March 19th, 2008

Whale fluke

One day. No content. Here's why.

Beginning tomorrow at 5 p.m. my time, I will go away from LiveJournal for 24 hours. I won't post, I won't comment, I won't even open it; I'll temporarily change my homepage to Google or something. This is a note to explain why, addressed to those of you reading who aren't LiveJournal account-holders.

Things have been frustrating for many of us on LJ. The site's changed owners from one group that seemed not to quite "get" us to another group that seemed not to quite "get" us even more. Last year the Russian company SUP, pronounced "soup," purchased LJ from the San Francisco company SixApart, which had bought LJ from its creator brad in 2005, and set up a new San Francisco corporate office and a US-based holding company called LiveJournal, Inc.

(LiveJournal's actually become a very big deal in Russia, which is partly why SUP was interested in buying the service. "LiveJournaling" is to many Russians what "blogging" is to many Americans: the slang term for what we do. The U.S. has the most active LJ community by far; Russia is second-most active, and SUP handled that very large community for about a year before buying LJ en toto.)

As Russia, of course, doesn't have the free speech guarantees the U.S. Constitution has -- and LJ has the wild-and-woolly feel of a place where people blog about almost anything, including potentially uncomfortable subjects -- the worries of a culture clash between owners and users grew bigger. And we've had clashes.

Most recently, SUP took these particular actions that maddened lots of us:

1) On March 12th, SUP eliminated the option to create a "Basic," no-cost, ad-free account, the way the majority of LJ users got into the service: currently the options for new accounts are the ad-supported "Plus" and the "Paid," which is what I have. SUP eliminated Basic against the advice of the LJ users' advisory board, including brad; and (the more maddening move) SUP didn't tell any current users about the change. We found out by word-of-mouth, because current users happened to check the journal-creation FAQ. When we started yelling, the staff replied in news that it doesn't affect you, only new users, forgetting that many of us create additional accounts for different purposes (I know people with three, four, five or more separate LJs) so it would affect us. It smacked of SUP trying to sneak in the change, and that left the worse taste in our mouths. SUP's hinted that it might restore the ability in some cases to create Basic accounts, after we'd screamed about the change.

2) Weird editing happened on LJ's "Interests" search. Each user creates an "Interests" list as another way to link our accounts, by what we like. (My list is on this page.) Suddenly the "Most Popular" list that LJ compiles was missing several popular interests, interests that might look controversial or just uncomfortable to non-LJ users or advertisers. (More details here.) Porn-related topics disappeared from the list; so did "bisexuality," "depression" and "fanfiction." I'm not bisexual or depressed, and I don't write fanfiction, but friends of mine are and friends of mine also write fanfic; their interests don't deserve to disappear. And since that editing happened, the interests in question have been restored...after, again, we'd screamed about the change.

We need to change the discourse from the screaming-about-what's-been-done to making it less likely that the owners make boneheaded moves from now on.

In trying to figure out a more comprehensive way for us to express our annoyance, and to (we hope) make a positive change, many people considered leaving LJ for other journaling systems. However, for all its flaws and the not-thought-through actions of the owners, LiveJournal is still a great system: intuitive for not-as-computer-literate people like me (seriously), comprehensive, easy to navigate and use, all that. Many of us finally decided: LJ is driven by content, by our writing essays and posting videos and other cool links. What if one day we gave far less content than normal? And the strike was born. I'll be taking part. (Some of what's led to this is summarized in this post by cleolinda; she includes links about an interview with LJ/SUP's Chief Blogging Officer Anton Nossik, who believes the one-day strike is an attempt at blackmail, a charge we vehemently deny.)

The LJ user who's pushing the one-day strike, beckyzoole (and who's had good dealings in the past with Nossik), explains further behind the cut:
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Whew. Lots just got covered. Sorry if any of that's confusing to anyone who hasn't been following it; it's getting late and my explaining powers are waning as I get closer to sleep.

But to sum up: I'll be gone from 5 p.m. Thursday to 5 p.m. Friday. I'll see how things are when I get back.

3/20/08 9:15 a.m. update: As beckyzoole says here, we're getting attention, and an apology (though not in news) about the handling of the Basic account situation.