Editorial: Missing Interests and Planned User Strike on Livejournal
Melissa WilsonView all articles by Melissa Wilson
Then came this past weekend. Again, sharp-eyed users noticed a problem. This time, certain words were no longer showing up in the site's "Most Popular Interests" list. Among the missing interests: "depression," "bisexuality," "faeries," and "fanfiction." The interests in question appear to have been blocked after 2/28/08, according to one user's cache of the data.
Firefox News contacted SUP's corporate office and were told by a spokesperson: "Regarding the possible censorship of certain lists, this appears to be a technical issue. LJ is trying to fix this at the moment." As of this writing (and checked as of earlier today) those interests have been restored to the list. No reason was given from SUP as to the nature of the technical problem, leading some to speculate that an ad-monitoring program may have been the culprit; no use putting ads on that page if the program grabs the wrong keywords, after all.
However, despite the fix, users are displeased. Livejournal users are an eccentric, cantankerous lot, not quite as mainstream as MySpace or Facebook users (though of course, many of us have accounts there as well). Many Livejournal users were lured onto the site by friends who told us: "It's free.
During previous debacles (Nipplegate, Strikethrough, etc.) users have shown their displeasure in visible fashions. Nipplegate (aka LJ suddenly decided breastfeeding icons were obscene) prompted users to delete their journals for a day. Strikethrough saw an exodus of users to other journaling sites. This time, the planned protest is a content outage. On March 21st, for twenty-four hours (midnight to midnight GMT), many LJ users are going to simply not post, not comment, and not access the site. Since the previous protests appeared to have little effect on LJ's policies (other than to convince Six Apart to sell the whole thing off and get rid of the troublemakers from within and without) this will likely be symbolic at best. Nevertheless, we wish the protesters the best of luck.
The purchase of Livejournal by a Russian-owned company raised questions at the time of SUP's commitment to LJ's long-standing relationship with its user community, for good and ill. The recent decision to drop the ad-free Basic account is "a business decision. It is, emphatically." It may however be a poor business decision, one made in the hopes of making a fast buck off the content provided by the users without understanding the background of those users' relationship with the site. The removal, for whatever reason, of possibly controversial interests gives users good reason to worry that we are not wanted on a site we helped make so popular. The restoration of those interests, allowing us our thoughts on yaoi once more, does not immediately restore our faith in the company, especially with the clandestine removal of the primary way in which most of us first came to the site (and then brought our friends).
In short, Livejournal users no longer feel like customers, but product, and that's bad business all around.
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