How to piss off a community, or why this is my last LJ crosspost

Fri 14 March 2008 | tags: Rants

Read this first, then come back here for my rant. It isn't going to make much sense otherwise.

From what I've gathered in the comments and other links in this post, it appears the LiveJournal (LJ) crew is removing the option for new users to create Basic Accounts. Basic Accounts, in LJ parlance, are free, unpaid accounts. I currently have a Basic Account, which is what I use to comment on other journals on LJ, and which I use to send a crossposted feed of content from my blog. According to that post, I'm somehow "grandfathered" into a Basic Account, though I'm not sure for how long, or what that even means anymore. New users will have to sign up for a "Plus Account", which on the surface appears to be an account that is ad-supported. What those ads will look like isn't clear to me from the comments. What is clear from the comments, though, is that this change was shoved past the LJ Advisory Board (aka: people who care enough about your service to volunteer their time to help improve it) and was introduced with little fanfare. One thing I have learned (sometimes painfully) is you do not try to shove major changes in how your service works without involving your community. By making this change in secret, it alarmed the community, and they reacted in a panicked way. What's worse is the cavalier attitude that LJ has taken in making this change:

When LiveJournal, Inc., was launched in December the new team made it very clear that LiveJournal was going to change. We also said that we would respect the values and legacy of LiveJournal. But, we can’t ignore the fact that as LiveJournal nears its second decade it needs to make some business decisions.

Over the past 24 hours many of you have asked whether the changes to the account structure (removing the option of creating new basic accounts) is a business decision. It is, emphatically.

Friends, this is not how you address a community that has watched you grow from humble beginnings into something that requires staff and makes money. This screams "we have lots of eyeballs, how do we get them to make money for us". Never mind that the sole reason people come to the site is to keep up with friends, make new friends, and socially procrastinate. Note I didn't say the reason people come to the site is to make LJ money. People who pay for their accounts do so out of an investment in the service, whether it's to make sure they still have a journal to write in, or because there's some new features they want to experience. My investment in LJ overall is to keep up with friends and what is going on in their lives by logging in and reading their journals, and possibly posting in them. If LJ feels it's necessary to put ads in the mix, and make the whole experience as jarring as, say, Yahoo's front page, then my emotional attachment wanes, and viewing the content becomes less important to me.

I'm not opposed to advertising; my objection lies in how LJ is handling their most basic of consumers. Sure, they may not contribute to the bottom line directly, but they do provide an audience for those who are paying to keep performing, keep posting, and keep being involved. Making it so people have to accept ads in order to see content is fine as long as there is a choice. Making these decisions without consulting the community who supports you is a very short-sighted approach, and quite dangerous.

This is my last cross-post to LiveJournal. I'm making this decision to stop my feed to LiveJournal because I'm no longer interested in feeding free content to a company that is demonstrating they aren't interested in being in charge of it. I'm doing this to encourage you who follow this blog via LiveJournal to download an RSS reader (there's many of them out there, some of which are already in your browser), and follow my blog via RSS. I'm encouraging you to find alternative platforms for blogging, whether it's via, blogger, or another site. I'm encouraging you to let LJ know that their community of users is not something they can take for granted, and the content LJ users generate, the compelling reason for even visiting LJ, can go away if they aren't careful.

I'll see you in cyberspace.