Updates to the Abuse Policy

The Advisory Board met last month, resulting in decisions about some open issues in the Abuse Policy. The conclusions are posted here. I am happy with the decisions and I hope you will be too.

The one outstanding issue concerns self harm. I'm taking this up as a question for research. I have an intern who is doing a literature review and tracking down all of the different organizations with data on this topic. I'm going to bring together scholars, organizations, researchers, and psychologists who work in this space. We're going to interrogate what is known data-wise and what the implications are policy-wise and commission research if appropriate. Most of this is going to be done outside of the context of LJ, but inside of the context of academia. We are going to look at self help issues, free speech issues, above ground / underground issues, etc. I will publicly present what we find, including a lit review and a set of recommendations in white paper form. LJ can or cannot listen to what we find, but we're hoping that data will be generally helpful for this debate. Personally, I'd rather have LJ make an informed decision based on data rather than a decision based on fear and politics.

LJ Election Results

Congratulations to legomymalfoy for winning the Advisory Board Election!

I've been watching the election play out across LJ and I'm saddened to see so many angry people. I had been hoping that this election wouldn't get dirty and wouldn't get nasty. Alas, perhaps that was too much to wish for. It saddens me to hear that many people think that this has been unfair or rigged. I don't know what can be done to help people feel more confident in the results. Le sigh.

User Elections for LiveJournal's Advisory Board

LiveJournal's Advisory Board helps advise LJ about policies, business, user practices, and product development. Currently, the Board consists of: me, Esther Dyson, Brad Fitzpatrick, and Lawrence Lessig. LJ has decided that users should also sit on the Advisory Board (recognizing that Brad and I are both also active users). So, LJ is having an election!

It is with great pleasure that I announce that LiveJournal has opened the nominations for user elections. LJ has decided that, in order to make certain that different communities are represented, there will be two user representatives in the Advisory Board. One will be elected to represent the Cyrillic language community and the other will represent the non-Cyrillic users. This may seem a bit odd, but it's probably important to note that a large percentage of LJ's users are Russian and they engage in very different practices on LJ than non-Russian users. To make sure both sides are represented, we decided to divide things this way.

LJ will accept nominations for representatives from now until May 15, 2008. Users must nominate themselves and obtain 100 comments of support from different users. The election poll will be posted on May 22 and users can vote until May 29. For complete details, click here.

  • To nominate yourself for the Cyrillic position, go to lj_election_ru.
  • To nominate yourself for the non-Cyrillic position, go to lj_election_en.

I'm super excited that we're doing this and I can't wait to meet the user representatives!

update re: basic accounts and other issues of the week

Things have clearly been crazy while I was gone. I'm in the middle of catching up, but I wanted to respond to some of the issues at play, to the best that I can.

First, thank you to everyone who is publicly critiquing what's going on, protesting, and otherwise making their voice known. To me, this is a sign of passion, and a perfect guiding post for helping LJ understand its constituents. Companies (and their advisors) actually like hearing people's unfiltered opinions, even if they don't always like what's being said. I'm not going to be able to respond to everyone's comments personally because of time, but I am reading them all.

LJ is aware that it made many mistakes concerning the change in Basic Accounts. Here's their comment. In short, things are being discussed about what to do. Personally, I'm a big fan of the suggestion made by many users to make Basic Accounts available by invite-only. I think that this would balance many of the issues at play while still giving LJ room to innovate wrt financial models. Given all of the feedback from y'all, this is what I'm going to push for, but I can't promise anything.

One thing to keep in mind wrt economics. It is very rare that old posts, old communities, and old accounts die. Over time, there is a lot more content and the public items get more traffic as they get picked up by search engines. Even if LJ took on no new users, the costs of maintaining the site would go up every year. This creates a tricky financial situation because it requires innovative new ways to recoup those costs and come out ahead each year without cruelly punishing users. Most people pay for accounts because they value LJ, not because they want extra features. The percentage of folks who want and will pay for extra features is actually quite small (although typically vocal). This is why it's tricky to figure out a good economic system that will benefit everyone. Back in the day, ?Tripod? did a study of how much people would pay to not have ads on their homepages - they found that people were willing to pay something like 20% of what it actually cost to maintain those pages. Economically, that doesn't add up and often results in the death of sites. Most of us don't want LJ to die and so we need to find a financial solution that will allow LJ to come out ahead, grow, and put savings aside for the future. The goal isn't to become MySpace, but it is to be profitable. We just need to find a solution that will benefit everyone. And as anyone who lived through the last bubble and is cringing over the current one knows, this is not easy. Even ads aren't the panacea that folks might wish for, but they are a far better bet than most things. That's why we have to innovate in this space.

The same challenge faces us wrt features. How can LJ grow to be more valuable to more users without alienating those who are passionate about LJ? In order to figure this out, it's important to pay attn to how LJ is being used in different countries. Those of you who don't speak Russian may not realize that Russian LJ use looks a lot more like the public blogosphere in the States than it does like the LJ culture in the States. It's where political debate takes place and even the government has LJs to talk back to their constituents. This is a separate LJ culture and there's often very little interaction between some of the different cultures here. Thus, as LJ grows, it can't just take into consideration the vocal U.S. LJ users, but also the LJ users elsewhere. For example, many of the Russian LJ users want to be hyper visible and attract millions of readers, while this is not the norm in the States. Again, balance is key and it's tricky. It's not just one community out there, but many... and they are often fragmented and unaware of each other.

Many have asked why here important announcements are being made at lj_2008 instead of news. The reason is actually practical, not deceptive. Folks feel as though blasting too much too often on news would overwhelm many users. Yet, there is also understanding that trying to track what's going on across multiple LJs is confusing as all hell. We're going to plot on solving that one.

Last week, there was a bug in the system related to interests resulting in the removal of some interests. Although the interests that disappeared were random and all over the place, many thought this was intentional censorship by LJ. This was not and the problem was fixed as soon as it was discovered. Please let me know if anyone is still experiencing this problem.

Anyhow, more shortly... but hopefully this helps clarify a few things.

timeline + my email

Just a heads up for those waiting on a response from me - I'm reading everything you're saying in the comments of previous posts and I will be meeting with some folks at LJ when I return from "Eastover" (what happens when Passover gets celebrated during Eastover because that's when folks have time off). I will have limited email/internet access during the next two weeks, but I am following and listening to what y'all are saying.

To the best of my knowledge, an updated policy plan will not be coming out for a few more weeks (folks at LJ are reading what everyone's saying before making decisions). I'm not sure what's going to happen with the Basic Accounts. More soon on both. But keep the suggestions and thoughts coming - I do appreciate it!

grrr re: basic account decision


While offline this week, I learned that LJ has changed its account levels. Needless to say, Brad's pissed. I'm pissed. Not only because we both vehemently disagree with this change, but because they made such a change without consulting us. Or rather, we were both at a lunch a while back where they asked us what we thought and we both told them that this was the worst idea ever, although for different reasons. I had thought it had been tabled until I learned of this. After it had been posted.

Basically, LJ isn't killing Basic Accounts for past members, but they're not making that account level available to new users. From what I gather, this is a money-driven decision. Without ads or payments, there is no way to pay for these accounts let alone for them to generate revenue so the company can grow.

Brad's argument is that these accounts produce the majority of content on LJ that others pay to look at. I think that there's another angle to it as well because these accounts are also needed for viewers who aren't emotionally invested. For example, I pay for my account (and have for years), but most of my friends who read what I write have Basic Accounts. They produce very little but I would produce absolutely nothing if they weren't reading what I wrote. And then I wouldn't pay. And that's how it gets all entangled.

Systems like LJ are an ecology and individual-driven monetization approaches fail miserably. People have different levels of participation, engagement, and tolerance. What they want from the system differs as does the way that they relate to others. It's a networked system and pissing off users affects more than just the user-company relationship - it affects the whole network. I totally understand that it's not possible to provide a service (and engineers and support and ...) for free, as much as we would all like that to be the case. But... I'm not convinced this is the right move to balance the financial scales.

When I get my feet back on the ground, I intend to talk with the folks at LJ, but I can already predict the first question: what can we monetize? how can we grow? This is a totally fair question. I have my own ideas, but I'd like to hear others' thoughts. Given that the current monetization structure is not working, what would you say should be done?

Like Brad, I'm upset that we weren't consulted but optimistic. They're reading/listening to the feedback about the policies and involving us in the decisions of how to improve that end of things. That's great news. My hope is that they'll hear us out re: the basic accounts. Either way, I'll get back to you shortly.

new policy draft posted by LJ

Last night, the folks at LJ posted a draft set of policy guidelines for the public (and us advisory board folks) to review and comment on. It's not a final policy because LJ doesn't want to make this kind of change without community feedback and consideration. They are letting the public know at the same time as the advisory board knows. I'm still in the midst of doing my own review of this and reading what others have to say, but I wanted to make room here if folks wanna comment on this. There are many more comments on the draft post itself.

I suspect that there are folks who will object to some of what's proposed. I would be super stoked to receive responses that articulate why a particular issue is problematic, offer alternative suggestions, and make a case for why something should be changed. In other words, the more constructive the feedback, the more I can help.

I'll write more as I learn more.

official LJ Advisory board announcement

I have exciting news. I've decided to join the advisory board of LiveJournal. It's been brewing for a while, but it became official today.

Anyone who has been following my work for a while knows that I heart LiveJournal with a passion. I've been on LJ in one form or another since 1999/2000 and it's still the only community that I check in with daily for personal purposes. While I love LJ personally, I also deeply respect its history professionally. From its earliest years, LJ was home to many thriving subcultures: geeks, playa obsessed freaks, queers, goths, fans, camgirls, and even post-structural feminist cultural studies scholars. Because I've identified with or dated members of each of these subcultures, I've ended up back at LJ time and time again. Of course, LJ is much more than its subcultures. LJ is also home to teenagers, Russian activists, literary aficionados, knitters, and many many more. Like the community systems of the early web, LJ brings together communities around shared passions. Like contemporary social network sites, LJ serves as a hangout space for friends. Combined, LJ is one of the most powerful tools for people to gather, share, communicate, connect, and chill.

As much as I love LiveJournal, it has not been without drama. From the early days of camgirls to the fights between SixApart and fanfic folk, the various LJ communities have been active in defining what LJ should be about and what community identity looks like. The cultures that flourish inside LJ are vibrant, but often happily underground. Part of what makes LJ the ideal home for this is that LJ has some of the best tools for communicating and negotiating audience (think privacy features). When SixApart bought LJ back in 2005, I wrote a panicked essay called "Turmoil in Blogland" (published in Salon). I was worried that the well-intentioned folks at SixApart meant well, but didn't understand what the cultures of LJ looked like. While they didn't do that bad by LJ, their fights with the community over monetization and censorship showed that they were in over their heads. Not surprisingly, each incident incited a revolt by passionate LJers determined to stand up for what they believe. Each time, I couldn't help grinning. I do love subcultural passion. At the same time, the last round of fanfic revolts saddened me. I understand why there are many who want to up and leave LJ, but I also feel as though much will be lost if they do. Given that LJ is not a psycho corporation and that I think most people on the inside wanna do what's right, I kept wishing that LJ and its subcultural participants would find a way to resolve their issues.

Then, in December, I learned that SixApart was selling LiveJournal to the Russian company SUP. I have to admit that I panicked a bit. I knew that SUP had been pretty good to the Russian continent (having been running it for over a year), but I didn't think they knew diddly squat about the communities that I loved dearly. I was also terrified of some logistics wrt the acquisition; Russia's not exactly known for being a liberal nation state. Within days of the sale, one of the SUP founders (Andrew Paulson) contacted me. He had read my concerned blog post as well as my old essay on LJ. He asked if we could meet to discuss the future of LJ. He wanted to know if I had questions that he might be able to address and advice that might help in guiding the transition. We met and the one-hour meeting turned into four, at which point I had to bail out. Our conversation was intense. We debated some issues, educated each other on others. We found commonalities and talked about how we might resolve some of our disagreements. Above all, what struck me was that he was very willing to listen and open to ideas that would help LJ. We talked about how to handle different communities' needs and how to make sure that activists, outcasts, and rabble rousers would feel safe. In the end, he asked if I would join the advisory board to help guide SUP and LJ in the right direction.

As the advisory board started coming together, I got even more excited. Brad Fitzpatrick, Esther Dyson, Lawrence Lessig... These are all people that I love and trust, that I feel confident will work to protect community interests. SUP has also decided that LiveJournal shall have two positions on the advisory board set aside for user representatives that will be elected by the community (more info on that coming later). To top things off, Jason Shellen will be leading the U.S. LJ product team. (Jason and I worked very closely together at Blogger/Google and I know that I can trust him to be community-minded.) In other words, lots of folks I respect and lots of opportunity for meaningful connections between users and the company.

The mandate of the LJ advisory board is as follows:

  • An international group of informed and trusted thought leaders from the online community, who will advise the management and Board of Directors of LiveJournal Inc in the operation and development of the LiveJournal platform;
  • Charged to meet, discuss, and post their position on the issues that are important to the community. The board will likely discuss a broad range of topics: freedom of speech, privacy, legality, policy, and security, to name only a few;
  • Charged to provide guidance to LiveJournal, Inc. management and the Board of Directors on new issues and controversies as they arise;
  • Charged to speak to and for the users, offering them a voice not only in LiveJournal, Inc., but also on LiveJournal's role in the world;
  • Charged to oversee ongoing charitable work which the LiveJournal, Inc. Board of Directors supports.

Personally, I wanted to join the advisory board to help bridge gaps between the communities and SUP/LJ (the company). With help from the various communities, I hope that I can represent the passionate users out there. While I want to be able to advise the company to do the right thing, I also know that there will be times when compromises are necessary. My hope is that I can also help the company find the best compromises possible as well as help folks understand how decisions were made. Transparency is critical. Personally, I'm looking forward to the challenge. I believe in LiveJournal, I believe in the users. I want to see LJ be a safe home for those who have inhabited it for so long. New landlords are always a bit daunting, but I do think that these new landlords are well-intentioned and I deeply respect that they're wanting to connect to the tenants and bring people in to serve as liaisons.

As much as change is always a bit nerve wracking (especially when it comes to community sites), I'm actually looking forward to this transition. I think that SUP gets that fucking with the thriving communities that are living inside LJ is downright stupid. At the same time, I respect that they want to figure out how to grow LJ in ways that don't negatively affect the current active population. There are lots of issues to be addressed and innovation to be done, but I think that this can be done in a fashion that is beneficial to all stakeholders (including and especially active users). Given the opportunity to help, I just had to say yes.

My private LJ is going to remain private, but http://danahboyd.livejournal.com will be my new public LJ. I'm not sure what all I will use this for, but I will definitely post things relevant to LJ there and be open to communicating with anyone who wants to talk.


say hello to my new public LJ

::wave:: Thanks to the folks at LJ, I was able to snag this name back from my poor decision years ago to call my blog's syndicated feed danahboyd. The reason that I'm starting a new public LJ is because I have some fantastico news: I've joined the advisory board of LJ. w00t!

As most of y'all know, LJ was sold to a Russian company called SUP. This makes a lot of sense because the Russian contingent is quite large and active. SUP has been running the Russian branch of LJ for quite some time now. So, when SixApart decided to sell LJ, it only made sense. The new owners are trying to figure out how to be good owners. They understand the Russian contingent, but aren't nearly as familiar with some of the U.S. subcultural and fandom practices present on LJ. Since I've been blabbing about this for years, the new owner came and met with me. I talked his ear off for a few hours and he asked me to be on the advisory board. So voila! (OK, that's the mega simplified story.)

The most important thing is that I'm joining the board to represent subcultures and fans. My goal is to help the company understand these users, to help information flow between the company and these constituents, and to make sure that the company does its best not to fuck up. None of us want another meltdown or miscommunication mess.

While I'm going to do my best to advise on these areas, I also need to be in better communication with LJ users who aren't just my closest and dearest friends. Thus, I've decided to start a public LJ. This is where I'll talk about LJ issues, beg for feedback/suggestion, comment on new developments, and generally talk about anything that might be of interest to LJ folks. I'm still going to keep my private LJ and my blog, and from time to time might crosspost.

I'm super stoked to have the ability to work with SUP/LJ. I strongly believe in the communities that have formed here and, while I've been studying social tech for a long time, this is still the one community where I feel at home in my own practices.

For those who are arriving here who don't know me, I've been on LJ in one form or another since 1999/2000 (although I deleted my earliest acct for dumb reasons). I'm an active and passionate LJ user and have written about LJ over the years, most notably in a Salon op-ed called Turmoil in Blogland that was published after LJ was sold to Six Apart.
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