawt party pictures. Blogger has a reading list but it's not really the center of attention as it is in LJ. LJ lent itself very well to intellectual internet engagement, but unfortunately it also had a stigma as it attracted a lot of perverted subcommunities, and also most people don't really care too actively about that sort of engagement. Communities like metafilter are sort of in between in that there is (sometimes) good discourse, but it has to be limited to the subject matter of the link in the OP, which sort of creates for an ADD whatever-is-in-the-news type of discourse, and there's really little incentive to do more than throw in a comment in a thread and leave.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 8:17 AM on January 6, 2009

Freen, you're missing out on the good bits of LJ: communities, friends filters, locked posts, meeting new people via their comments and being able to add them to your f-list with a couple clicks.

Sure, there's drama too, if you want that, but LJ is a whole lot easier than trying to aggregate a bunch of other people's blogs together.
posted by fings at 8:18 AM on January 6, 2009

I'm with fiercecupcake, LJ is a significant part of my online friends social circle (which has actually become a real-life friend social circle as well). I actually have two different circles of friends that use it and it would be sad to lose that easy connection.

And to answer your inevitable question, mannequito, Chicago, um, D&D-playing, sports-lovin', knitting-obsessed newlywed?
posted by misskaz at 8:19 AM on January 6, 2009

For those who don't understand what the big deal is about LJ going under, and moving to something else: At least for me and most people I know, the friends-page functionality is a killer app, a one-stop shop to see what all of your friends' latest updates are. Admittedly, at this point it's heavily replaceable by RSS for savvy users, but there are still an awful lot of people I keep in touch with who go "huh?" at RSS.
posted by Tomorrowful at 8:21 AM on January 6, 2009 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I have a lot invested in Livejournal, and hope it doesn't go down. I have a blog too, and I could host my own blog somewhere, but LJ makes it very easy to give limited access to your posts - you can create a whole community and monitor who can join, it's trivial to make posts that all your friends or only a subset of your friends can see, and I even use private posts to keep lists of books I've read that I can access anywhere. I have a public blog for posts I want to be public, and I have a Livejournal where I talk to my friends without the entire world watching and leaving random comments, and read their posts easily from my friends page. I've made a lot of in-person friends on there, despite not being either an emo or a goth kid.

There are LJ clones like Journalfen and GreatestJournal, but they struggle to cope with the volume of traffic they get whenever there is a mass exodus from Livejournal - as I understand it GJ is basically dead from traffic. I have high hopes for Dreamwidth, a plan for an LJ clone which has ex-LJ employees on board and seems to have realistic ideas for how much money and hardware it will require, but it's not there yet.
posted by penguinliz at 8:22 AM on January 6, 2009

jason's_planet: there's several lj-clones -- insanejournal, journalfen, some others.
True, but that overlooks the thing that Livejournal did best: clean, no-brainer segregation of a large group of friends into different circles of trust, and no-brainer limiting of posts to the "right" trusted group.

I moved off of LJ almost four years ago, and left behind a circle of 150 or so "friends" (not sarcastic, just acknowledging that it included both close friends and random driveby acquaintances). I had more control over my site, and I owned my data, but instantly writing became a much more solitary experience: there is no more 'dialogue' because people tend to read in feed readers, or not at all, and don't want to go through the hassle of setting up an account on my site to reply to comments (or get past the spam filters).

LJ has always been a fascinating middle-ground between private journaling and message-board style discussions. It was a 'social network' platform before that was hot stuff, but it retained its focus on journaling/blogging rather than turning into a myspace style "build your web page" service. If it dies, I think it'll be a sad day.

It's one of the reasons I wish OpenID, OAuth, FoF, and similar standards were more mature and more broadly supported: it might be possible to cobble together something LJ-like on a distributed basis.
posted by verb at 8:23 AM on January 6, 2009

My biggest concern about all these rumors is that I use my LiveJournal OpenID in all sorts of places. I use it as a single-sign-on for Buxfer, PopURLs, and others. When LJ has gone down in the past, I lost the ability to sign-on to any of these services. Should LJ go out of business, I'd require a bit of time to transfer these identities over, and I'd probably still miss an account or two.

However, I think that much of this is teapot tempests. As others have mentioned, LJ gets enough page-views to pay for itself with ads and the x% of paid members.
posted by Xoder at 8:25 AM on January 6, 2009

January 9th will be my eight year Livejournal anniversary, having joined in 2001 with my original journal.

Eight years journaling there.

I've connected with a lot of amazing people and have made some terrific friends, the relationships even moving off line into regular real-world meetings like birthday parties and trips to see plays. When I hit some really bad times with my mother's illness, the first people who reached out to me were friends I would have never met if not for Livejournal.

I've chronicled topics very personal to me between the lists of interesting links and the fandom stuff that I enjoy, like the birth of my son and losing my faith.

I remember reading about Livejournal in Newsweek and signing up immediately after because it sounded so much fun to move into a journal within a social network with communities tailored to my interests.

And I remember Livejournal's first shaky years as a project grown out of a college kid's dorm room when the site would go down on the weekends and the users got a personal message on the front page from Brad that read, "Stop hitting refresh, you retards. Go outside."

Now it's a business trying to compete with Facebook and MySpace and not like either of them. It's not just journal space or a social network to meet and greet. There's a community of dedicated users there and that eventual loss will be awful.

I found Metafilter through Livejournal.

Anyway. I don't even know what the point of my comment is anymore.

Just laugh and make jokes about Livejournal being the cess pool of crazy media fans, emo goths, and furries. But just understand that image is only a small percentage of a really wonderful place that a lot of people will miss horribly when it goes.
posted by FunkyHelix at 8:35 AM on January 6, 2009 [14 favorites]

Seriously with the friends page. I have a placeholder blogger account, but, and this is key, it doesn't let me casually follow my college buddies blogging old Star Trek epsiodes.

Oh, Dr. Pulaski. You and your racism.
posted by ormondsacker at 8:36 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

LJ themselves have twittered (even they use Twitter!) a response to valleywag's entry:
LJers! Don't worry, the news of our demise is premature.Yes, there were layoffs, but that does not affect your LJ!
Take from that what you will.
posted by tittergrrl at 9:08 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Er, their tweet also linked to their news page for some reason, so I guess a press release is imm(i/a)nent.
posted by tittergrrl at 9:10 AM on January 6, 2009

Ignoring its lack of user pages, I've found that Friendfeed has a similar community feel. I'll miss lj though.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:25 AM on January 6, 2009

To me, Livejournal is the closest thing to a replacement for the element of internet community that I had on Usennet in the days before "Eternal September". I can easily keep tabs on what's happening with my friends, post articles on a variety of tabbed subjects and privacy levels, and focus on coommon interest communities. And I can also meet new people from the cross-linkage that goes on.

Compared to LJ, Wordspace, Mybook and Facepress just don't cut it.
posted by happyroach at 9:27 AM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

There are some communities on livejournal that have such a high quality of conversation/discourse that I really haven't found elsewhere. Particularly on racism, sexism, etc.

I really hope this is not the beginning of the end for livejournal. It's by far the most important website in my life.
posted by lunit at 9:27 AM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

Such a sad outcome for LiveJournal. It's one of those frustrating examples of a really great service and community that somehow never turned into a really great business. I was quite surprised with SixApart sold it, and the insidery gossip I'd been hearing about the new owner Sup was pretty discouraging. It's a shame that just sticking Google ads on it won't work to make it self sustaining.
posted by Nelson at 9:46 AM on January 6, 2009

hey, weblog hosting for $4/month at god knows how many places. Plus, it's a standard App like movabletype or wordpress that you can backup, reinstall, move, whateverever whenever you want.

Except easy management of communities, notions of multiple levels of authentication and access to individual post, and so on. I don't really have anything much invested in LJ personally, but the idea that a MT blog is a replacement for LJ's features is just laughable. It's like someone asking for a cheap replacement for MS Word and being told "Textpad AMIRITE?"
posted by rodgerd at 9:54 AM on January 6, 2009

However: Layoffs. Replacing expensive Americans with cheap Russians, perhaps?
posted by rodgerd at 9:56 AM on January 6, 2009

hey, weblog hosting for $4/month at god knows how many places. Plus, it's a standard App like movabletype or wordpress that you can backup, reinstall, move, whateverever whenever you want.

I've tried both a Moveable Type self-hosted blog and a Blogger hosted blog, and both have pretty much died. I continue to post to my LJ though, multiple times daily.

The MT blog took too much work -- the constant fight against comment spam was more time than I had to devote to it.

The Blogger hosted blog never gets comments. Ever. Its like standing on the edge of a canyon and shouting. I don't write on the web to hear myself talk. I hold conversations on the web. And LJ and Metafilter are the only two sites that seem to be able to support that for me.
posted by anastasiav at 10:35 AM on January 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

The press release from Livejournal Inc..
posted by lunit at 10:38 AM on January 6, 2009

I just hope LJ doesn't collapse before I find out who is really Snape's One True Pairing.
posted by Legomancer at 10:39 AM on January 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

I never use my Livejournal any more, haven't for a few years since the damn thing got me fired (seriously). My own fault, but the mass exodus to Facebook also has something to do with it.

I will probably back up my own entries, but the only thing I will miss is the Vintage Photographs community, which I found through MeFi and has brought me much joy since.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:43 AM on January 6, 2009

These testimonials make me want to look at LJ again, but OTOH it's nested-threaded, which is like Conversation For Computars and from the devil
posted by bonaldi at 12:18 PM on January 6, 2009

Yikes. It seems like I hear about a new layoff every day. This economy sucks. I've been out of work for about five weeks, after suddenly being laid off with no warning, and there's no end in sight.
posted by wastelands at 12:27 PM on January 6, 2009

Thankfully, after a (very small) stint as my blog, LJ is only a mirror for my "actual" blog, so I don't really mind too much if it goes under beyond losing my nicely formatted aggregate of blogs that I linked using the "Friends" links in LJ.
posted by NiteMayr at 1:14 PM on January 6, 2009

The python script in LJDump opened in Coda on OS X. I tried Building an app or whatever the right click option was but that app didn't work. Now another thing I have to worry about getting around to figuring out how to do.

Brainy, download the ljdump-1 2.2, go there in Finder, open the ljdump.config.sample, change to your username and password, save it as ljdump.config, open Terminal, cd to the ljdump folder (use quotation marks since the foldername has a space in it), then do


It'll make a subdirectory, hopefully with all your posts in it!
posted by rubah at 1:55 PM on January 6, 2009

Wait - fiercecupcake is a woman?!
posted by Pronoiac at 2:25 PM on January 6, 2009

Chiming in as another person who will be upset if LJ does go down, despite regular backups (that include all comments, as well, those lovely lovely 80-comment conversations I had with friends). LJ made sense at a time when online blogging didn't, yet, and the friends page is really an amazing feature whether you want to keep track of communities or just your small circle of friends. I was pretty surprised to first learn of the "lulz-emo-goth" image LJ is associated with, and am even now occasionally weary of revealing the existence of my own LJ for fear of ridicule.

I don't think they're poised to go down, necessarily, but my fingers are crossed nevertheless.
posted by Phire at 3:00 PM on January 6, 2009

And having used insanejournal and deadjournal briefly during "The Great LJ Strikethrough of 2007" (heh), I say the issue is no longer with the features (which insanejournal imitates passably), but with the userbase. If my friends don't use insanejournal, why would I keep an account and blog there?
posted by Phire at 3:02 PM on January 6, 2009

"LJ has sold 'permanent accounts' on numerous occasions. I'm sure that, if and when the ship goes down, this dedicated group of early adopters and longtime supporters will all get big fat refunds."

There is a thread in permmembers here. My comment is here.

I read mefi (as well as just about anything else with an RSS feed or a scraper somewhere) through lj. I remember to check the front page about once a month (usu. when someone posts "x should be sidebarred" and I'm like, sidebar whut? oh yeah). I'm an active member of the motorcycling community on livejournal, which is probably the best (most intelligent, not filled with idiot squids with too much bike and not enough sense, etc.) motorcycling forum out there. I met most of my riding buddies through lj. And yes, I got together with my current gf 9 years ago last Nov. when she found a post I'd made about her on my journal (not locked because I was secretly hoping she'd find it, of course). I have a permanent account, and have started a number of RSS feeds (incl. the metachat RSS feed).

So joke all you want, but lj is how I keep in touch with my friends from college, their friends, random strangers, and magnificent bastards who actually understand my sense of humor. If someone's diary was destroyed in a fire, how would you react? No, nothing lasts forever, but I'll still be sad to see it go.
posted by Eideteker at 3:26 PM on January 6, 2009

Xoder: Not that it helps now, but if you've got your own website, even a plain old HTML one without any server side scripting, you can use that as your OpenID but delegate the actual mechanics to LJ, say. Sam Ruby discusses this (in the first part, "Claim your blog"). Have a look at the source of my home page for what I did: the two link rel's in the "head" section are taken from his example.

As to the rest, I'm hoping that this change is a way for LJ to stay afloat, not the first sign that it's sinking. Paying for an account on LJ gets me something like Usenet used to be: threaded comments, notification of new comments, and interesting people. I find LJ a lot better for serious discussions than most blogs.
posted by pw201 at 4:53 PM on January 6, 2009

I met my fiancee and maid of honour through LJ, and have a Fitz number* of three (just to get my credentials out of the way). And I think this is nothing but overreaction of the type LJ is best at. It's a marvellous echo-chamber for panic and outrage, as well as having one of the best architectures for sharing/aggregating with multiple access levels and a large userbase.

* It's like an Erdos number, but instead of publishing, you have to wrestle.
posted by subbes at 6:10 PM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wow. I just clicked on some random Insanejournals to see what it's like.

At least I sort of understand Livejournal.
posted by roll truck roll at 9:02 PM on January 6, 2009

I like LJ a lot - I hope it stays
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:35 AM on January 7, 2009

I don't do LJ. But lots of my friends do. They are *all* well paid. Many are actually wealthy. I presume that the same demographic is true across much of LJ's user-base.

So, why can't all of these well heeled fans just *buy* the company?
posted by mr. strange at 1:29 AM on January 7, 2009

As LJ's original business manager, I've been warning about the risk of exactly this kind of thing for years...

Many considered me paranoid. I considered it being responsible. I considered it vital that LJ be:

1> Open source.
2> Very big.
3> Free, yet community funded.
4> Community run.
5> Not a VC-funded dotcom.
6> Accountable to its members.

Open source, because that's what I believed in, and because that is what I felt others would also believe in and support, with their time, their contributions, and their volunteerism.

Very big, because it's not enough just to be open source. It's important that open source apps be a viable, competitive alternative to commercial software, with a very active development team to stay competitive. Why do it if you aren't serious?

Free, yet community funded, because it fit and reenforced our ethos, encouraged loyalty and a real sense of ownership, was actually more profitable per user than ads, and because the dot-com crash was littered with companies who thought that ad revenue-based sites were the most stable business model out there for buying offices, aeron chairs, and paying for big dotcom salaries. Never mind the fact that the dotcom recession led to sharp decreases in ad rates and revenues, which made a bad situation for dotcoms even worse.

Community run, because those who cared about the site were the most motivated to learn about the site, help run it, and most capable of really representing its members... and most willing to give a lot for little-to-nothing, because they loved the site.

Not a venture capital funded dotcom, because venture capital is all about making a good return-on-investment, ideally as rapidly as possible, while at the same time buying in to the big salary, big office mindset that made so many dotcoms -- many of them with otherwise useful services -- go belly up during the dotcom crash... and because going the VC route -- especially as a young company -- almost always means giving away control of your baby.

And lastly, I thought it should be accountable to its members... which is why most of the business of the site during the early years was conducted in an open, public, collaborative manner.

I hate to say it, but Brad, the site's founder, basically shot all-of-the-above in the foot.

The site was open source, and yet Brad lorded over what went into the code base and did so in a way that discouraged dozens of developers, who would often come to me asking why their offered patches vanished into limbo without so much as a comment or a "nice try." Frequently, he would base his feature decisions on what would most immediately profit, or whatever random project he was working on, as opposed to those features which could benefit LiveJournal, the open source project, the various other LJ Code sites, etc. This development led to a codebase that locked users into, discouraged adoption of LJ code by other sites, killed projects that would allow/simplify distributed self-hosting of individual blogs, and encouraged the idea of LiveJournal as a balkanized service, rather than as a larger community of interconnected sites. It delayed features like RSS syndication for over two years, interfered with initiatives to support more "bloglike" blogs in addition to journals, cancelled features such as supporting commenting and closer interconnectivity features with other sites, and basically ceded the cutting edge to other services, which were more friendly with 3rd-party development.

While I fought to attract and welcome interested people, communities, subgroups to the site (i.e. making it very big), Brad decided to curtail growth through invite codes, while basically flaking off and making things other than scalability his priority. This made it practically impossible for me to guarantee to the people I invited en masse that they could even get an account on the site, and it made marketing and business ideas nearly impossible to execute on. It also reduced site growth, the growth of site revenue, and gave other services the ability to fill the vacuum. (Frustration is looking at the daily site statistics, tracking the tens of thousands of customers you're turning away every month.)

Brad destroyed the free, yet community funded business model when he sold LJ to SixApart, a bunch of people who others in the blogging community thought could do no wrong, yet who completely failed to understand LiveJournal's business model and community. On day one, Mena Trott promised not to slap ads all over the site, only to do exactly that, in violation of LiveJournal's prior promises to its users. This led paid members -- about 3% of the total user base -- to naturally conclude that 6A didn't deserve their loyalty, their business, or their money. Meanwhile, the actual click-thru rates on the ads were very low, from what I hear... which didn't surprise me in the least. Worst of all, the ad-centric attitudes of the new owners blinded them to the fact that the one thing that people on LJ wanted most was to learn more about each other... and that the simple questions that you might ask someone new "What do you like to do?", "What bands/movies/books do you like?", etc. all hinted at business models based around these sorts of questions.

Without going into specific business ideas and deals I'd just assume not give away for free to LJ, let's just say the following... ads were never the natural commercial business model for LJ, as users resented them and widely ignored them... sharing was!

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly... accountability. LiveJournal had it, it involved the members in every aspect of the company, kept its promises, provided excellent customer support, given the circumstances... and it turned its back on it, when Brad thought it was a distraction. And indeed, accountability *IS* time consuming. It means you have to personally devote your time to listen to your customers respond to their concerns, and put out fires. But the alternative -- being out of touch -- is no picnic either, and has its own negative, often time-consuming, ramifications.

LiveJournal will never know how many customers it gained from being accountable, real, and at least human, and it will never know how many it lost from being none of the above. Accountability can be a painful, difficult process and you can't make everyone happy all the time... but when you're at least trying, people notice it.
posted by markkraft at 2:55 AM on January 7, 2009 [22 favorites]

Insomnia/Mark - I've come to accept your disapproval of Brad and all he/Danga stands/stood for, and your similar opinion on LJ itself, and I agree that LJ has been catastrophically mismanaged since around about the time Brad got engaged (that was post invite codes, right?) but I don't understand how your vision/requirements would work on LJ's current scale.

Say, for a thought experiment, that Sup handed LJ Inc over to you 100%. No requirements, no oversight, entirely yours as it was entirely brad's at entryid=1. What would be your first step?

I have a feeling that LJ's mismanagement by 6a and Sup was partially because they didn't get what LJ is, and partially because LJ is a behemoth that evolved messily, with little scalability for revenue and a userbase that hates hates hates any change (including and especially any aimed at bringing in more money). I think whoever bought LJ would have faced the same challenges, though 6a failed just as badly as expected (ie really badly).
posted by subbes at 7:47 AM on January 7, 2009

It's not that I disapprove of Brad, as much as I disapprove of his prior unwillingness to be responsible with/for his creation. He had very little focus upon the actual requirements and goals of the site, as seen by his long, time-consuming forays into things like going to Germany and learning the language, creating a seperate image hosting project, etc., all while his company was stuck in the mud and unable to scale.

He's a brilliant developer, but his management abilities and judgements about what was important to focus on were really, really off.

"I don't understand how your vision/requirements would work on LJ's current scale."

There are very large community-developed and driven projects out there -- larger than LJ -- that have scaled fine, funded largely through member support. The hardest aspect to scale, frankly, would be overseeing all the volunteers. That doesn't mean that LJ wouldn't have had permanent employees as well, mind you. Lots of similar open source projects have.

As far as being able to run the site at its current scale, it's pretty obvious that it is being run right now by very few people, with S.F. now being primarily a financial/advertising-oriented officeplace.

"Say, for a thought experiment, that Sup handed LJ Inc over to you 100%. No requirements, no oversight, entirely yours as it was entirely brad's at entryid=1. What would be your first step?"

My first step would be to make sure I asked for all of the content and to make sure all of LJ's users came along for the ride as well. Without its users and content, LJ is little more than a brand new LJ Code site with a good domain name.

So, what would be my second step? Obviously, I'd be putting out a call for developers, and would communicate the message to the larger LJ community that a new development team was urgently needed to maintain and grow the site. I would almost certainly do my utmost to hire some of the chief techies in Russia, at least on a temporary basis, as it would be necessary to maintain the site, and I would be talking with past LJ developers and sysadmins -- including Brad -- to get the best talent on board, and identify those willing to take on such challenges.

Russian developers aren't a problem, necessarily. LJ has had very important overseas developers for years, who have played major roles. The problem is how you handle the culture and business model, really, because those who haven't used it generally *don't* understand the site, don't understand or have much respect for open source, and don't think of how to develop website business models in ways that respect the culture.

"LJ is a behemoth that evolved messily, with little scalability for revenue and a userbase that hates hates hates any change..."

It's revenue scaled just fine. For years, LJ was taking in an average of, say, 4M users x 3.5% paying $25 a year... or $3.5m revenue per year. Once the initial overhead is paid for, that's a lot of gravy... and the larger the site gets, the more of that revenue is pure profit. Obviously, there was room for those numbers to increase substantially with growth and other initiatives. I think LJ could've expanded to bring in about $20m a year worldwide, without going the traditional ad route... arguably much more if it could've convinced people that there were serious business applications for it.

What couldn't scale adequately was the difference between dotcom investor dreams and financial reality.

It's not just that the userbase hates change. It's that they hate changes that directly conflicts with its culture and its promises to its users. At the same time though, I think a lot of its users are more than capable in agreeing to reasonable changes for improving LJ's finances, especially if they're kept informed and feel like actual participants in the discussion, rather than as victims of change.

You point to Brad's marriage as the turning point, but I most certainly wouldn't make that an issue, and wish his wife the best luck in trying to cope with an obsessive programmer. ;-)

For me it was around 2002, when he started taking money out of the business for his car and first house. To make it clear, I think that Brad had the right to do this, because he was essentially using LJ's growing profitability to pay himself back for all the personal money he'd put into the servers, bandwidth, etc. He was certainly entitled to draw a healthy salary. That said, I also thought it would be very helpful going forward to regularly put out some basic information for LJ's community, letting them have an idea of what LJ's costs were, and where the money was going, as being open about such realities would actually increase confidence and help motivate people to support the site.

Brad's mom was strongly against this, and, after a bit of a debate, basically said that LJers were just customers... arguably not the thing you really want to say to someone like me, who worked very long hours for the site, essentially unpaid. The fact that Brad didn't say anything in defense of LJ's contributors, volunteers, and larger community spoke volumes.

After that, Brad rapidly shifted the site's focus from something member supported and volunteer run, to a business run largely by a collection of his friends and several members of his family, with the flawed notion that running the site in such a way would simplify things and make him happy / less alone in his work. When that didn't work, he sold it to 6A, which, on paper, may have seen like the obvious choice, but whose culture was ultimately inconsistant with LJ's users. 6A proceeded to carve into the golden goose... and I say that knowing that at the time of LJ's acquisition, it, unlike everything else that 6A was working on, was a profitable entity.

All this said, it's not my intent to bash Brad, but to be realistic as to what went wrong. I think Brad realizes his mistakes, especially after expressing his own bitterness and frustrations with the current management, who repeatedly ignored his input in pursuit of the quick buck. I am sure he never wanted or intended this to happen, and would change it, if he could.

Unfortunately, there are no do-overs... you can only sell out once. And if he had LJ to control again, I suspect he would probably fail the site in an slightly different way, by being a control freak and taking too much of running the site on himself. Hopefully, he wouldn't find himself burnt out and tired of his creation... again. In that sense, his personality, which contributes to his genius as a developer, is also a tragic flaw when it comes to running a business over the long haul. In that sense, I can't help but respect and feel a bit sorry for him, even though he's certainly doing well otherwise, regardless of the fact that he's also been a big source of disappointment to me too.

In retrospect, I think it pays to be a bit paranoid about your business' place in the future, and a bit of a stickler to keeping your promises. It helps to have goals and an ethos, and to be singleminded about making both a priority. It's vital to be realistic about your business' finances, especially when it builds a community around it who buy "permanent" accounts and ultimately have come to expect as much.

That's why I have a real problem with the notion that somehow, what dotcoms have traditionally done... borrowing millions based on pie-in-the-sky business models, expanding without first establishing a reliable, scalable business model, essentially leaving themselves at the mercy of their investors and their willingness to keep the taps flowing in the future, and building their business models on quicksand...

I have a real problem with this standard being seen as the responsible way to run a business, with other business models viewed as naive and idealistic. There's no doubt that it leads to a culture of "flipping", which, given economic fluctuations, is often little more than a game of hot potato... and yes, I believe ad rates will fall sharply, and that it will hit online advertising even harder than traditional media sources.

In what way is this the least ways compatible with LiveJournal's original promises to its users?

Want to know who I guarantee will survive this situation and come out on top? Craigslist. When the newspapers start failing and/or flailing around in an ever-more-desperate, annoying, practically unreadable fashion, Craig's going to eat even more of their lunch, and will come out of the recession looking like a genius for truely caring about what he's created.

Want to buy into this great business?! Sorry. Not for sale at any price. ;-)

Ultimately, open source is not a guarantor of openness or of an open, accountable, socially responsible business model, as can be seen by the millions of LJers who find themselves locked into the site, with no adequate substitute for the community they've built. Meanwhile, sites like CL show us that
posted by markkraft at 11:01 AM on January 7, 2009 [8 favorites]

... it's possible to be a very major company, and still adhere to a business model that both respects and gives back to its community.

(Who knows? Maybe Craig could bail out the NY Times, when the axe falls...)

Please, Jeebus... Impart a cluehammer upon those who create the world's business models. Let them be flexible, modern, and respectful of those they serve...

We accept that dotcom crash 2.0 is fast approaching with its merciless judgement. Please... bring the dotcom creators -- and all of us out here who use their sites -- the wisdom and foresight to avoid a dotcom crash 3.0.
posted by markkraft at 11:14 AM on January 7, 2009

Oh, and for those curious...

Craigslist stats:

2007 Est. Revenue: $55 million
2008 Est Revenue: $81 million

Estimated valuation: $5 Billion
Employees: 25

And how many people did LJ fire?

12 of 28 US employees
... plus they clearly have many other employees in Russia, working in development.

So, which is more responsible? A $5B company with 25 employees, or a -- generously -- $40M company which thought it was wise to have nearly twice that many?

(Note to self: Send your resume to Craig... even if he is a snarky, catty devil.)
posted by markkraft at 11:28 AM on January 7, 2009

Thanks a lot for posting all of this, markkraft. I haven't been paying very close attention to the debacle (I didn't even know about the Russian company until yesterday), so it's interesting to hear your perspective.

The first time I ever heard about livejournal was in like 2000 or 2001. A slightly-geekier-than-I friend was bragging that he could post to his blog and read other people's blogs from these crappy PINE email terminals they had in our dorms. Later, he showed me a page with a list of LJ clients for every dead piece of technology ever made. I thought wow, this is a site for crazy people.

I didn't get around to starting my own Livejournal until 2004, and it was clear to me that a lot of that original energy was gone. Seeing what you say about Brad's explanationless reverts, suddenly I think I know where that energy went.

Most of the new features since 2004 seem like attempts to make Livejournal look like other social networking sites. This includes the unintelligible photo-sharing site, which I don't think I've ever actually seen anyone use.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:47 AM on January 7, 2009

markkraft:...and wish his wife the best luck in trying to cope with an obsessive programmer. ;-)

posted by bizwank at 2:28 PM on January 8, 2009

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