Walking Away

18 February 2008

I became involved with LiveJournal some time in 2001, when LJ was little over two years old. I had been prowling the web when I came upon the journal of a young woman who had a question or questions about Java, and I answered anonymously. There was some further interaction on this score, which got me looking at LiveJournal and at its possibilities. One of the possibilities was the creätion of a community, which in my case I thought that I might use as a testing grounds for a website that I wanted (and want) to someday launch. So I registered an account in the evening of 12 June 2001.

(The woman mentioned above left LiveJournal many years ago.)

I hadn't at that time really planned to actively 'blog or to use LJ as much of a social network. But I increasingly did each. I met various people who were interesting or charming or both.

I've had some long-standing problems with LiveJournal. The greatest of these was the difference between the real rules and the statements of the alleged rules. The same act that might cause one account to be suspended for a first offense could result nothing more than a warning for another account, and sometimes the first indication of a rule change — in advance of any other notice — would be that an account were suspended.

But things have grown far worse in the last year, as Six Apart (the company that bought Danga Interactive, and thus LiveJournal, at the start of 2005) deleted about 500 journals in a panicked reäction to complaints by social activists (most of which deletions Six Apart subsequently reversed), then surreptitiously introduced interest-search censorship (about which they've subsequently stone-walled), demanded that users adopt an all-or-nothing flagging of their own entries for mature content, and effected a programme under which individual entries will be screened if others lodge complaints that they find these entries offensive.

These actions probably had their origins in a desire by Six Apart to make LiveJournal seem more wholesome so that it could more readily be sold. In any event, in early December, Six Apart revealed that it had sold LiveJournal to СУП, a company based in Russia (and with unfortunate ties to the Kremlin).

It was-and-is within the power of СУП to end these various censorships almost immediately. Instead, they declared a 100-day development plan, which new staff and the original LiveJournal team will implement, and under which, so far, all of the censorship has essentially continued. Various members of LiveJournal have persuaded themselves that, at the end of the 100 days, the LiveJournal administration will present a draft plan, developed in private session, and then have the equivalent of public hearings on the plan. That's not how these things work. At the end of the 100 days, the plan will be set-in-stone. It is not clear whether it will be openly declared as essentially fixed, or attempts will be made to further gull members. (Andrew Paulson, the president of СУП, has already been speaking in terms of the end of 2008, rather than of early March.)

The time to make it clear to the administration that censorship had to be rolled back is-or-was before the 100 days had passed. And the way to make that a had rather than a should was by making it clear that LiveJournal would be a social networking site with far less of a society, and an advertising site with far less content, because many present members would leave before they could be used to lure other members who would be comfortable with the new order. Unfortunately, there was and is no real organized resistance amongst the membership, and disorganized resistance is unlikely to act in an effective manner.

I hate walking away from LJ. There are people there who are truly dear to me, people there whom I truly admire, who gave me access to their Friends-only entries, and when my LiveJournal account is purged (now that I have deleted it), I am simply going to lose that access. And I can no longer comment to those entries (nor with my old alias to any entry). But it was time for me to leave.


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