LiveJournal was started on April 15, 1999 by American programmer Brad Fitzpatrick as a way of keeping his high school friends updated on his activities. In January 2005, blogging software company Six Apart purchased Danga Interactive, the company that operated LiveJournal, from Fitzpatrick.
Six Apart sold LiveJournal to Russian media company SUP Media in 2007; the service continued to operate out of the U.S. via a California-based subsidiary, LiveJournal, Inc., but began moving some operations to Russian offices in 2009. In December 2016, the service re-located its servers to Russia, and in April 2017, LiveJournal changed its terms of service to conform to Russian law. A wide variety of political pundits also use the service for political commentary, particularly in Russia, where it partners with the online newspaper Gazeta.ru. As with many other social networks, a wide variety of public figures use the network.
The unit of social networking on LiveJournal is quaternary (with four possible states of connection between one user and another). Two users can have no relationship, they can list each other as friends mutually, or either can "friend" the other without reciprocation. On LiveJournal, "friend" is also used as a verb to describe listing someone as a friend.
The term "friend" on LiveJournal is mostly a technical term; however, because the term "friend" is emotionally loaded for many people, there have been discussions in such LiveJournal communities as lj_dev and lj_biz, as well as suggestions about whether the term should be used in this way.
A user's list of friends (friends list, often shortened to flist) will often include several communities and RSS feeds in addition to individual users. Generally, "friending" allows the friends of a user to read protected entries and causes the friends' entries to appear on the user's "friends page." Friends can also be grouped together in "friends groups," allowing for more complex behavior.
Currently, LiveJournal in the United States has 10 million monthly uniques, 30 million monthly visitors, and 170 million pageviews. As with most weblogs, people can comment on each other's journal entries and create a message board-style thread of comments – each comment can be replied to individually, starting a new thread. All users, including non-paying users, can set various options for comments: they can instruct the software to only accept comments from those on their friends list or block anonymous comments (meaning only LiveJournal users can comment on their posts). They can also screen various types of comments before they are displayed, or disable commenting entirely. Users can also have replies sent directly to their registered e-mail address.
In addition, LiveJournal acts as host to group journals, dubbed "communities" (frequently abbreviated as comms). Anyone who joins a community can make posts to it as they would on a regular journal; communities also have "maintainers", ordinary users who run the community and oversee membership and moderation.
LiveJournal community is a collective blog in which different users can post messages. Users who are interested in a particular subject can find or create a community for this subject. All the users of the communities are divided into:
Some areas of LiveJournal rely heavily on user contributions and volunteer efforts. In particular, the LiveJournal Support area is run almost entirely by unpaid volunteers. Similarly, the website is translated into other languages by volunteers, although this effort is running down due to a perceived lack of involvement from the LiveJournal administration.
The development of the LiveJournal software has seen extensive volunteer involvement in the past. In February and March 2003, there was an effort, nicknamed the Bazaar, to boost volunteer performance by offering money in return for "wanted" enhancements or improvements. The Bazaar was intended to follow a regular monthly pay-out scheme, but it ended up paying out only once, after which it was neglected by the management, and shut down one year later.
Nowadays, voluntary contributions to the software are considered for inclusion less and less as the company has acquired more and more paid employees who focus on the organization's commercial interests. This has led to the formation of several forks, many of which introduce new features that users would like to see, especially features that are brought up repeatedly in LiveJournal's own suggestions journal.
In some cases legal and administrative concerns have led LiveJournal to prohibit some people from volunteering.
As of November 2012[update], 39,663,771 accounts exist on LiveJournal, with 1,790,795 listed as "active in some way." Of those users who provided their date of birth, the majority were in the 17–25 age group, with an exceptionally large group of 32-year-olds. Among the users specifying their gender in their profile, 45% of those accounts identified as male, and 55% as female. 20% of accounts did not specify a gender.
LiveJournal is most popular in English-speaking countries (although there is a language selection feature), and the United States has by far the most LiveJournal users among users who choose to list a location. There is also a sizable Russian contingent. LiveJournal is the largest online community on the Runet, with about 45% of all entries in the Russian blogosphere. According to Alexa Internet 50% of LiveJournal's audience is located in Russia.
Frank the Goat is LiveJournal's mascot. During the early years of the site, Frank was treated like an actual living being by much of the LiveJournal userbase, and his brief "biography" as well as his "journal" reflect this.
Sometimes, callers to LiveJournal's Voice Post service are informed "Frank the Goat appreciates your call." This occurs randomly.
A weekly comic about Frank, written and drawn by cartoonist Ryan Estrada, is updated every Thursday on the "Frank: The Comic Strip" community on LiveJournal. As of July 2009 the community has roughly 8,000 members, and is watched by more than 7,000 LiveJournal users.
Beginning at the end of January 2010, LiveJournal's weekly news posts included references to Frank's life, becoming works of short fiction at the end of February. These pieces are often tied to weekly virtual gift promotions, where commenters that meet a certain criterion will receive a free v-gift sent by Frank.
LiveJournal provides an option intended to reduce the chances of search engines indexing a journal; however, the only way to make it completely impossible for such indexing to occur is to set the entry security to "friends only" or higher when first posting the entry. If an entry is first posted publicly, and then edited to reflect a higher security level, it may have already been indexed by a search engine in the time between the security edit. The popular "friends only" security option, which has since been adopted by Xanga and Myspace, hides a post from the general public so that only those on the user's friends list can read it. Some users keep all their posts friends-only (except for a single post explaining that the journal is friends-only). Still, such features as tags and userpics cannot be hidden. LiveJournal also allows users to create custom user groups within their group of friends to further restrict who can read any particular post, and to allow reading of subsets of a user's friends list.
LiveJournal additionally has a "private" security option which allows users to make a post that only the poster can read, thus making their LiveJournal a private diary rather than a blog. It is also possible to choose a default security setting for one's journal, so that all entries are posted at that security level by default even if one forgets to alter the security setting at the time of posting.
Users may restrict who can comment on their posts in addition to who has the ability to read their posts. Comments on a given entry may be allowed from anyone who can read the entry or restricted. Commenting may be restricted by disabling commenting altogether or by screening comments. Screened comments are visible only to the original posters until the journal owner approves the comment. These restrictions can be applied to just anonymous users, users who aren't listed as a friend, or everyone. The IP address of commenters can be logged as well if the journal owner wishes to enable it.
An option allows users to hide their "friend of" list from public view, but leaves the list visible to the user. In this case, only the friends list is shown. When "friend of" is allowed, journal accounts who have friended the user and who are also friended are listed in neither "friend of" nor 'friend", but rather a third category, "mutual friends". This was eventually made a separate option, like the "friend of" list, and reworded so that the lists would have to be selected to include them in a profile, rather than to select an option to remove them.
LiveJournal lists that users can hide communities from their profile page by not friending them (friended communities are "watched") and by either banning the community from posting in their journal (which has no effect since they cannot anyway, but does remove them from the "member of" list) or by removing the "friend of" list, which removes the "member of" list in addition to the "friend of" list.
LiveJournal allows paid account users to change privacy settings on past entries in bulk. Basic and plus accounts do not have an official web-based method, and normally must manually change such settings one by one; some third party clients, such as Livejournal Visibility Changer, provide this functionality for non-paid users.
Communities can also be private, with moderated or closed membership, when community holders give users different level of access to the content, based on the information about the user.
While LiveJournal permits adult-oriented content, it is a user's responsibility to mark content as inappropriate for minors. There are two types of adult content:
Labeling as adult material does not convey in any way that this content is considered obscene, in the legal definition of the term. Such content should be marked in order to be shown only to users whose birth dates on their user information page indicate that they are over the age of 18. At the same time the user itself can set own preferences in viewing adult content settings in order not to receive such materials. All users are defaulted to Moderate Filtering in the Safe Search Filter, but can change this option.
It is written in the LiveJournal rules that if the content is reported as being offensive or inappropriate, LiveJournal has the right to flag, restrict access, or delete it at any time without notice.
Oh No They Didn't, also known as ONTD, is the most popular community on LiveJournal, with over 100,000 members. The community's primary interest is celebrity gossip, and most of its posts are taken and sourced from other gossip blogs. In the end of January 2009, Oh No They Didn't! was the first LiveJournal to surpass 16,777,216 comments (224), effectively breaking LiveJournal's previously undocumented limit on comments. This resulted in almost a week of downtime for the community, while LiveJournal worked to fix the issue.
In April 2010, the Oh No They Didn't community was moved to its own database cluster to improve site performance for all users, due to its size and the amount of traffic it was receiving.
LiveJournal's parent company, Danga Interactive, was formed and held entirely by Brad Fitzpatrick. He sold the company to Six Apart in 2005. Rumors of the impending sale were first reported by Business 2.0 journalist Om Malik in January, 2005. Fitzpatrick confirmed the sale, and insisted the site's core principles would not be discarded by the new ownership.
LiveJournal became extremely popular in Russia. The Russian translation of LiveJournal – ЖЖ (ZheZhe, which stands for Живой Журнал) – has become a genericized trademark for blogging in Russia, and the community boasts something close to 700,000 Russian LiveJournals, perhaps 300,000 of them active.
Six Apart licensed the LiveJournal brand to the Russian company SUP Media in August 2006. The deal was brokered with the assistance of founder Brad Fitzpatrick. However, expatriated Russians have expressed concerns, citing links between the company and state security. Some have also worried that SUP's purchasing of the community was less to make a profit and more to curtail or even dissolve the strong independent Russian blogging community, silencing dissent the government found inconvenient. These concerns started with the licensing deal, and have grown with the announcement of the sale.
Anton Nosik, an advisor to SUP Media, in a March 2008 interview, accused LiveJournal users of "trying to scare and blackmail us, threatening to destroy our business," and stated that a large class of users have as their only purpose bringing harm to LiveJournal and its owners; "their goal is to criticize, destabilize and ruin our reputation." In the interview, he predicted that his likely reaction to such pressure would be to retaliate against the users rather than bowing to their pressure.
SUP stated that LiveJournal would maintain the majority of its operations in the United States via the local subsidiary LiveJournal, Inc. However, in January 2009 the firm laid off some employees and moved product development and design functions to Russia. In December 2016, LiveJournal moved to servers hosted in Russia, and in April 2017 it changed its terms of service to conform to Russian law and to be written (in their official form) only in the Russian language.
From September 2, 2001, until December 12, 2003, the growth of LiveJournal was checked by an "invite code" system. This curbing of membership was necessitated by a rate of growth faster than the server architecture could handle. New users were required to either obtain an invite code from an existing user or buy a paid account (which reverted to a free account at the expiration of the period of time paid for). The invite code system serendipitously reduced abuse on the site by deterring people from creating multiple throw-away accounts. The invite code system was lifted after a number of major improvements to the overall site architecture.
Elimination of the invite code system was met with mixed feelings and some opposition. LiveJournal's management pointed out that the invite code system was always intended to be temporary.
The dual usage of "friend" as those whose journals one reads, and those one trusts to read one's own journal, has been criticized for being at odds with everyday use of the term. The individual users on a user's friends list may contain a mixture of people met through real world friendships, online friendships and general interests, as well as courtesy friendships where a user has "friended" someone who friended them. A friends list may represent something entirely unrelated to social relationships, such as a reading list, a collection or a puzzle.
The difference between online and real-world friendships is sometimes a source of conflict, hurt feelings, and other misunderstandings. LiveJournal friendships are not necessarily mutual; any user can befriend or "defriend" any other user at any time.
In the Russian LiveJournal community, the word френд ("friend", an English borrowing) is often used to describe this relationship instead of the native Russian word "друг" ("droog") that translates to "friend".
As LiveJournal has grown, it has had to deal with issues involving the content it hosts. Like most web logging hosts, it has adopted a basic Terms of Service. The Terms of Service simultaneously expresses a desire for free speech by the users while outlining impermissible conduct such as spamming, copyright violation, harassment, etc. LiveJournal created an Abuse Prevention Team and processes to handle claims about violations of the Terms of Service, violations of copyright, violations of the law, and other issues. There is an ability for a user to report an entry as "spam", and it is a user's responsibility to separate spamming and bot activity from actual violations while reporting.
If the Abuse Prevention Team determines that a violation has occurred, the user will be either required to remove the infringing material (as in the case of copyright violations); the journal will be suspended until such time as the material can be removed (e.g., posting of home addresses or other various contact information of another); or, in cases of severe or multiple violations, the journal will be suspended (e.g., account hijacking, multiple instances of copyright violation, child pornography). The offending user is notified by email of any journal suspension or, if any offending material must be removed, the user is given a deadline for its removal. When a journal is suspended, it effectively removes from sight everything the user has written on LiveJournal, including comments in other people's journals; however, the user is able to download the material while suspended. Those suspended users who have paid for LiveJournal's service do not have payments refunded.
A small controversy arose in November 2004 when a policy document used by the Abuse Prevention Team was leaked to a group of its critics before it was due to be released. The policy document has since been officially released.
Another controversy arose when users complained after an unknown number of users were asked to remove default user pictures containing images of breast feeding that were considered inappropriate as they contained a view of nipples or areolae. The incident attracted the attention of breast feeding advocacy groups such as Pro-Mom who publicized the issue to gain larger media awareness. LiveJournal responded by changing the FAQ on appropriate content for default user pictures. The current FAQ 111 says that nudity is not appropriate in default user pictures; the original FAQ 111 said that graphic sexual content was not appropriate. Breastfeeding pictures were not restricted by the original FAQ, and the current FAQ reflects the fact that they are only restricted from use as a default user picture. Breastfeeding pictures are still allowed as user pictures that may be manually chosen while posting but may not be the default.
In January 2006 the site had to make emergency changes to the way the site hosts user accounts due to a web browser-side security vulnerability. The hacker group responsible was later identified as "Bantown". Approximately 900,000 accounts were at risk.
In April 2006, LiveJournal announced it was introducing a new user type that gave free users some of the features available to paid members in exchange for ad sponsorship. This user type was initially called Sponsored+, but was later renamed to Plus.
This announcement was met with a whirlwind of controversy. Between April 2004 and January 2005, one of LiveJournal's Social Contract promises stated the site would, "Stay advertisement free." The Social Contract went on to say, "It may be because it's one of our biggest pet peeves, or it may be because they don't garner a lot of money, but nonetheless, we promise to never offer advertising space in our service or on our pages."
Another ad-related controversy occurred in June 2006, when ads for Kpremium began installing malware and triggering pop-up ads on Australian and Western European users' computers, against the LiveJournal ad guidelines. LiveJournal responded by removing the advertisement from the website and issuing an apology to its users.
In March 2008, LiveJournal discontinued the ability for new users to select the "basic" level of journal, which allowed for a minimal set of features with no advertising at no cost. However, in August of the same year, the company reversed the decision, reviving "basic" service as a manual, post-registration downgrade. However, the resumed basic service level is no longer ad-free: advertisements are displayed when readers who are not logged into livejournal view postings on a basic account.
Advertisement in LiveJournal is based on the user's preferable categories, gender, age, location, interests, or a small portion of public page contents. Ads are targeted according to information about the author, the viewer, and LiveJournal's ad preferences as a whole. Users can choose the preferences in their settings among five or more categories of advertising, including Art & Humanities, Cars & Wheels, Books & Reading, Charities, Home & Hobbies, Housing, Internet & Media etc. It is not possible to completely remove the advertisement other than by upgrading to a Paid Account.
As part of changes made in April 2017, Livejournal eliminated the ability of paid contributors to prevent ads being shown to their readers. Instead, LiveJournal began showing ads on all pages, including postings by paid contributors, unless the reader of the page was also a logged-in paid contributor.
In May 2007, LiveJournal suspended approximately 500 accounts and communities, causing what CNET referred to as a "revolt" from "thousands of LiveJournal customers", after a number of activist groups, including one named Warriors for Innocence, reported pedophilic material on its website.
According to Six Apart chairman and chief executive Barak Berkowitz, "We did a review of our policies related to how we review those sites, those journals, and came up with the fact that we actually did have a number of journals up that we didn't think met our policies and didn't think they were appropriate to have up". In a subsequent posting to the LiveJournal news community, he apologized, discussed some of the circumstances behind the suspensions, and indicated that the suspended journals would be reviewed and potentially brought back online. In particular, he noted that Livejournal's normal practice of reviewing suspensions and notifying suspended account holders had not been followed:
[T]hese journals were suspended for easily correctable problems [...] [T]his was not communicated to the journal or community owners at all. [T]hese journals were taken down before review could be completed to avoid mistakes.
Most of the backlash was from fan fiction writers whose communities and personal journals were among those suspended, seemingly because they listed interests such as "incest" or "non-con" (short for non-consensual). Although these communities did not necessarily encourage illegal behavior, it has been reported that there was no further investigation into the content of these journals.
Beyond merely fan communities, many were initially upset that communities entirely unrelated to anything but the discussion, sometimes therapeutic and other times literary, of rape or child molestation were among those suspended.
On May 31, 2007, Berkowitz released a statement to the LiveJournal news community announcing that Six Apart was currently in the process of unsuspending about half of suspended journals. The journals being reinstated fell into fandom or fiction categories or were journals that were suspended for problems related only to the contents of their profiles. In an earlier interview with news.com, he had stated that he would be "shocked" if "more than a dozen" journals would be reinstated.
As previously announced, SUP Media, the latest owners of LiveJournal, decided to create an Advisory Board to help it make decisions. The first members were distinguished people in the areas of law and technology, danah boyd, Esther Dyson, Lawrence Lessig, and the original LiveJournal founder, Brad Fitzpatrick. SUP announced two other members would be appointed from the LiveJournal userbase, one Russian and one English speaking. The English speaking election was marred with accusations of ballot stuffing, conflicts of interest, and multiple death threats. The developer who wrote the poll software running the election called the ballot stuffing plausible.
LiveJournal was the victim of several DDoS attacks in 2011. The first attack on March 30 took down the site for several hours. The attack is reported to be the largest DDoS attack against LiveJournal since the site's creation. A second attack continued through April 4 and 5, causing service disruption for some users. A third attack in July caused the site to be unavailable for several hours at a time for a week. On December 2, 2011 another attack was recorded, with LiveJournal's status blog acknowledging it as such. Of the attacks, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev commented in April 2011 that "what has occurred should be examined by LiveJournal's administration and law enforcement agencies."
In 2007 Russian blogger Savva Terentyev was accused of fomenting social hatred to the staff of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and sentenced to one year probation due to his comment in the blog of a local journalist. Later another number of individuals were accused of calling for extremist activity, libel and incitement of interethnic hatred.
In October 2010, LiveJournal was blocked in Kazakhstan by court order due to blogs containing extremist content. In March 2012, Uzbekistan began blocking LiveJournal. Although the home page and many of the advertised articles remained accessible, blogs contributed by certain well-known authors couldn’t be accessed from Uzbekistan.
Additionally, only the Russian-language version of the terms of service are considered legally-binding. The new terms prompted wide concern from users who believed that their content would now be targeted under Russian censorship policies, including the country's "gay propaganda" law.
The software running LiveJournal is primarily written in Perl. It was open source software under the GNU General Public License until 2014, when LiveJournal closed their official source code repository to the public; the license continues to apply to the old code from before this change. Because it is open source software, many other communities have been designed using the LiveJournal software, with very similar features and formats to LiveJournal itself. However, they often have different terms of service than LiveJournal's, making them attractive to users who have become disenchanted with LiveJournal's rules and wish to move their journals to other hosts.
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