Internet fiends today probably have no memory of Livejournal, the dinosaur that may have kickstarted the world of online blogging as we know it. Launched in 1999 by programmer Brad Fitzpatrick as a way of keeping in touch with close friends and family, the social network quickly rose to popularity in the few years following its creation due to its accessibility, customiseable interface, and features which allowed users with similar interests to congregate. Users kept blogs that they updated regularly, creating content that was either personal or fandom-centric, the latter of which was shared to a variety of communities that allowed their virtual social circles to grow. It was a vast web of intertwined relationships that many of the internet’s youngest users frequented.
In the early 2000s, Livejournal’s golden years, a high-profile journalist in Russia discovered the blogging platform. In what was a cheeky attempt to escape the peering eyes of the Kremlin (at that time, Livejournal’s server was based out of San Francisco), an array of Russian content creators, from journalists to novelists to tech experts used the site to discuss ideas and criticse their government. In 2006, the amount of Russian users on the site prompted owners Six Apart to sell the site to Moscow based company SUP. Rather than cracking down on users after relocating, as many Russians feared, the platform worked towards keeping them around, and the site became integral to many public figures in the country– including politicians. It was where Alexei Navalny first spoke up against Vladimir Putin, boosting him towards popularity and eventually a campaign–albeit lost– against the formerly mentioned. Nowadays, the term ‘ZheZhe’ (romanization of Livejournal’s Russian name, ЖЖ) is the nation’s term for blogging, similar to our use of the term ‘Google’ in reference to online searches.
Despite this influx of users in Russia, Livejournal saw a significant loss in its western userbase after a series of controversial “censorship” acts that resulted in the deletion of thousands of blogs, many of which were fundamental to the fandoms that still saw Livejournal as the “homebase” of their communities. Users were horrified at the sudden loss of pages of self-produced content, and even more scandalised by the lukewarm reaction they received from the company. They event was coined “Strikethrough”, what users saw to be Livejournal’s reaction to the copious amounts of content they had contributed to the site– worthless, and deletable. The 2007 event, followed only 3 months later by a similar occurrence, signaled a mass-exodus of English-speaking users from the website. Harry Potter fan-communities, among others, raised money to buy their own domains; other creators chose to come together and create alternative sites to post their content on, such as ArchiveOfOurOwn.org, a site for fan fiction. An invite-only blogging site named Dreamwidth was launched, a direct homage to the Livejournal these fans once knew and loved.
So what caused the sudden transformation from a website that was intended for inherently personal uses into one that is now borderline political? Nowadays, Livejournal is more akin to mass-media than it is to personal blogging– this is not to say, however, that personal blogs do not exist. Older and more experienced journalists use the platform as a way of voicing their opinions. In response, younger generations come up with their own responses in the comments, sparking discussions, perhaps even inspiring them to come up with their own content on their own blogs. In a way, what exists of Livejournal’s western userbase uses it similarly; nowadays, the domain’s most frequented blog is OhNoTheyDidnt, an tabloid blog that covers entertainment news from across the globe, with a focus on Western pop culture. One begins to question the future of personal blogging; given the way the online world looks today, is there even space for individuals to discuss things as mundane as their daily lives?
Blogging has been given a purpose: instead of looking at it as a way to keep a personal diary, people instead associate the online blog with effort, and dedication. We are told to keep blogs and list them on our resumes, to show employees that we are capable enough of staying dedicated to something we aren’t being told to do. There are two ways one can look at this: perhaps we should appreciate the use of open platforms as a way to spread news in the mode of mass-media, as it makes this news more personal and accessible to those who are looking for open-minded sources. From another viewpoint, it suggests that people may not feel the need to keep personal accounts of experiences online, be it because they feel uncomfortable putting their information in public spaces, or simply because they do not value that experience anymore.
What Livejournal’s surviving success shows is that there is still hope to be found in supposedly forgotten domains, and that blogging platforms can always present new opportunities to the most unlikely audiences. Though one might perceive Livejournal’s transformation into a “purposeless blogging domain”, what should be seen is instead a great example of the use of social media to expand horizons that have been trapped behind closed doors, and to take a chance at what lies beyond what we may be forced to see.