So, as you may have heard, Six Apart have bought Danga Inc. and with them, LiveJournal. My conclusion is that, in the long term, this is likely to make LiveJournal technically better but distinctly less cool.
LJ founder brad has commented that this post by evan is a very well-placed one, which is disappointing. Apparently brad has hated running the web site for a considerable period of time and considered shutting it down. I'm disappointed to hear this, and disappointed to hear this now rather than some time ago. For instance, I asked questions to this end in the 2003-4 State Of The Goat and discovered that everyone is happy, which seems not to be the full truth. Likewise, a similar enquiry in the 2004-5 State Of The Goat again reveals purported happiness. Even if brad is the only unhappy one and everyone else is happy to work at LJ, it's Brad's state of mind that matters and it's Brad's state of mind that I'm disappointed not to have been told about. I guess Brad and company are only protecting their own interests, but I'm disappointed that they weren't able to feel open and honest to the point of telling the whole truth to the LJ world at large.
The well-placed rahaeli points out that the Terms of Service have changed and the changes to the Terms of Service are available and apparently very close to being purely cosmetic. Possibly more worrying are the changes from the Social Contract to the Guiding Principles and Six Apart's admission that they are out to try to make money from the LJ product.
Part of the reason why LJ was cool is that it was just Brad's overgrown personal project; while Danga Inc. has always been for-profit, Brad has always been very conservative about spending money, people have been paid peanuts for working on the web site and there has been a very strong volunteer emphasis on the development of the site. At the very least, the staff move from Portland to San Francisco will mean that the staff need to be paid more simply because the Bay Area costs more to live in than Portland. We like Brad and want him to make millions of dollars. We only have people's word for it that the people who set to make millions of dollars from LJ these days are similarly nice. (A Friend poses the question Friends-only as to whether there might be a clause in the agreement to stop Six Apart selling LJ on to one of the giants in time, which is surely a real possibility.)
The new owners are likely to improve LJ technically, not least by virtue of having lots of staff in areas where LJ is currently weak and further staff who can add further functionality to the site - the functionality which might make LJ be considered a prominent member of the blogosphere rather than a walled garden apart from everyone else. Additionally, I suspect they will be able to improve LJ's image, both among the blogging world at large and the world at large. There's also the intriguing thought about whether Six Apart might want to make further acquisitions - say if they were to pick up the millions of Xanga users as well and work on increasing interoperability then that could be something really special. In addition, brad will be able to work on his choice of projects, rather than being forced to work on LJ when it makes him miserable, or at least the aspects of LJ that make him miserable. I dare say that LJ's new owners may be better at setting policy than LJ were, too - no more announcements that are countermanded in a day or two, if only because there'll be more consultation first. We hope.
So, all told, it's a win-win-win, right? I don't know. It's just not the same and the fact that it has come so far from such a low level is very cool. This is a new era, and the new era can't be as cool as the old one - unless the new owners prove themselves to be cool. If Brad's announcement about 6A's intentions for the LJ code proves accurate, that's a good start. However, everything's up in the air, and that's just not cool, somehow. Of course coolness is an almost meaningless, hard-to-define term, but I really do think it's the one that applies here - the one that best conveys the aspect of vague dissatisfaction and disturbance to the hard-won sense of community spirit and freedom of expression almost to a fault (hello, close-to-the-knuckle communities). All of us who have invested way too much of ourselves in our LJs (hello!) and, perhaps more to the point, the friendships we have made through LJ have troubling times ahead. We live in interesting times...
To end on a positive note, I still think the LJ team (Brad, the staff, the volunteers, the posters...) at large are good folk. They have achieved so much that it cannot all be lost even with one big decision which might yet turn out to be catastrophic. For me, I can't anticipate that I'll be leaving LJ; if sufficiently many of you decide that you don't like the new ownership to the point that you won't even log into LJ to read any Friends-locked posts that I choose to open to you then I'll think again - and I suspect that's the only thing that could make me think about moving - but other than that, I suspect it's service as usual for the foreseeable future.