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LiveJournal

LiveJournal (often abbreviated LJ) is a virtual community where Internet users can keep a blog, journal or diary. LiveJournal is also the name of the free and open source server software that was designed to run the LiveJournal virtual community. LiveJournal's differences from other blogging sites include its WELL-like features of a self-contained community and some social networking features similar to other social networking sites. LiveJournal was started in March 1999 by Brad Fitzpatrick as a way of keeping his high school friends updated on his activities. In January 2005, blogging software company Six Apart purchased Danga Interactive, the company that operated LiveJournal, from Fitzpatrick.

On December 2, 2007, Six Apart announced it was selling LiveJournal to SUP, a Russian media company that had been licensing the LiveJournal brand and software for use in Russia. The new owners unveiled a plan to upgrade the service, engage with the LiveJournal community and launch new products for advertisers, this work would be undertaken by the newly formed American-based company LiveJournal, Inc.

Features

  • Each journal entry has its own web page, which includes the comments left by other users. In addition, each user has a journal page, which shows all of his or her most recent journal entries, along with links to the comment pages.
  • The most distinctive feature of LiveJournal is the "friends list," which gives the site a strong social aspect in addition to the blog services. The friends list provides various syndication and privacy services as described below. Each user has a friends page, which collects the most recent journal entries of the people on his or her friends list.
  • LiveJournal allows users to customize their accounts in several ways. The S2 programming language allows journal templates to be modified by members. Users may upload graphical avatars, or "userpics," which appear next to the username in prominent areas as it would on an Internet forum. Paid account holders are given full access to S2 management and more userpics, as well as other features.
  • Each user also has a "User Info" page, which contains a variety of data including contact information, a biography, images (linked from off-site sources) and lists of friends, interests, communities and even schools which the user has attended in the past or is currently attending.
  • LiveJournal also allows "voice posts" to their paid and sponsored users, where one can call into the system and record an entry.
  • Currently LiveJournal has five account levels: basic (comprising approximately 95% of the network); plus (sponsored with advertising); "early adopters" who were registered prior to 2000; paid and permanent. Permanent accounts are normally not available to the "average user;" there have been occasional sale days or special offers, but such sales are not guaranteed in the future. Prior to March 12, 2008, "basic" accounts were ad-free; in August, 2008, LiveJournal resumed new basic account creation but changed that account level to display ads to non-logged-in readers.

Social networking

The unit of social networking on LiveJournal is quaternary (with four possible states of connection between one user and another). Two users can have no relationship, they can list each other as friends mutually, or either can "friend" the other without reciprocation. On LiveJournal, "friend" is also used as a verb to describe listing someone as a friend.

The term "friend" on LiveJournal is mostly a technical term; however, because the term "friend" is emotionally loaded for many people, there have been discussions in such LiveJournal communities as lj_dev and lj_biz, as well as suggestions about whether the term should be used in this way; this conflict is discussed in greater detail below.

A user's list of friends (friends list, often shortened to flist) will often include several communities and RSS feeds in addition to individual users. Generally, "friending" allows the friends of a user to read protected entries and causes the friends' entries to appear on the user's "friends page." Friends can also be grouped together in "friends groups," allowing for more complex behavior in both of these features.

Privacy

LiveJournal provides an option intended to reduce the chances of search engines indexing a journal; however, the only way to make it completely impossible for such indexing to occur is setting the entry security to "friends only" or higher when first posting the entry. If an entry is first posted publicly, and then edited to reflect a higher security level, it may have already been indexed by a search engine in the time between the security edit. The popular "friends only" security option, which has since been adopted by Xanga and MySpace, hides a post from the general public so that only those on the user's friends list can read it. Some users keep all their posts friends-only. LiveJournal also allows users to create custom user groups within their group of friends to further restrict who can read any particular post, and to allow easy reading of subsets of a user's friends list.

LiveJournal additionally has a "private" security option which allows users to make a post that only the poster can read, thus making their LiveJournal a private diary rather than a blog.

Users may restrict who can comment on their posts in addition to who has the ability to read their posts. Comments on a given entry may be allowed from anyone who can read the entry or restricted. Commenting may be restricted by disabling commenting altogether or by screening comments. Screened comments are visible only to the original posters until the journal owner approves the comment. These restrictions can be applied to just anonymous users, users who aren't listed as a friend, or everyone. The IP address of commenters can be logged as well if the journal owner wishes to enable it.

An option allows users to hide their 'friend of' list from public view, but leaves the list visible to the user. In this case, only the friends list is shown. When 'friend of' is allowed, journal accounts who have friended the user and who are also friended are listed in neither 'friend of' nor 'friend', but rather a third category, 'mutual friends'. This was eventually made a separate option, like the 'friend of' list, and reworded so that the lists would have to be selected to include them in a profile, rather than to select an option to remove them.

LiveJournal lists that users can hide communities from their profile page by not friending them (friended communities are 'watched') and by either banning the community from posting in their journal (which has no effect since they can't anyway, but does remove them from the 'member of' list) or by removing the 'friend of' list, which removes the 'member of' list in addition to the 'friend of' list.

Also, if you want to change privacy settings on your past posts, you will be able to do it easily only on paid accounts. For Free and Plus accounts you can only edit privacy settings manually one by one - or use specified third party client programs like LVC, Livejournal Visibility Changer, or old versions of Semagic client.

Community

User interaction

As with most weblogs, people can comment on each other's journal entries and create a message board-style thread of comments – each comment can be replied to individually, starting a new thread. All users, including non-paying users, can set various options for comments: they can instruct the software to only accept comments from those on their friends list or block anonymous comments (meaning only LiveJournal users can comment on their posts). They can also screen various types of comments before they are displayed, or disable commenting entirely. Users can also have replies sent directly to their registered e-mail address.

In addition, LiveJournal acts as host to group journals, dubbed "communities" (frequently abbreviated as comms). Anyone who joins a community can make posts to it as they would on a regular journal; communities also have "maintainers", ordinary users who run the community and oversee membership and moderation.

Some areas of LiveJournal rely heavily on user contributions and volunteer efforts. In particular, the LiveJournal Support area is run almost entirely by unpaid volunteers. Similarly, the website is translated into other languages by volunteers, although this effort is running down due to a perceived lack of involvement from the LiveJournal administration.

The development of the LiveJournal software has seen extensive volunteer involvement in the past. In February and March 2003, there was even an effort, nicknamed the Bazaar, to boost volunteer performance by offering money in return for "wanted" enhancements or improvements. The Bazaar was intended to follow a regular monthly pay-out scheme, but it ended up paying out only once, after which it was neglected without a word from the management until about one year later when it was shut down.

Nowadays, voluntary contributions to the software are considered for inclusion less and less as the company has acquired more and more paid employees who focus on the organization's commercial interests. This has led to the formation of several forks, many of which introduce new features that users would like to see at LiveJournal, especially features that are brought up repeatedly in LiveJournal's own suggestions journal.

In some cases legal and administrative concerns have led LiveJournal to prohibit some people from volunteering.

Demographics

As of August 11, 2008, 16,319,351 accounts exist on LiveJournal. Of those users who provided their date of birth, the majority were in the 15-24 age group. Of those who specified a gender, two thirds were female.

LiveJournal is most popular in English-speaking countries (although there is a language selection feature), and the United States has by far the most LiveJournal users among users who choose to list a location. There is also a sizable Russian contingent. Live Journal is the largest online community on the Runet, with about 45% of all entries in the Russian blogosphere. The following are the ten countries LiveJournal has the most users in and the number of users as of August 11, 2008 (based on the information listed by the users):

  1. 3,491,702 — United States
  2. 618,502 — Russian Federation
  3. 306,946 — Canada
  4. 290,088 — United Kingdom
  5. 135,585 — Australia
  6. 91,731 — Singapore
  7. 83,647 — Ukraine
  8. 60,641 — Philippines
  9. 55,167 — Germany
  10. 42,579 — Finland

This is the gender breakdown as of August 11, 2008.

  1. 4,460,190 (66.5%) — Female
  2. 2,244,990 (33.5%) — Male
  3. 2,524,174 — Unspecified

These figures only include accounts where the information is public.

Notable LiveJournals and users

Frank the Goat

Frank the Goat is LiveJournal's mascot. Frank is treated like an actual living being by much of the LiveJournal userbase, and his brief "biography" as well as his "journal" reflect this.

Sometimes, callers to LiveJournal's Voice Post service are informed "Frank the Goat appreciates your call." This occurs randomly.

A weekly comic about Frank is now available that is updated every Thursday on the "Frank: The Comic Strip" community on LiveJournal. As of this date, the community has roughly 8,000 members, and is watched by more than 7,000 LiveJournal users.

Controversies and criticism

Invite system

From September 2, 2001, until December 12, 2003, the growth of LiveJournal was checked by an "invite code" system. This curbing of membership was necessitated by a rate of growth faster than the server architecture could handle. New users were required to either obtain an invite code from an existing user or buy a paid account (which reverted to a free account at the expiration of the period of time paid for). The invite code system serendipitously reduced abuse on the site by deterring people from creating multiple throw-away accounts. The invite code system was lifted after a number of major improvements to the overall site architecture. Elimination of the invite code system was met with mixed feelings and some opposition. LiveJournal's management pointed out that the invite code system was always intended to be temporary.

The word "friend"

The dual usage of "friend" as those one reads and those one trusts doesn't necessarily match the definition of the word used in everyday speech. Even the individual users on a user's friends list may contain a mixture of people met through real world friendships, online friendships, general interest, and courtesy (a user friending back someone who friended them). Sometimes a friends list represents something entirely unrelated to social relationships, such as a reading list, a collection, a puzzle or even nothing. The difference between on-line and real-world friendships is sometimes a source of conflict, hurt feelings, and other misunderstandings. LiveJournal friendships are not necessarily mutual; any user can befriend or "defriend" any other user at any time. On April Fool's Day 2004, the LiveJournal staff pulled a prank on all users by changing the terms "friend" and "friend of" to "stalking" and "stalked by". Though many users wanted to keep these terms, it caused controversy, particularly with those who had been victims of stalking. In the Russian LiveJournal community, the word френд (friend, an English borrowing) is often used to describe this relationship instead of the native Russian word "друг" that translates to "friend."

Abuse Prevention Team decisions

As LiveJournal has grown, it has had to deal with issues involving the content it hosts. Like most web logging hosts, it has adopted a basic Terms of Service. The Terms of Service simultaneously expresses a desire for free speech by the users while outlining impermissible conduct such as spamming, copyright violation, harassment, etc. LiveJournal created an Abuse Prevention Team and processes to handle claims about violations of the Terms of Service, violations of copyright, violations of the law, and other issues. If the Abuse Prevention Team determines that a violation has occurred, the user will be either required to remove the infringing material (as in the case of copyright violations); the journal will be suspended until such time as the material can be removed (e.g., posting of home addresses or other various contact information of another); or, in cases of severe or multiple violations, the journal will be suspended (e.g., account hijacking, multiple instances of copyright violation, child pornography). The offending user is notified by email of any journal suspension or, if any offending material must be removed, the user is given a deadline for its removal. When a journal is suspended, it effectively removes from sight everything the user has written on LiveJournal, including comments in other people's journals; however, the user is able to download the material while suspended. Those suspended users who have paid for LiveJournal's service do not have payments refunded.

A small controversy arose in November 2004 when a policy document used by the Abuse Prevention Team was leaked to a group of its critics before it was due to be released. The policy document has since been officially released.

A controversy arose when users complained after an unknown number of users were asked to remove default user pictures containing images of breast feeding that were considered inappropriate as they contained a view of nipples or areolae. The incident attracted the attention of breast feeding advocacy groups such as Pro-Mom who publicized the issue to gain larger media awareness. LiveJournal responded by changing the FAQ on appropriate content for default user pictures. The current FAQ 111 says that nudity is not appropriate in default user pictures: the original FAQ 111 said that graphic sexual content was not appropriate. Breastfeeding pictures were not restricted by the original FAQ; the current FAQ reflects the fact that they are only restricted from use as a default user picture. It should be noted that breastfeeding pictures are still allowed as user pictures that may be manually chosen while posting but may not be the default.

Account vulnerabilities

In January 2005 the site had to make emergency changes to the way the site hosts user accounts due to a browser-side security vulnerability. The hacker group responsible was later identified as 'Bantown'. Approximately 900,000 accounts were at risk.

LiveJournal and advertisements

In April 2006, LiveJournal announced it was introducing a new user type that gave free users some of the features available to paid members in exchange for ad sponsorship. This user type was initially called Sponsored+, but was later renamed to Plus.

This announcement was met with a whirlwind of controversy. Between April 2004 and January 2005, one of LiveJournal's Social Contract promises stated the site would, "Stay advertisement free." The Social Contract went on to say, "It may be because it's one of our biggest pet peeves, or it may be because they don't garner a lot of money, but nonetheless, we promise to never offer advertising space in our service or on our pages..

Another ad-related controversy occurred in June 2006, when ads for Kpremium began installing malware and triggering pop-up ads on Australian and Western European users' computers, against the LiveJournal ad guidelines. LiveJournal responded by removing the advertisement from the website and issuing an apology to its users.

In March 2008, LiveJournal discontinued the ability for new users to select the "basic" level of journal, which allowed for a minimal set of features with no advertising at no cost. However, in August of the same year, the company reversed the decision, reviving "basic" service as a manual, post-registration downgrade. However, the resumed basic service level is no longer ad-free: advertisements are displayed when readers who are not logged in to livejournal view postings on a basic account.

Account suspension controversy

In May 2007, LiveJournal suspended approximately 500 accounts and communities, causing what news.com referred to as a "revolt" from "thousands of LiveJournal customers", after a number of activist groups, including one named Warriors for Innocence, reported pedophilic material on its website.

According to Six Apart chairman and chief executive Barak Berkowitz, "We did a review of our policies related to how we review those sites, those journals, and came up with the fact that we actually did have a number of journals up that we didn't think met our policies and didn't think they were appropriate to have up". In a subsequent posting to the LiveJournal news community, he apologized, discussed some of the circumstances behind the suspensions, and indicated that the suspended journals would be reviewed and potentially brought back online. In particular, he noted that Livejournal's normal practice of reviewing suspensions and notifying suspended account holders had not been followed:

[T]hese journals were suspended for easily correctable problems [...] [T]his was not communicated to the journal or community owners at all. [T]hese journals were taken down before review could be completed to avoid mistakes.

Most of the backlash was from fan fiction writers whose communities and personal journals were among those suspended, seemingly only because they list interests such as "incest" or "non-con" (short for non-consensual). Although these communities may not encourage illegal behavior, it has been reported that there was no further investigation into the content of these journals.

Beyond merely fan communities, many were initially upset that communities entirely unrelated to anything but the discussion, sometimes therapeutic and other times literary, of rape or child molestation were among those suspended.

On May 31,2007, Berkowitz released a statement to the LiveJournal news community announcing that Six Apart was currently in the process of unsuspending about half of suspended journals. The journals being reinstated fell into fandom or fiction categories or were journals that were suspended for problems related only to the contents of their profiles. In an earlier interview with news.com, he had stated that he would be "shocked" if "more than a dozen" journals would be reinstated.

On July 19,2007, Abe Hassan at LiveJournal released a statement clarifying LiveJournal's suspension policies A further statement was made on August 7, 2007.

Advisory Board election

As previously announced, SUP, the latest owners of LiveJournal, decided to create an Advisory Board to help it make decisions. The first members were distinguished people in the areas of law and technology, danah boyd, Esther Dyson, Lawrence Lessig, and the original LiveJournal founder, Brad Fitzpatrick. SUP announced two other members would be appointed from the LiveJournal userbase, one Russian and one English speaking. The English speaking election was marred with accusations of ballot stuffing, conflicts of interest, and multiple death threats. The developer who wrote the poll software running the election called the ballot stuffing plausible.

Sale to Six Apart

LiveJournal's parent company, Danga Interactive, was initially formed and held entirely by Brad Fitzpatrick. However, as LiveJournal became more popular, Fitzpatrick was approached by multiple parties who wished to purchase it. He initially resisted many of these offers, not wanting his pet project (which he has characterized as his "baby") in the hands of those who did not understand the site's core principles — reliance on paid memberships to fund site operations, the absence of advertising, the volunteer support model, and LiveJournal's support of the free software movement. Nonetheless, as the administrative aspect of LiveJournal began to consume more of Fitzpatrick's time, which he would have rather spent working on the site's technical workings, he began to take the acquisition offers more seriously. It is believed that Fitzpatrick left to work for Google.

Community reaction

Rumors of Danga's impending sale to Six Apart were first reported by Business 2.0 journalist Om Malik in his blog, on January 4 2005. By the next evening, speculation of major changes, including a rumor that LiveJournal would require non-paying users to purchase memberships, had caused enough users to backup their journals to impact the site's performance. A few hours later, Fitzpatrick confirmed the sale, and insisted the site's core principles would not be discarded by the new ownership. He also stressed that he and other Danga employees would still continue to manage LiveJournal and that he had determined that Six Apart was committed to the site's core principles before selling.

Fitzpatrick's supporters offered rebuttals to many of these arguments. They noted that the bulk of the code running LiveJournal at the time of the acquisition would continue to be open source, as it was licensed under the GPL.

Finally, Fitzpatrick himself noted he was growing tired of the administrative aspects of the site – to the point where he had contemplated shutting down the service – and "I knew I would've shut down the site on my own if I didn't get help.

Fitzpatrick left Six Apart in August 2007 and is no longer involved in the development of LiveJournal. However, Fitzpatrick continues to serve on the Advisory Board of LiveJournal, Inc, the current operators of LiveJournal.

Sale to SUP

Before licensing its brand to the Russian company SUP, LiveJournal became extremely popular in that country. The Russian translation of LiveJournal – ЖЖ (ZheZhe, which stands for Живой Журнал) – has become a genericized trademark for blogging in general, and the community boasts something close to 700,000 Russian livejournals, perhaps 300,000 of them active. The deal was brokered with the assistance of founder Brad Fitzpatrick. However, expatriated Russians have expressed concerns, citing links between the company and state security. Some have also worried that SUP's purchasing of the community was less to make a profit and more to curtail or even dissolve the strong independent Russian blogging community, silencing dissent the government found inconvenient. These concerns started with the licensing deal, and have grown with the announcement of the sale.

Anton Nossik, an advisor to SUP, has not reacted favourably to criticism by site users. In an interview given in March 2008, he accused LiveJournal users of "trying to scare and blackmail us, threatening to destroy our business," and stated that a large class of users have as their only purpose bringing harm to LiveJournal and its founders; "their goal is to criticize, destablilize and ruin our reputation." In the interview, he predicted that his likely reaction to such pressure would be to retaliate against the users rather than bowing to their pressure.

Launch of LiveJournal Inc

Following SUP's acquisition of LiveJournal it announced that the service would be run by LiveJournal Inc, this newly launched company is based in San Francisco and continues to run the site under US law. The business is led by Matt Berardo, who was recruited from Yahoo.

Global expansion

Following LiveJournal's acquisition SUP identified three international markets (Singapore, the UK and India) which it hoped to support the services growth and seed new communities. LiveJournal recently launched new communities in India and has undertaken a reach-out programme with bloggers in Singapore.

Resignation of Anton Nossik

In September 2008 Anton Nossik resigned from SUP and from his role as their social media evangelist. He had been one of the first bloggers on LiveJournal in Russia and played an early important role in suppporting its development.

Other sites running the LiveJournal engine

The software running LiveJournal is open source and primarily written in Perl. Because of this, many other communities have been designed using the LiveJournal software. These sites have very similar features and formats to LiveJournal itself. However, they often have different terms of service than LiveJournal's, making them attractive to users who have become disenchanted with LiveJournal's rules and wish to move their journals to other hosts.

See also

References

External links

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