January 11th, 2003

fashionable

China bans the blog.

I just read that China has started blocking all blogspot.com websites... the host for most of the blogger weblogs.

One user, http://pekingduck.blogspot.com , has been posting successfully, but cannot actually see his posts go through. I also hear that there are some other weblog sites that may be blocked, but it appears that LiveJournal is still unblocked for the moment.

One solution that I am floating around right now is to set up these Chinese weblogs with full RSS feeds, and have volunteers go to the effort of listing these feeds on RSS aggregators (such as LiveJournal), thereby creating unblocked archives of these weblogs elsewhere on the Internet.

It seems inevitable to me that sooner or later, LiveJournal will be blocked by the Chinese government. However, there are several LJ server sites out there, and lots of other sites which can archive/display RSS feeds. It's always nice to see people come up with uses for technology that weren't originally intended by its creators -- it would be quite a coup indeed if RSS found itself a useful tool to route around Internet censorship.

Additional note:
It is also possible to avoid censorship of weblogs by using proxies. While proxies don't spread the word about censorship, they do quietly give you access to the information you need if you find yourself blocked from the sites that matter to you on the 'net. Information is power...
fashionable

Free gear for Californians - courtesy of Microsoft.

The State of California settled the class action suit against Microsoft for $1.1 billion in vouchers.

My initial reaction was "WTF?! You discourage a monopoly by giving everyone their software for free?!"... but, no, the settlement is better than that, fortunately. The vouchers can be used to buy non-Microsoft products -- both hardware and software.

Consumers can start filing claims as soon as the settlement receives preliminary approval from a San Francisco court, which is expected to come as early as next month. By spring, consumers should look for media ads, e-mails and mailings with information on how to file.

Despite a potential value of $1.1 billion for the settlement, the final price tag for Microsoft won't be known for some time because it depends greatly on how many consumers choose to seek the vouchers... but since any Californian can make a claim of $100 or less against Microsoft without a proof-of-purchase required, it's free money -- even if you didn't hold on to your receipts. File early, because it's first come, first served! (I will let people know how to file when I find out myself.)

If you want to discourage monopolies, it's your *duty* to file a claim so that Microsoft has to pay out the full $1.1 billion. You should then take that voucher and spend it on a non-Microsoft product. Incidentally, this is really good way to help out California's high-tech industry. It will do far more to help the economy in the near term than Bush's regressive economic recovery plan. Don't forget to buy local!

You can almost hear the giant sucking sound as money flows from Redmond, Washington to the Silicon Valley. Gee, thanks Bill!
fashionable

And the first weblog service to reach one million users is...

Blogger.

(Hey, don't blame me... it wasn't my fault. I didn't ignore scalability and stability issues. I *like* cacheing common database queries, rather than having dynamic database searches that deliver useless information. I think the idea of loading large, animated userpics is a huge waste of bandwidth. I think the idea of paying $30K per month on a fancy colocation facility and overpriced bandwidth rather than on servers is a waste of resources. I'm against invite codes, even.)

The thing is, LiveJournal was ahead by about 150,000 users at one point too. Now, they're behind by about 160,000. Blogger's growth rate, which always paled in comparison to LiveJournal's prior to invite codes, is now nearly impossible to match without some serious changes that, of course, will never happen.

Yes, LiveJournal may be picking up more users slowly but surely, but the number of posts per day hasn't really been growing for months. In that sense, although there is still a lot of life in the system, it is no longer growing in a meaningful way or at a meaningful rate.

Users come and go, but posts per day is the stat that really matters, because that indicates the true health of the site. If the servers are working well, it will be this perfect arch that beats with a rhythm that is as predictable as a heartbeat -- statistically more posts on some days than on others, but always steadily increasing. If something is wrong with the site, however, the rhythms fluctuate like a heart patient on their death bed and the site doesn't grow.

So yes, if it seems like your friends don't post as often, it's because they don't post as often. This usually this has to do with the site performance... or lack thereof.

I've always favored running LiveJournal as a free service. Not an invite code service, but a free one, like practically every other weblog service out there. It's hard to compete against free by charging money, after all.

People pay to support your site if you give them a service that they love, and you give them incentives to pay... but judging from the new accounts per day stats lately, people are more likely to pay when you *DON"T* offer good service. Some of the free users get a taste for LiveJournal and pay under duress because otherwise they can't use the system.

If you're myopic, you might interpret this as meaning "bad business is good business", but what it overlooks is the true bottom line. By running an efficiently designed site that encourages free users but that also gives people an incentive to pay, you get a higher rate of growth, such as this one for Blurty, another LJ Server site.

Now, what really matters when it comes to growth is whether you are getting enough money per user to operate the site. The amount that you need per user actually decreases somewhat as the site grows, due to economy of scale. This is especially true when you are paying employees to run the site. A fulltime sysadmin that oversees a site of 200,000 users costs the same as one who oversees a site of 600,000 users, but his salary costs less to afford per user when you have more users.

That's why emphasizing growth and scalability is good, and why having free accounts that actually work matters. Free accounts that work increases the growth rate dramatically -- Blurty doubles in size every 60 days, approximately.

Your costs go down considerably as you get bigger and free users become paid users. The basic costs that you have to pay -- whether your site is 200,000 users or a million users -- become a much smaller percentage of total revenue as you grow.

So, yeah. It looks like Blogger is growing about three times as fast as LiveJournal right now. In a few months, they'll have twice as many users as LiveJournal, and those users will have to pay half as much per person for the basic upkeep. This means that Blogger will be able to afford more hardware and can pay to develop more features for its users... which leads to additional growth and revenue.

As Ev at Blogger says (and as I have been saying for years...) :
"More free users lead to more paid users. While I'm sure we could be sustainable (and my life would be far less stressful) if we were to cut out the free version altogether, it's important to me to have as big an impact as possible. By doing so, I believe the company will be much more substantial and successful. And fortunately, since we launched Pro, it looks like that vision is working out."

Yeah... I'd have to agree.