I’ve gotten maybe a dozen emails over the course of the last week from people asking me to weigh in on all the kerfuffle happening over and in regards to Livejournal, which recently has decided to abandon the basic “free” accounts in favour of the “plus” accounts which have web advertisements on them, and has censored (or not, it may have been accidental) fan-fiction “interest” listings. Apparently, since I am a fairly high-profile Livejournal exile, my opinion on this is considered noteworthy.
And it’s fair to ask me, I guess, although I’m not sure what I can especially contribute that anybody else couldn’t. So here we go.
1.) Whining about advertisements is goddamned stupid. (See what I mean when I say “what can I say that hasn’t already been said?”) This is the Internet, folks, and Internet means “requires revenue stream.” I know Livejournal was founded on the premise of paying for itself by using free accounts as content and advertising to drive the sale of paid accounts, but honestly, that was kind of a stupid premise considering that free accounts offered about ninety-nine percent of the functionality of paid accounts. A revenue model more or less based on gettiing people to pay thirty dollars a year for more user icons is a bad revenue model. Livejournal has to get its money from somewhere.
2.) Whining about censorship is fairly pointless. Not entirely pointless, I will grant – it’s of course possible that Livejournal’s new Russian owner people will put down their vodka and caviar and pay attention to hordes of fans yelling on the internet in order to provide good customer service. But it’s not particularly likely, especially when the reasons the Russians bought it in the first place is because they’re more concerned with their Russian customers – you know, the ones who use Livejournal more than any other country does and where its usership is expanding fastest.
Look, I am not pro-censorship; in case you couldn’t tell by my very last post and all the silly Photoshopping and parodic mockery I do, freedom of expression issues mean a very great deal to me. But calling Livejournal’s actions censorship is to ignore that censorship can really only occur when there is no viable alternative to make your views known/publish your work, and in this situation that simply isn’t the case.
(PS. As stated elsewhere: the “internet strike” concept is quite possibly the stupidest thing I have heard of in quite some time, not least because the geniuses behind it scheduled it on Good Friday. Why would anybody not be shocked by a downturn in traffic on a major statutory and religious holiday?)
3.) What Livejournal does well and what it doesn’t. Of course, this has also created the standard round of “I am leaving Livejournal FOREVER” commentary from the usual suspects. The sad thing is that they then say they’re going to Insanejournal or Deadjournal or one of the other half-dozen sites running older versions of the publicly available Livejournal code, all of which are about as reliable as George W. Bush in a liquor store.
As a Livejournal emigre, I’ve had more occasion than some to compare and contrast the service by what it offers and what it doesn’t offer. To wit: Livejournal is easy to use, quite possibly the simplest web publishing service going. But it’s customizable enough that advanced users don’t feel like they’re playing with Tinkertoys. Threaded comments are wonderful things. User icons are fun. The “secure publishing” tools, although they are honestly about as secure as a door made out of Swiss cheese, are for the majority of users good enough for maintaining a reliably private web diary that you can opt to let certain individuals read.
(It should be noted here that, apart from concern over legal issues, which I would honestly like to fight at some point, the reason I haven’t restarted Improved Archie is because Livejournal lent that enterprise a level of functionality that I can’t quite duplicate elsewhere yet, although I’m hopeful that the sifting I’m doing through WordPress plugins pays off eventually.)
And most importantly, Livejournal offers community. I honestly doubt I would have expanded my readership as dramatically as I did in the early days without attracting internet-friends through scans_daily and several other Livejournal communities. The friending system on Livejournal encourages community development in a way that most other social networking and publishing sites just don’t; you can have a blog on Blogger for years and just be a lonely outpost in the internet woods, but Livejournal is almost by definition a growth instrument; it offers all the belly-up-to-the-internet-bar nature of a good web forum or bulletin board without the limiting qualities of same.
The big downside to Livejournal is that it has a ceiling. You can’t use it to generate a profit off your site directly. Sales of creative work, yes. Commissions, yes. Money off advertising the content you’re producing, no. Work on Livejournal thus, in many ways, is work-for-hire at a very, very cheap rate. More notably, Livejournal tends to have a readership ceiling as well; the community nature of the site (and I am not the first to comment on this) tends in most circumstances to drive readers away when they see your large friendslist, countering the “he’s a good writer” appeal with “oh, he’s the most popular kid in school” negatives. There are of course exceptions to this, but they’re more often than not celebrities (well, writer celebrities, which is definitely a given value of “celebrities,” but you get the idea).
4.) On leaving Livejournal. I had honestly been planning to exit Livejournal as my primary web outlet for a few months prior to my expulsion; I had (and this will sound arrogant, but fuck it) outgrown it; it couldn’t do what I wanted and needed it to do any more. This is not to say that I’m happy about the booting – I lost a great deal of work apart from my own journal that I was rather happy with (my scans_daily posts, for example). Also, I lost the “Orlando Jones as Orlando Bloom” Photoshops entirely, which sucks because they were a lot of work.
Since I left, the story of my traffic has been a sharp dip initially (as people didn’t know where to find my new digs), then recovery, then steady and mounting growth in traffic with occasional spikes for something big. (The Mr. Men parodies have been the biggest spike thus far thanks to a major StumbleUpon hit.) That’s how web publishing works: you put out steady content, occasionally people really like a certain something, and some of them stick around and read you regularly. Which is gratifying. But more than that, the sense of community has stuck around as well. Some of the more esoteric stuff that I post doesn’t get a lot of commentary, but other posts get lots of chatter, and believe me, I recognize my regulars when I see them.
So to bring it back around to Livejournal again, my point is this: it’s good at what it does, but it’s not the only fish in the sea, and depending on what you want your Livejournal to be, it might not even be the best option. Yes, web self-publishing is more work. (Not much more work – trust me, the WordPress interface isn’t that hard to use once you get past the initial setup.) But it offers greater rewards in certain areas for those interested, and that’s not nothing.
PS. This is as apropos a time as any to remind those who might want to know that I am still readable via Livejournal; simply subscribe to “mighty_god_king”.