Sep 30, 2006

LiveJournal Sells Out

Which is fine but I think the community expected something different. LJ just announced Sponsored Communities and Sponsored Features. A Community on LJ is a group journal where anyone can post but there is a Maintainer who is in charge. For example the maintainer of the scienceofsleep Sponsored LJ Community, is a person or team who works at Warner Independent Pictures. It might be the same person or team that maintains scienceofsleep on MySpace or scienceofsleep on the Warner movie site.

A Sponsored Feature is a promotional partnership wrapped around a new tool or feature of LiveJournal. For example, LJers will be encouraged to "Hit the streets in style!" with MTV's Amp'd Mobile in return for an SMS-to-blog integration feature. The part that says "Hurry! This offer is for a limited time only!" refers to the pay-as-you-go offering from Amp'd, not the sponsored feature from LiveJournal.

It's taken LJ along time to come around to selling out but they finally did. Xanga has been cashing in or killing it in this arena for years to steal a phrase from Ted Rheingold of Dogster, which by the way, is best-of-breed when it comes to delivering sponsorships that serve their community while delivering profit. Remember the 50th Anniversary DVD Release of Lady and The Tramp when Lady, Tramp, Jock, Trusty and Peg all got on Dogster and wanted to make friends? That was good stuff.

The thing is, I think LJers expected something different when the time finally came for parent company Six Apart, Ltd to make money from this community. Especially the paid members who were assured in writing that they "will never see any advertising on LiveJournal as long as they're logged in to their account." These users will learn about Amp'd Mobile's policy of "No credit checks, no bills, no promises to keep." but they might wonder if that bit about promises being kept is unique to Amp'd Mobile's marketing slogan. I wonder if LJ administrators could have taken more time to gather consensus from the community and come up with a different sponsorship model.

When Facebook suddenly announced new features that the community did not like, they told users to "calm down." Later, they were forced to apologize and deeply address the issue. Similarly, LJ announced this big news and received a resoundingly negative reaction. LJ representative rahaeli responded by suggesting to the users that they are confused and they need to understand that the new sponsorships are about getting "free stuff!" She went on to tell users "You don't have to use sponsored features" even though they have been asking for this particular feature for years and personally, she can't wait to use it.

2 comments:

anil said...

"sells out"? seriously? people still have this conversation?

Paid users *won't* see ads. See the update. I don't expect everyone who stumbles across the story from random web surfing to get it, but you know these communities and people well enough to know that it's more likely we make mistakes than that we're malicious. At least, I hope that's clear.

"When Facebook suddenly announced new features that the community did not like, they told users to "calm down." Later, they were forced to apologize and deeply address the issue."

Yep, and when LJ announced similar features, the consensus was pretty clear:

Thank you for not making this the clusterfuck that is Facebook's new tracking system. Haha I like how LJ gives the people the option not to track users every move, update etc... unlike facebooks minifeeds ...haha The emphasis on non-creepiness is all the more impressive when compared with Facebook's sudden move in the same direction which completely ignored selectivity/privacy. Thank you!

And those are all just from the first few comments. I think it's a lot more valuable to do an apples-to-apples comparison. It's especially uncool to single out Denise (Rahaeli) -- you know *exactly* how hard it can be to communicate all the nuances of a decision to a community of millions of passionate bloggers. I'm disappointed you used an opportunity to educate as a chance to take a dig.

You say, "The thing is, I think LJers expected something different when the time finally came for parent company Six Apart, Ltd to make money from this community."

LJ *has* done something different. Users can choose whether they want to have no ads, ads in exchange for features, or pay for features and see no ads. I don't see *anybody* offering that range of options. Sponsored content is clearly marked for users who have opted to see ads. And all of the technology that helps LiveJournal scale up is open-sourced, which helps support not just LJ and Vox, but Wikipedia, Digg, and um, Odeo.

Anyway, I do understand there was a lot of positive points in your post, but I think the title is inflammatory, irresponsibly so. You might not have a problem with "selling out", and frankly I don't much care what people accuse any of us of doing, but people who are outside the little world of blogging/social networking see "selling out" as a pretty horrible thing, and it just makes good people feel bad for no reason, or causes a community to be upset instead of helping all of us solve a problem.

I'd love to see a little more circumspection on this kind of discussion in the future, especially before it gets cross-posted and amplified on sites like TechCrunch, which aren't always exactly bastions of well-reasoned debate.

Biz said...

I responded to Anil's post with a whole new post instead of a comment. This has been an interesting post for me--lots of email and off-blog responses but only the one post from Anil.