Aug. 12th, 2007

lurkitty: (Awaken)
"Overall, I'd rather be in Philadelphia."

Comedian W.C. Fields had a running routine about Philadelphia being the worst city on earth. Though he was cremated and has no headstone, folk history tells us the above words are his epitaph.

Out of the free-thinking society of upper left coast geekdom (a mentality I understand intimately), our founder, [livejournal.com profile] brad open-sourced a social network to keep in touch with his friends. The tool was so unobtrusive and adaptable that it drew run-of-the-mill geeks faster than an espresso cafe with free wifi (the purist programming elite tended to eschew such nonsense, preferring to program their own sites in Perl in front of their workingEMACS altar on a UNIX platform. Bloggers, on the other hand, considered themselves journalists and maintain independent websites for readers rather than communities). Here, the average geek found hir niche: a community with the ten or twelve other people in the world who actually recalled that there was a TV show called Tales of the Gold Monkey in the 1980's and fell in love with Sarah Stickney White.

Not only was it possible to interact and write fanfiction with other Monkiacs, but one could indulge the entire diversity of one's interests and keep them separate. It was unnecessary for your Baptist friends to know that you are a Furry; through the skillful use of filtered flists, or even separate journals, your presence on LJ could be as open or discrete as you desired.

These features, and the fact that it is accessed on a computer from the comfort of one's own room, make LiveJournal very attractive to people who have difficulty getting along in a real life social settings. It is possible to be beautiful, glib, sexy and popular online while being plain, anxious, unappealing and lonely in real life. One's online social network can become far more real and far more important than the outside world. When one's friends are pre-sorted to share interests and philosophies, it becomes far easier to connect and far easier to break the barriers and become friends.

People write about their feelings, facilitated by a pull-down menu of moods. They reveal intimacies they have not revealed to real-life friends. The journal itself, like a diary, becomes a friend, and private entries are made speaking directly to that n+1th friend on one's friends list; the one that always understands, the one that never, ever tells anyone else about the fact that you think your friend's relationship is utterly doomed but you can't do anything about it because your friend has to fall off that cliff and learn her own lesson.

More than a diary, though, the journal serves as a place for attempts at writing prose, poems, articles, or showing art or photography. Comments may include little impromptu bits, off-the-cuff declarations of love, songs, sonnets, or doodles.

The users of LiveJournal, in their joy and reverie, have romped and played through the years as though they were in their homes and have forgotten that they were customers. Six Apart bought what they thought was a business, but, instead, ended up with servers full of over a million private lives. Lives that users were very attached to, thank-you-very-much. The first inkling the users had that there was something wrong was when Six Apart brought in advertisers.

There the users were, cavorting naked in their bedrooms, and men in suits peered into the windows.

Six Apart thought it had bought a respectable business. There were people having sex with minors in front of open windows.

Six Apart smote them. It bulldozed the whole neighborhood.

The users stopped cavorting. They screamed that not everything that was bulldozed was wrong. It seemed Six Apart heard something, because they started to rebuild the neighborhood.

Then, they drew lines and killed the presence of two users on LJ. Six Apart thinks that it has banned two customers. To the users, Six Apart has committed the equivalent of murder by erasing all traces of the online existence of the two people.

A shudder is running through the community. These are people used to being shunned, of being strung along by supposed friends and then cut off in the most embarrassing situation possible. A network that attracts social outcasts suddenly turns and begins a purge. That is the stuff of nightmares.

It really doesn't matter why the decision was taken in the first place. What matters is that there was no warning. What matters is that there is a persistent perception among the users that it could happen to any of US. We could be erased!

That amounts to a public relations nightmare that Six Apart is repeatedly failing to deal with or acknowledge.

All over my friends list, people are creating journals elsewhere in preparation for the day they are TOSed. Many of them are not even involved in fandom of any sort and wouldn't think of posting porn of any sort. What will their epitaph be?

"Overall, I'd rather be on LiveJournal."

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August 2011

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