(May 2003 - March 2007.) Tama's thoughts on the blogosphere, podcasting, popular culture, digital media and citizen journalism posted from a laptop computer somewhere in Perth's isolated, miniature, urban jungle ...

Six Apart + LiveJournal = ???

Thursday, January 06, 2005
The Six Apart buy-out of LiveJournal has transitioned from rumour to reality in a few short days. Six Apart, are repsonsible for the most widely used high-end blog platform (by high-end, I simply mean, requiring some coding skill to set it up and keep it running). LiveJournal, by contrast, is one of the easiest of the free blogging platforms and is widely considered the most socially and community oriented of all blog tools. So, what's going to change now that Six Apart owns LiveJournal? Well, for LiveJournal users, at least, the short term looks fine according to Six Apart's LJ Acquisition FAQ:
Q. What is going to happen to LiveJournal and its current users?

A. We acquired LiveJournal because we like LiveJournal just the way it is -- it's an awesome product. We will invest in the further development of LiveJournal and help it expand its reach around the globe but our plans do not include removing the free level, plastering the sites with ads, owning user content, etc... We think the LiveJournal community is unique and vibrant. We welcome LiveJournal users to the Six Apart family, and promise to keep the LiveJournal culture and quality which has earned their devotion.
Brad Fitzpatrick, the guy selling LiveJournal, is full of optimism (and employment), too:
Do you trust them?
I totally trust Six Apart.

Ever since LiveJournal got big and popular, a number of companies have been offering to buy LiveJournal. I suppose it was inevitable, but the more I talked to everybody, the less interested I became in selling. With a few exceptions, nobody seemed to "get it", and people's ideas for LiveJournal's future were generally lame. I started to realize that selling LiveJournal would mean killing LiveJournal, so I didn't. Then one day Six Apart contacts us, we start talking, and here we are. I know you may not necessarily trust me when I say they're a cool company, but I'd ask at least that you give them a chance before you start rioting in the streets. I have a lot of confidence that this union will produce cool things. Ben and Mena, the founders of Six Apart, have built a great company and hand-picked a lot of great people. Over the past couple months I've come to know their executive team really well, and they're people I feel confident taking over control of my baby. They've already shown that they'll defer to me on issues of community, fearful of doing anything that'd upset people. As for the rest of the team, I've only started meeting them all, but my mouth hit the floor when I saw some of the latest stuff they have in the works. If you want to run for the hills and backup your journal and move to another service, feel free, but hopefully you'll be back in 6 months when we've proven ourselves.

Why didn't you just grow LiveJournal more and/or hire your own management team?
Easier said than done. Finding a good management team is next to impossible... I couldn't find anybody I'd trust as much as Six Apart. Most people that approach you and say, "Hey, I'd like to manage your company" are really just in it for money. I wanted a group of people that understood what I'd built and appreciated it for what it was, not what it could be if it could only extract more money from its users. So in the end I realized Six Apart was just what I was looking for. Plus having a bigger pool of co-workers is more fun and more productive.
Now, that's it for the polite 'everything's okay' merger annoucements, but what I found more interesting were Mena's comments about what LiveJournal currently means:
A Vicious Circle

I believe that LiveJournal has, unfortunately, received a bum rap because many have considered the postings on LiveJournal to be trivial. It's sort of like a vicious circle: Journalists make fun of webloggers saying that they only post about their cats, webloggers make fun of LiveJournalers saying that they only post about high school angst and LiveJournalers make fun of webloggers saying that they are SUV-driving yuppies who think they have something important to say (and I'm generalizing). The fact is, webloggers and LiveJournalers are in essence doing the same thing: they are posting their thoughts to people who are important to them. For some webloggers, it's 100,000 people, for others it is 10. For LiveJournalers, it may be 30 people, it may be 3 (or a combination of some number). And this is where it gets interesting. We started Six Apart because of Movable Type and Movable Type started because I wanted a blogging tool that would make it easy for me to have a creative outlet to publish to the world. But, it turns out, I didn't want to publish to the world -- I wanted to publish to the people who I had been reading for years and respected, who, in turn became my friends in the offline world. I made friends through my weblog and realized that I was more comfortable writing to this subset. That isn't to say I didn't still like writing to the world at large. Mena's Corner is meant to reach as many people as possible. And, I'm comfortable with that. What I'm not comfortable with is posting pictures of my best friend's baby on my public weblog. That's why I also keep a private weblog. For the past year and a half, we've been advocating TypePad as a tool to use if you want to keep a public or private weblog. We have users that have tens of thousands of readers, while others password-protect their family weblog and allow 6 people in. Weblogging is not just about publishing, it's about communicating.
So, does that mean LJs are basically being "kept" as small-scale social blog spaces? And, more to the point, is Typepad going to get shelved as the "other" Six Apart platform if, as Mena implies, LJs do it better? Prior to the official announcement, the most detailed and, to my mind, accurate look at the possible downside for LJ users after the buyout was Danah Boyd's, where she worried:
My biggest concern is that a merger will stunt the cultural growth on LiveJournal that makes it so fascinating. My second concern is that Six Apart will not be prepared to deal with the userbase and will initiate practices that are more detrimental because of fear. [For example, what's the best way to handle an LJ community dedicated to cutters trying to outdo each other via images?] It takes a resistance-based culture to support a community of resisters and Six Apart is by no means a resistance-minded company. My third concern is that LiveJournal will shift because of investor value. It's already compared to blogging, but as its own entity, it doesn't have to be evaluated on those terms. If bought by Six Apart, i'm concerned that SA's investors will evaluate it on SA blogging's terms instead of in terms of LJ. My fourth concern is that fear of control will limit the evolving identity production/consumption that makes LiveJournal so valuable for youth and marginalized populations. It's already far too public for more people, but easy access to LJ from MT/Typepad could be a disaster for many LJers.
Most of the LJs I read are more social and, indeed, more about community, but I suspect that, at least in the short term, Boyd's concerns might be upfounded. However, as Movable Type integrates various "improvements" to LJ, will it just start to look like Blogger? Of course, being a Blogger user, that doesn't strike me as entirely bad, but I do think LJs are better suited for social uses. Of course, given Microsoft's foray with MSN Spaces and Google owning Blogger, at least Six Apart's acquisition of LJ should ensure a solid and competitive future. Of course, the only other platform I'm considering for the future is WordPress (I need categories!).


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