Insomnia (insomnia) wrote,
Insomnia
insomnia

As goes Freevote, so goes LiveJournal...

One of the lesser-known tales in the whole mythological, selectively PR'ed history of LiveJournal/SixApart is the story of Freevote.com.

(Don't bother looking for Freevote online... it doesn't exist anymore.)

Freevote.com was, as Brad Fitzpatrick describes it, "my first web project back in like 1998 . . . where I learned so much about Perl, databases, users, communities, etc."

Freevote basically allowed teens to create online polls, which they could link their friends to, or link to from their websites. It really didn't have much of a community, but it did grow pretty well, and was already fairly established before Brad created LiveJournal.

Unlike LJ, freevote was really not a collaborative effort, and didn't have a strong community of users trying to look after its best interests... which probably goes a long way to explain why Brad first put ads on that site. That said, he was forced to use the ad-supplying vendors of the time, which didn't pay him as much money (or as high a percentage of the profits) as he would've liked.

This goes a long way to explain why, in/around Fall 2000, just as I was first getting involved in the operations of LiveJournal, Brad was interested in selling both LiveJournal and FreeVote to a dotcom. It also explains why Brad put banner ads on all free LiveJournal accounts at approximately the same time.

In late 2000, the dotcom collapse had already started, but it had temporarily stabilized, it appeared. At that time, Brad was approached by a dotcom whose business model was to buy up a ton of smaller sites, slap ads (or additional ads) all over them, cut costs by effectively axeing support and development, and call them part of "the ________ network" of sites.

Back then, it didn't seem to matter to most people that such businesses had a deeply flawed business model and little or no chance of becoming profitable. Profitablility was arguably never the intent of such businesses, as opposed to making unjustified salaries and building up their reputations, at the expense of overzealous dotcom investors, in the hope of the big "flip" -- selling the company to a bigger player for a ton of cash and stock options that were actually worth something.

Brad, upon seeing the offer he was given -- a mix of bucks, stock, and commissions -- almost immediately decided to sell the dotcom FreeVote.com. He almost sold the company LiveJournal as well, as he simply was tired of running it. Fortunately, a handful of LiveJournal's users/helpers, including myself, gave him feedback indicating our concern with the proposed sale, basically letting him know that LiveJournal's potential was much greater than that of freevote, and that both he and LiveJournal would be much better off in the long run if he didn't sell.

I also did some research on the stats, showing that Brad's addition of banner ads to LiveJournal was harming the site's growth by about 30%. (Why have a journal with banner ads when there were better alternatives, after all?)

So, Brad settled for selling FreeVote (and its community...) instead, and took the banner ads off of LiveJournal. He even promised the site's users to never use banner ads ever again. Instead, the goal would be to appeal to LiveJournal's users, and seek donations to expand the site and pay for the bandwidth. It was also generally decided that LiveJournal would move towards open sourcing its code, and seeking volunteers and coders to help improve the site and spread the work around.

Six months or so later, the dotcom that bought Freevote started defaulting on its commission payments to Brad and to several others who they bought their sites from. Many of the developers for these were pretty well-known in the webdesign world, and soon there were angry forum posts, etc. about how the dotcom was screwing over site developers by not honoring their contracts. Despite this, the dotcom in question kept trying to acquire new sites, offering up large stacks of worthless stock options in an attempt to get ahold of additional ad revenue, in the hope of postponing the inevitable. Like some kind of bad -- yet entirely legal -- pyramid scheme, the dotcom went out of business soon after.

Several months later, after more months of additional neglect, Freevote reverted back to Brad's control. Brad almost immediately gave it to a friend of his... gave pretty much being the operative word, as the site wasn't worth much anymore, its formerly active "community" having fled due to chronic neglect and one-too-many "punch the monkey" ad.

In Oct. 2003, Brad mentioned that freevote was dead on his weblog... and on Jan. 2005, Brad created a little-known, anonymous blog called i-hate.blogs.com, which is hosted by SixApart. (I presume he was using the blog to test out SixApart's service.) One of the very few posts Brad made on i-hate.blogs mentions that FreeVote was gone entirely, and had started forwarding to blogging.com. It has since become entirely inactive.

So, that brings us up to the present day, and this massive petition against the dumbing-down of LiveJournal, which is well on its way to over 5,000 signatures, as well as an active community of users at no_lj_adswho are actively trying to resist SixApart's use of ads on LiveJournal.



So, LiveJournal has been sold out, is in the process of being bannered to high hell, support is suffering badly (I've had several people lately asking me how to directly get in touch with LiveJournal's staff, because their support and abuse departments are not responding to them) and now SixApart appears to be ignoring the site's community too.

It makes you wonder whether LiveJournal's fate will really be all that different from that of Brad's other baby, FreeVote... and whether things like permanent accounts are really all that permanent, despite the best intentions of the many people who did their best to help make LiveJournal a success, while keeping the faith with the users.

UPDATE: The essential argument being made by the petition is that LiveJournal is being "dumbed down" to market it towards teenagers, and that SixApart will soon try to move LiveJournal's more "serious" users over to Vox.

...but are LiveJournal users really all that young that they need the site dumbed down for them?!

If you add up LiveJournal's own publically-listed stats, it shows that there are considerably more LiveJournal users aged 20 or older than there are who are aged 19 and younger. LiveJournal's public stats are even biased against older users, as they do not list the thousands of LiveJournal users aged 55 and above, who really rock the bell curve.

By my calculations, the average age of a LiveJournal user is approximately 24 years of age... possibly older. Infact, LiveJournal's userbase tends to get a little older each and every year. In addition, LiveJournal's older users tend to have a higher percentage of active accounts, tend to post more often, and are much more likely to own paid or permanent accounts.

So perhaps it's time for SixApart to stop marginalizing its users, forcing unwanted spam and marketing info on them, and basically treating them like kids?

UPDATE:
Turns out that this isn't the first time that SixApart referred to LiveJournal users as teenagers. 

In an interview with CBS News last year, SixApart co-founder Mena Trott said the following, in an exact quote:


"Yeah. I mean, it's uh... on LiveJournal it's about 70% are teenage girls".

The video of this is available here, on the righthand side of the page.

So, are 70% of LiveJournal users really teenage girls? No. That's simply not a true statement. About 67% of LiveJournal's users are women, and their ages vary considerably.
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