LiveJournal: A Cautionary Tale

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Arvind Narayanan, a Ph.D candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, has a great post up on his LiveJournal blog about what could have been for the once great blogging platform. Narayanan thinks that LiveJournal missed a golden opportunity to become the social networking site on the Internet. Narayanan seems to think that LiveJournal could have been Facebook, WordPress, and Twitter all at once, but it fumbled the ball by making one fatal mistake: it listened to its users when it shouldn’t have. But let’s back up. According to Narayanan, social ideas that LiveJournal helped to originate earlier this decade are finally starting to be implemented across the web. Facebook has redesigned to emphasize its activity streams as a response to Twitter, Google’s Blogger added “following” in response to Facebook, and WordPress acquired IntenseDebate to take on third party commenting systems that are rising in popularity, such as Disqus. Go back 5 years ago, says Narayanan, and you’d notice that LiveJournal had all of those killer features. It also had a technical lead over its competitors — it developed the now ubiquitous memcached memory caching system (of which Facebook is largest user), and the growing in popularity OpenID also came out of LiveJournal. It had a huge user base by 2003 standards, and the site had an open API that allowed developer access to user profile data. All the things that make social networks like Facebook and Twitter and platforms like WordPress so special today, LiveJournal had the foundations of five years ago. Hindsight is always 20/20, but had LiveJournal put syndication front-and-center, allowed users to import external feeds, and added a Disqus-like commenting widget, LJ could have cemented itself as the world’s top social network, blogging platform, and web-wide commenting system, Narayanan believes. And these were things that they would have done, he says, if not for making one major mistake: they listened to their users and stuck to a “design philosophy of being an island cut off from the rest of the Web,” that proved to be disastrously wrongheaded. Narayanan goes into more detail about what the LiveJournal users of 2003 unfortunately impressed upon the company, and what LiveJournal should have done instead, but the lesson is simple: sometimes you need to say no to your users. In July, we wrote about video site Vimeo
who angered a vocal minority of its user base when it decided to say no and ban video game movies from the site. Sometimes your users are right, and listening to them is beneficial, but sometimes they’re not, and following the advice of a vocal minority or those early adopters that are resistant to change will lead you down the wrong path. Facebook has made a habit of pissing off its users but riding out the storm during major changes. They did it when they opened the site to non-college users. They did it again when they added the News Feed. And most recently when they rolled out their feed-centric redesign to the entire site. In each instance, a very vocal minority put up a huge stink about how awful the change was. And in each instance, Facebook stuck to their guns and users eventually capitulated and got used to the change, and sometimes even began to love it. The result? Facebook is now the biggest social networking site in the world and is riding a $15 billion valuation. As I noted in July, I will mention here that I argued an opposing view in February at ReadWriteWeb. (Though, to a certain extent, I think both ideas can be reconciled — there are times when letting your users define your app is okay, and other times when you have to say no. The tricky part is figuring out when to say yes and when to say no.)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about LiveJournal

What led to the decline of LiveJournal?

LiveJournal’s decline can be attributed to several factors. One of the main reasons was the rise of other social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which offered more user-friendly interfaces and innovative features. Additionally, LiveJournal’s acquisition by Russian company SUP Media in 2007 led to changes in the platform’s policies and management, which were not well-received by many users. The introduction of censorship and restrictions on freedom of speech also contributed to the platform’s decline.

How did LiveJournal’s policies change after its acquisition by SUP Media?

After SUP Media’s acquisition, LiveJournal introduced several changes to its policies. These included stricter content regulations, censorship of certain topics, and limitations on user privacy. These changes were met with widespread criticism and led to a significant decrease in the platform’s user base.

What was the impact of LiveJournal’s decline on its user base?

The decline of LiveJournal had a significant impact on its user base. Many users migrated to other social media platforms due to the changes in policies and management. The platform’s reputation also suffered, with many users expressing dissatisfaction with the changes.

How did LiveJournal compare to other social media platforms?

LiveJournal was one of the first social media platforms and was unique in its focus on blogging and community building. However, it lacked the user-friendly interfaces and innovative features offered by newer platforms like Facebook and Twitter. This, combined with changes in policies and management, led to its decline.

What lessons can be learned from LiveJournal’s decline?

LiveJournal’s decline offers several lessons. One is the importance of user satisfaction in maintaining a successful social media platform. Changes in policies and management that are not well-received by users can lead to a decline in user base. Additionally, it highlights the need for social media platforms to continually innovate and adapt to changing user preferences and market trends.

What is the current status of LiveJournal?

LiveJournal is still active, but its user base has significantly decreased compared to its peak in the early 2000s. The platform is now primarily used in Russia, where it remains popular.

How did the rise of other social media platforms contribute to LiveJournal’s decline?

The rise of other social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter contributed to LiveJournal’s decline by offering more user-friendly interfaces and innovative features. These platforms also provided a more global reach, attracting users from around the world.

What were some of the criticisms of LiveJournal’s changes in policies and management?

Criticisms of LiveJournal’s changes in policies and management included stricter content regulations, censorship of certain topics, and limitations on user privacy. These changes were seen as a departure from the platform’s original ethos of freedom of speech and community building.

How did LiveJournal’s decline affect the blogging community?

LiveJournal’s decline had a significant impact on the blogging community. Many bloggers migrated to other platforms, leading to a fragmentation of the community. The platform’s decline also led to a decrease in the diversity of content available, as many unique and niche communities were lost.

What were some of the unique features of LiveJournal?

LiveJournal was unique in its focus on blogging and community building. It offered features like community forums, where users could discuss shared interests, and a friends list, which allowed users to follow and interact with each other. However, these features were not enough to keep up with the innovation and user-friendly interfaces offered by newer social media platforms.

Josh CatoneJosh Catone
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Before joining Jilt, Josh Catone was the Executive Director of Editorial Projects at Mashable, the Lead Writer at ReadWriteWeb, Lead Blogger at SitePoint, and the Community Evangelist at DandyID. On the side, Josh enjoys managing his blog The Fluffington Post.

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