The Return Of LiveJournal

LiveJournal, one of the web's most popular early blogging sites, is launching a comeback in the United States. Their plans for 2012 include massive changes for users. Oh, and "Game Of Thrones" creator George R.R. Martin is a big user.

In the early 2000s, LiveJournal was king of the blogging hill. The site, which boasted an easy-to-use interface and a thriving social community, brought blogging to the masses. LiveJournal then went through a series of ownership changes; site creator Brad Fitzpatrick sold the blog service to Six Apart (Movable Type) in 2005. Six Apart in turn sold LiveJournal in 2007 to SUP, a Russian firm headed by controversial oligarch Alexander Mamut. Since 2007, LiveJournal has been focusing on growth in Russia and Singapore--where the blog service is incredibly popular. Now LiveJournal is planning a new drive to recapture American eyeballs... and it all comes down to community.

LiveJournal's American audience is currently centered around niche communities. Fan fiction writers, gamers, and various other Internet denizens have stayed with the site, which offers more intensive social networking functionality than Blogger, Tumblr, or WordPress. One standout is George R.R. Martin, the author behind hit HBO show Game Of Thrones. On his Livejournal, which he calls "Not A Blog," Martin writes in a surprisingly candid tone.

On Thursday, for example, he sounded off on director Tim Van Patton being nominated for an award by the Director's Guild of America for the show's first episode, "Winter Is Coming." "With this DGA nomination, and the SAG and WGA nominations previously reported here," he wrote, "it means that GAME OF THRONES has been recognized by all three of the major Hollywood guilds. Pretty damn cool."

The most popular hosted community on there by far, On No They Didn't, is a celebrity gossip blog with a massive commenter base.

Currently, LiveJournal in the United States has 10 million monthly uniques, 30 million monthly visitors, and 170 million pageviews. However, these numbers trail behind the service's international traffic.

According to LiveJournal general manager Anjelika Petrochenko, LiveJournal's planning a major 2012 push based around attracting new users to community sites. Petrochenko told Fast Company that the blogging service was planning between 10-50 new community sites by the end of 2012. These new community sites will offer organizers and admins highly detailed metrics and statistics on user activity that appear to be more detailed than Facebook. Petrochenko also stressed that LiveJournal accounts do not have to be tied to a real name/identity and offered greater anonymity than other social networks. However, LiveJournal has been involved in numerous censorship controversies in the past.

Oh No They Didn't will be the first community site to participate in LiveJournal's initiative. The company designed custom widgets to highlight frequent commenters, instituted new metric tracking and analysis systems, and created a new, community-driven interface seemingly designed to deemphasize blog content. The next LiveJournal-hosted site to get a makeover will be the popular AnythingDisney fan site. LiveJournal is staking their continued American growth on the community model; Oh No They Didn't's Brenden Delzer was hired as an on-staff community editor by LiveJournal several months ago.

The formatting of Oh No They Didn't--which includes advertising and a commenting-heavy interface--is close to what LiveJournal has planned for other communities. LiveJournal founder Brad Fitzpatrick was famously opposed to paid advertising on the site; since LiveJournal's sale, operators Six Apart and SUP both instituted advertising.

Petrochenko told us that the community push is taking place because LiveJournal “is a trove of amazing community-driven, user-generated content. Its content consists of not just blog entries and photos, but hundreds of thousands of comments posted by people who are passionate about the topic at hand.”

LiveJournal's quandry is simple. LiveJournal is Russia's most popular blogging platform and plays a key role in the country's Internet ecosphere. LiveJournal has a staggering 1.2 million users in Singapore who primarily use the site for “blogshops”--a local hybrid of blogs and Etsy.com-style e-commerce. However, LiveJournal's American market share has massively declined in the past five years. Six Apart and SUP were simply unable to compete in the post-MySpace era. There was talk in 2011 of Yahoo purchasing SUP; however, Yahoo's current troubles make that transaction seem quite unlikely.

However, longtime LiveJournal users are upset by the changes. LiveJournal recently unveiled a complete redesign that overhauled the service's comments system, emphasized social networking, and set the stage for the upcoming communities blitz. Reaction from longtime users has been overwhelmingly negative--LiveJournal patrons slammed the redesign on the service's official blog.

LiveJournal's leadership has made it clear that their future American business strategy lies in generating new traffic rather than catering to the service's current small-but-loyal membership. The challenge for Petrochenko and other executives at LiveJournal will be redefining the brand's identity in a crowded media marketplace.

[Image: Flickr user Carol Beatriz, Aubrey Arenas, Carol VanHook]

For more stories like this, follow @fastcompany on Twitter. Email Neal Ungerleider, the author of this article, here or find him on Twitter and Google+.

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13 Comments

  • Ardath Rekha

    If SUP wanted to ensure the "return of LiveJournal" in U.S. markets, they really ought to have spent a little more time "catering to the service's current small-but-loyal membership," because right now, they've succeeded in trashing their own name with American consumers.  Just check out their listing in the Better Business Bureau and you'll begin to get a sense of how badly they've stepped in it.

    I don't know why a company thinks that the way to repair more than four years of neglect and discourtesy is by giving the site a face-lift.  Especially when said face-lift is aesthetically unappealing, W3C-noncompliant, ADA-noncompliant, known to give users migraines, and ugly as sin to boot.  But it's nice to get confirmation about who they've actually been trying to please while they've been busy shafting us.

    Rest assured, LJ's comeback in America is already as dead in the water as the Costa Concordia.

  • Tabaqui Jackal

    Livejournal has been a great place to interact with fandom, which is the bulk of my usage there.  But the recent changes have made it extremely difficult to use, and the absolute inability of the new 'owners' to listen to the base, to acknowledge mistakes, or to make changes based on needs rather than slavishly following 'the plan' are driving users away in droves.

     Dreamwidth is fast becoming the replacement site for LJ users who are sick of being ignored, lied to, and condescended to, and if LJ doesn't listen up and make some concessions and roll back some of the worst, most useless 'new features', they are going to continue to hemorrhage paying users to Dreamwidth.

    No one wants LJ to be Facebook-lite.   The new comment template is unworkable for large communities and actually completely unusable for the majority of mobile users.  The page itself gives people literal as well as metaphorical headaches, and the removal of subject headers has made long comment threads completely useless and impossible to search.

    I've been at LJ for nearly eight years, and they have steadily eroded any trust and devotion they started with by consistently ignoring what their users actually want and need.  If they don't start listening, any more 'new' is just going to end up driving the rest of us away.

  • Bev Wiles

    So Livejournal needs to attract new traffic rather than catering to the existing clientele? Someone should explain to these folks that "retention" is every bit as important as gaining new users, only to lose them again the next time LJ institutes wildly unpopular changes. Churning your customer base is not a smart business practice. Instead, develop a reputation for dealing honestly and openly with users, listen to what your users are telling you, and watch your customer base grow. No point attracting new users if you're hemorrhaging users out the other end. I, and many like me, also have accounts at dreamwidth which treats their users 100 times better, and is growing more and more each day. The only reason I still participate at Livejournal at all is that I made the mistake of buying a permanent account. 

  • Shelley Belsky

    This article fails to address the DDOS attacks that are a frequent occurring events on Live Journal.
    When their attempts to prevent membership hemorrhaging boil down to an appeal for support based on opposition to a government, you've got a problem. 

  • Alisa

    As another note.... No, users did not take this lying down. They protested, and their voices were not heard. We got frustrated enough with the insults and the 'we want new people, you can go deal with being ignored' that a good portion of these protesters, myself included, left.

    An alarming amount have been going to DreamWidth.org and the numbers, which I do not have on hand, are pretty potent. DreamWidth is made of former LiveJournal staff- and they explained why LiveJournal is doing this when no one on LiveJournal would, even if it's kind of their job to answer those questions (Which is basically what you said in this article - they don't want to focus on older users, rather on trying to gain new ones more used to Facebook, Twitter and so on.). They were even respectful to /LiveJournal/ in their wording, which I do not think the higher staff deserves at this point.

    They've been polite and respectful and actually speak to the users, with weekly news posts on updates and changes and 'oh by the way there might be downtime for a few minutes'.

    So yes, the Users know what they want. We also understand the chances of LiveJournal becoming the 'facebook of bloggers' when it's over 10 years old is slim to none, a pipe dream of amazing proportion because LiveJournal already has a way people look at it and that isn't going to change. That's why many have left, gone to people who actually respect us.

  • Alisa

    My concern isn't the redesign so much as the terrible, condescending customer service that showed more then ever in this case. The Russian head released the redesign without notifying anyone but a small portion of the russian userbase. He did not hire a translator to spread it to everyone else on the website. That portion also overwhelmingly said 'no' and he released it anyway, with massive amounts of bugs and blinding whites and blank spaces that caused migraines for many people. He took away an option long used for sorting information. It should have been in beta longer for bugs, they should have actually listened to their test group, and it should have included a wide range of people.

    Then after the release, he jeered at the users, insulting them and saying 'you'll get used to it'. They then tried to sweep an error in the system that turned automatic payments for subscriptions back on under the rug, too, and if they had not (eventually) allowed refunds (Which was not announced but still done, legal enough ass covering.) They could have face legal action for money lost. They called the people who had this happen liars, told them they were making it up in a slander campaign against the website - up until they realized it was actually happening. And no announcement was made of those refunds of December payments - users had to spread the news on their own. LiveJournal staff have been silent on this whole fuck up since December 23rd when they were still calling people liars.No, it's definitely not just the redesign that caused the protest. It's that LiveJournal has become underhanded, rude, and refuses to work with users. The turning on of automatic payments, while an error, caused real problems and cost people money.

  • Sock Puppet

    I'm not thrilled with the changes. But, what I was using the site for isn't what they're trying to foster anymore. They want a long comment string like you see on Facebook. Frankly, I find trying to have a discussion on multiple levels too difficult on Facebook because of the flat design. You can really directly reply to a person, and that discourages me from wanting to engage at all. The ability to thread, and few a thread from a specific comment without the rest of it loading completely is something I'll truly miss about LiveJournal, and it's one of the main reasons a lot of the communities I'm involved with moved away. There are other sites out there that function perfectly fine with the old system, and that's where we all went. If LJ wants to compete in the American Social Networking market, they have some massive competition to outshine in sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It's going to be a steep uphill battle for them, and they've just lost a huge number of supporters.

  • meow

    I think once people realize that it's impossible to read the user comments once an entry gets too many (And LJ's employee run ONTD community is a perfect example), they won't be sticking around. 

    I think a lot of us will miss what Livejournal used to be, but since Six Apart and SUP have run it into the ground, I think we'll be glad to see it laid to rest, instead of these idiots waving its corpse around.

  • Mandy Kilinskis

    I'm torn about the LiveJournal changes. I'm one of those 10 million unique visitors that have stayed with the site even while it's been declining in the US. And while I would like to see the site become popular again, it's dangerous to do so at the risk of alienating a huge part of the 10 million dedicated users.

    These people are LJ's biggest brand advocates who are deeply tapped into other social networks. If you anger them, they won't go quietly into the night. The new commenting system is awful for lengthy discussions, which is one of the reasons users are not enthralled by it. The comment chains on some Oh No They Didn't, for example, are massive and much more difficult to navigate now. While the instant updating mirrors Facebook or Twitter, It doesn't go in a straight line, the comment run down and to the right, which requires much more effort to read. Many users I used to interact with have abandoned the site for other blogging communities.

    Even with great, new widgets, there's no way that LiveJournal can foster the conversation like they used to. And deviating too much from their core could also be disastrous. 

  • SushiSpook

    I disagree - I think they CAN foster the conversation they have, by making their service easier to use. One of the biggest gripes I've heard from people who have bailed from other services is that apart from following their friends who left, they make embedding any sort of media just difficult enough to have people bail on the service entirely. Other blogging services make it so much easier, and sites like twitter and facebook make it easier to share that media once it's posted. 

    If LJ would actually do some market research with their user base, they'd know this. They could easily reach out to the registered e-mail addresses of people who haven't logged in for X amount of time, and even if half of those are valid, and only a tenth of that half actually respond, they'd have a valid sample of data to help them understand their user base. I know for a fact that they haven't done any such research at all, and this is being decided without trying to engage folks. 

    I do agree - they do have a has-been image problem, and they need to address that very much so, and alienating their core base will scorch their reputation in the Americas pretty permanently. And that would be sad, because I am, like you, someone who has stuck with the site. It would be said to see it die entirely, wouldn't it? 

  • Tabaqui Jackal

    I've never had any issues with sharing media on LJ - I have no interest in having LJ become like FB or Twitter, gods forbid.  The beauty of LJ used to be the ability to actually have conversations, replying to individuals and having two, three, four different tangents from one main subject and still be able to follow all the threads.

    On FB, you can't reply to anyone, you can only add a comment to a huge string of comments, and try finding the one you're reacting too if you wait too long!  LJ needs to stop trying to become Facebook-lite and *listen*.