How I killed my blog

You aren’t reading this. Once, you did. Here’s why.

In 2001 I started a LiveJournal entirely as a social networking tool. My friends were all signing up. We had a lot of fun sharing a circle of friends on LJ, and most of us ended up at least reading if not posting every day.

The social network expanded rapidly, and I made new connections. And I wrote more. I have a background in journalism and I’ve always written compulsively. With the spigot open, things sputtered out: personal confession, satire, sociopolitical conversations, culture, an avalanche of ephemera. It was mostly a good time, although the madness of myself and others provided some spectacular low points as well. (None of the madness has been removed. Good thing you’re not reading it.)

A few years into this I had a decent audience for someone who hadn’t tried. At best estimate the thing had 300 regular readers. If I wrote something interesting or challenging or unusually annoying I always got a few comments. Even a couple of my literary heroes showed up to say nice things about my writing. And the writing got better. There was a deadline feel to working on that LJ. I would think: “what should I write today?” rather than “should I write?”

Like others, I messed around with syndication and linking other services. There were all these ways you could stuff your LJ and photo service and other crap into one feed, but those weren’t popular in this case. A couple of times I started up a separate blog intending to put longer stuff there but didn’t use it enough or try to promote it really, and it sat there. This should have been a warning.

I never wanted to leave LJ, despite its “uncool” teen-angst image. It was a great platform for us, and a decent place to write. I had a built-in audience and a lot of daily reading for myself. But LJ started to get weird. Its ownership got passed around a few times, and the infrastructure and policies looked wobblier every day. When it was inhaled by an opaque Russian company it was looking like a worse and worse place to do anything a person might care about.

So, I made a WordPress blog and slurped up all the old LJ posts into it, and kept going here.

Whoops!

The social element is gone. Comments are rare and telegraphic. If I send a link to a friend I’ll get friendly and useful responses. Syndication to Facebook gets comments there. When comments are enabled on the syndication to the old LJ I get some responses from my friends there. But in general the thing is just dead. Traffic is awful.

As a result, I don’t write as much either. I never had too much invested in a big audience (good thing, because I didn’t have one!) but without any audience at all… Well, it’s like doing a late night shift on a radio station nobody hears. (Another story.) It’s boring and a little depressing.

I wasn’t the only one to abandon LJ, but it looks like most of the others went to Facebook for ephemera and socializing. That makes sense because the whole world is on FB, and because people don’t like uncool things (LJ). A lot of LJ’s benefits, like semi-anonymity and great filtering for audiences, are gone. But if your friends aren’t there, it’s not a social network, so, that’s the end of that.

Part of me wants to go back to LJ, but it’s not the same thing now. Mostly I want to keep the energy going with my own little thing, because I want to write and I need to control where it lives. Perhaps enforced write-every-day discipline would help.

In any case, I trashed something useful. LiveJournal was a good audience of friends and strangers and a wonderful conversation space, where I learned more about public writing than I had working full-time at a newspaper. Where did we go wrong? In any case, I met a lot (more than 50) of great new people I still have to talk to.

Anyway that’s how I killed my blog. If you’re reading this, something must be terribly wrong.

Nostalgia and Paperwork: How LJ is like AOL

The LJ mess over censorship gives me flashbacks to AOL in the 90s.

I used to do “remote staff” work for AOL, semi-volunteer stuff. A few years were spent on the chat patrol, and later I had a full-time job for another company that included a lot of message board and chat management. I was doing this work in some way or another from 1990 to 1995.

During this time, AOL grew from a small business to a huge one. In parallel, the community of users started as a town and ended as a nation. It all happened way too fast. Growth rates of dotcom companies and online communities are a cliche now, but this was the first time, and no one knew what to do or even what was happening.

The community standards of discourse, including what was out of bounds in public communication, suffered. People with limited social experience and no background in language or youth culture suddenly had to make decisions about what was appropriate in chat, on message boards, everywhere. Staffers were supposed to chide people who broke the rules or knock them offline, but the rules kept changing. Meanwhile, so many people were pouring in that the variety of possible problems was disorienting. It was hard to get any consensus about community standards when the community was doubling in size every month. The lists of unapproved words and phrases and activities grew long and ridiculous. I wish I still had some of those lists.

Nervous chat monitors and board supervisors were presented with social and linguistic issues beyond their knowledge. GLBT people were booted for discussing their lifestyle outside GLBT forums. Discussions about the role of drug use in society were knocked offline for “drug use promotion.” The rules were applied inexpertly and unevenly, and some staffers appeared to make up their own. The flood of teenaged users brought a whole new set of problems: minors mixing with adults, incomprehensible teen culture, suicide threats.

The situation was handled poorly. Years of arbitrary decisions, ignorance, dissembling, and prejudice went by. By 1994, anyone on “chat patrol” was completely snowed under with constant reports of rule-breaking. It was impossible to catch up and clearly pointless to try.

In the end the problem was solved with money. The company had grown so much that they hired good attorneys, professional senior managers, and more people inhouse to deal with community management issues. Bad behavior that presented a legal threat was still pursued, but they wisely gave up most attempts at regulating discourse in a gigantic community.

LJ is right at that breaking point. They’ve become huge, and there’s no village any more. Large groups within LJ have their own community standards, and don’t appreciate regulation from outsiders who don’t understand the context of discussion. Pranksters and civil libertarians will test the limit of any rule. Outside pressure groups will demand the impossible, and news media will report on anything that looks odd and give it a lurid tabloid spin.

People who enjoy blogging and are good at computers can build services like LJ and make them a roaring success. These aren’t necessarily the right people to manage a community the size of a city. They will be inconsistent, arbitrary, socially inept, prejudiced, anxious, and worst of all ignorant.

LJ needs some people with professional expertise in communities and the law. They need one or more attorneys with a very good understanding of the civil and criminal liabilities of a company like this. And they need a sociologist or its near equivalent who can grasp the nature of LJ’s culture and subcultures without reflexively applying standards that don’t make sense.

Most of all they need to be consistent, which is the first thing the attorney or sociologist is likely to tell them.

With luck it won’t take three years the way it did for AOL.

But what about the Kottonmouth Kings?

I get the best anon comments. Today’s reader mail:

ok ICP N juggalo$ iN geNeral r the oNly ppl with ballz enough 2 $ay wat they have 2 $ay. N they aiNt a baNd! N if they r $o bad theN they wouldNt have made $o much fukiN mmoNey N they got famou$ from lo$erz like u who bad mouth them $o go ahead keep talkiN yo $hit cuz thatz wat makez them famou$. but u $hould really li$teN to their mu$ic b4 u talk $hit ok. thanx MMFCL haha

From this post: http://substitute.livejournal.com/446376.html?style=mine

where is that dynamo coming from? ?

This is mesmerizing:

Grafik Dynamo is a net art work by Kate Armstrong & Michael Tippett that loads live images from blogs and news sources on the web into a live action comic strip. The work is currently using a feed from LiveJournal. The images are accompanied by narrative fragments that are dynamically loaded into speech and thought bubbles and randomly displayed. Animating the comic strip using dynamic web content opens up the genre in a new way: Together, the images and narrative serve to create a strange, dislocated notion of sense and expectation in the reader, as they are sometimes at odds with each other, sometimes perfectly in sync, and always moving and changing. The work takes an experimental approach to open ended narrative, positing a new hybrid between the flow of data animating the work and the formal perameter that comprises its structure.