So. A few days ago, the blogging site LiveJournal announced a shiny new feature: the ability to cross-post journal entries and comments directly to Twitter and Facebook. From the tone of the post, LJ staff were clearly expecting to be showered with gratitude.
For those of you who squander spend time on those other social networks, we’ve just made it easier to stay in touch with your grandparents, forgotten acquaintances, and former bosses on Facebook and Twitter without having to leave the comfort of your LiveJournal home.
At the time of writing, there were 142 pages of comments to this News Update (over 10,000 comments) pretty much unanimously condemning this move. The Twitter part hasn’t disturbed the users, but the Facebook part has completely exploded in LJ’s corporate, er, face.
The main complaint? Cross-posting creates a huge privacy glitch. Someone who had Facebook Connect enabled could apparently cross-post a comment to their Facebook, even when commenting on someone else’s locked-down journal. True, Facebook friends wouldn’t be able to see the whole locked journal entry, but they could read the comment title and then poke around.
The thing is, that while Facebook has persuaded most users to adopt real-life identities, Livejournal is very different. The vast majority of LJ users have usernames, not real names. It’s very common to have pictorial avatars and icons, rather than a personal photograph. Many LJ bloggers lock all or some of their entries, in order to emote more precisely about all manner of subjects from My Chemical Romance to how much grief they are getting from their distant relatives, their boss and their Facebook friends.
Cleolinda Jones, who maintains a popular blog on LJ, has researched the effect of the cross-posting, and yes, it’s a privacy black hole. Not because it reveals you immediately, but because anyone with a little talent at triangulation could begin to identify the Facebooker’s LJ friend.
Livejournal, like Bebo, Myspace and other journal-style sites, is losing out to Facebook and Facebook-like practices. It’s not trendy, if it ever was, and a search for stories about this particular user backlash gets one hit on Google News. (In contrast, the story about World of Warcraft’s attempt to get users to adopt real-life names gets 13.5 million hits and a story in The Economist).
What is particularly telling is that while LJ alerted its users 5 days ago, there has been virtually no management comment, other than a short update to the original news item.
Update: Thank you for taking the time to offer your honest feedback. We understand and appreciate your desire for privacy. We share your concerns. Most of us would not want to publish our LiveJournal usernames or FO (friends-only) comments to Facebook or Twitter either (to the extent we even use them). Please give us a little time to address your concerns. We are listening, and we’ll do our best to respond.
What, said the commenters, is the point of launching a feature which you already know your users will hate? Unless it’s a done deal…
Commenters are beginning to move from earnest argument to vitriol and cat macros.
It’s been five days, now. Five days. Fucking irresponsible. Disgusting. Lazy. Careless. Idiot. Fatcat. Bastards.
One of the interesting things about the user feedback is not only the emphatic rejection of moves which would threaten privacy (and we’re talking about a service that users may pay for) but also the visceral dislike and mistrust of Facebook culture. Facebook is indeed for the public face – but many users want to keep an alternative service like LiveJournal that preserves an odd semi-public, semi-private internet space. Even if such spaces are going the way of the chatroom.
I’m personally sad about the move. I’ve been on LJ since 2004, happily yakking about books, film and TV to an assorted collection of geek friends. I am still hoping that the wilder elements will be thrown out (like the persistent tick-boxes under comments that invite you to cross-post to Facebook and Twitter, which still show up, albeit in grayed-out form, even when Facebook Connect is switched off).
If Facebook is the office, Twitter is the cocktail bar and Livejournal is the cosy pub where you talk to old friends about inconsequential stuff and deep feelings. I’m fearful of anything which continues to roll out Facebook’s monolithic approach to internet culture: there’s enough of it already. Plenty of room for something different; but I’m not sure the site owners see it that way.