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Wed, Jan. 31st, 2007, 12:36 pm
Ça plane pour moi ...

I think I'm fairly unusual here at LJ towers in that I wasn't plucked from the ranks of habitual LJ volunteers or long term users to come work full time. So in a way I have a sort of unique perspective on the interaction between us and our users - sometimes I kind of feel like the internet's Jane Goodall.

Watching the responses to my first news post was a nigh-visceral experience. Friends of mine who've written books have said that they had a similar feelings watching the sales rank and comments on Amazon. It was kind of shocking to see how fast people responded. burr86 reminded me to turn off email notification and I said I'd do it when I came back from making some tea. "Now", he urged, "You need to do it now."

By the time I came back from tea there was already 3 pages of comments.

People CARE.

Because most of my coworkers came from the community I don't think they make the distinction between them and us that I think the community at large does. They get affected. Some of the comments users make hurt them. Deeply. Because I'm often on a different timezone to everyone else I've sat on the end of IM with people who can't sleep out of distress.

This is the flipside of The Cluetrain Manifesto that nobody talked about.

Part of the problem, I think, is that, no matter how hard you try, you can always communicate better. There's always going to be a filter between us and the users. And there's always going to be people who fear the worst or who willfully interpret every action as being done out of malice or a very vocal few who take their own personal views and ascribe it to everyone.

And it's not just LJ. It's everywhere. I have a several friends who work at Flickr - all long term Flickr users to a (wo)man. Today they're dealing with this thread about the deadline to finally move to a combined Yahoo! ID. Like us they've been dealing with accusations of selling out to a larger company (ignoring the obvious that, without the larger company, both of us would have probably ended up shutting down due to overwhelmed resources - technical and personal) and like us with, say, editing comments there are features that users are clamouring for (sets-of-sets is one, of the top of my head, for them) which the users can't understand why the team has not given them.

On the one hand I'm baffled by some of the attitudes - logically we must either have a good reason, be lazy, be incompetent or be maliciously withholding a feature because we don't want the users to have it. For some unknown and inscrutable purpose.

And some users clearly don't think that it's the first and I think our track record (hopefully) shows that it's not the second or third so they must think it's the fourth. Which just seems ... odd. Do we really come across as malicious?

On the other hand I've been on the other side and so I can understand. I can really understand. I'm a geek and a user and a customer and I'm passionate about the things that matter to me. And, amonst many other thing, LJ matters to me. I use it everyday. We use it for work. I feel a burning urge to make it completely awesome. I get defensive about it with other people. When I'm back in England and I'm talking to my (largely LJ using, nay OBSESSED) friends my eyes shine when I talk about it. I really want to finish search now because I've got a really, REALLY cool idea I want to prototype and get signed off which I hope will completely rock everyone's world.

I have no conclusion apart from I wish I had a magic way to make the users trust 'us'.

Not that I think it needs saying but, naturally, these are my views, not necessarily the views of LiveJournal or SixApart.

Wed, Jan. 31st, 2007 09:53 pm (UTC)

That "burning urge" you have? Might want to get that looked at.


Wed, Jan. 31st, 2007 10:23 pm (UTC)

> here at LJ towers
I like to think LJ users imagine the Six Apart offices as a Barad-dûr-like fortress with Mount Doom about where the Caltrain station is

> Some of the comments users make hurt them. Deeply.
Ah yes. After the new update page was launched was not a happy time for me. I felt better after Abe explained that it's an initiation into the land of LJ.

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 12:28 am (UTC)

See, I really think that when new people start on LJ, someone should sit them down and have the conversation that starts "okay, see these emotional scars here? Yeah, that was October of '04..."

(Time frame pulled out of my ass, but I bet that if I looked it up, there would have been *some* drama going on then.)

And that's one of the reasons why I think New Business People who are just starting at 6A come in all shiny-eyed, going to Make LJ Better, and all the rest of us come off as being obstacles, because we know that their innovations -- which make perfect sense in the light of whatever dot.com experience they've had -- are going to spark off an epic battle roughly akin to the siege of Helm's Deep. And then we do it anyway, and -- oh, look, there are the orcs.
(Deleted comment)

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 12:21 am (UTC)

I wish I could make this required reading before commenting in news.

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 05:14 am (UTC)

this is so, so good. do you mind if I link to this publicly? Either on my personal blog or maybe on 6A.com?

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 07:27 am (UTC)

Err, sure. Go for it.

Either/both is fine.

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 10:08 am (UTC)

"Ignoring the obvious that, without the larger company, both of us would have probably ended up shutting down due to overwhelmed resources - technical and personal"

This is the key part of it for me. If everyone who bitched about these "conspiratorial" sell-outs, changes or limits actually left the service they were moaning about for an alternative, how long would they have before that one either implodes or attracts the attention of Google's chequebook?

It's nice to feel like you're part of something slightly underground and individual but, realistically, popular things cost money to run.

I came to LJ later than many (although still before it was bought by Six Apart), but I am Flickr "old skool". Yeah it's pretty annoying that I need to link my Flickr account to a Yahoo ID now, especially since my Yahoo ID I've had forever is already linked to my secret other Flickr account, but if it means I can carry on paying £13 a year for literally more Web 2.0 than I know what to do with, I'm happy.

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 11:30 am (UTC)

Sadly I don't think there is a way to make all your users trust you. When you've got the size and variety of userbase that LJ has, whatever you do is going to do piss someone off. All you can do (I mean you as the LJ hivemind) is give people fair warning that something is going to happen and pay attention when they complain.

From my own perspective, the thing that currently annoys me most about LJ is that very little apparent effort is going into making the basic functionality work properly. The proportion of comment posts that go awry, or poll answer submissions that don't work is getting ridiculous, and nothing seems to be being done about it. All we ever hear about via news is exciting new feature X, and when X = getting a bunch of flowers on yr userinfo, it rankles all the more when my next comment disappears into the ether. Just telling us what you're doing to fix stuff would make an awful lot of us a lot happier.

Oh dear. This comment seems to have turned into an instance of what you were talking about. I'll shut up now.

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 06:47 pm (UTC)

So there's two points there - the giving people a warning and whether to work on new features (trivial or otherwise) or work on scaleablity.

So the warning thing. Fair cop. Our only defense is that announcing new features before they've been finalised can lead to overpromising but really, yeah, we can do better.

So, the second thing - the scaleability problems. It's unfair to say we're not working on it. We work on it every day. We've had to invent new technologies (mogilefs, Perlbal, memcached) just to keep up which we then release for free and are used by other large sites. We had to invent our own mail solution to deal with the amount of outbound messages we deal with. It's not so much that we're not working on it it's more that every time we give ourselves some breathing space we get more users and more traffic and ...

You say basic functionality, we say a huge cluster of DB and Web machines, massive amounts of bandwidth and working on the cutting edge of what some of the technologies we use can do. If we weren't working hard on scaling then LJ would have fallen over a long time ago.

You've also got to remember that we're small. From the outside it may seem like we're some huge conglomerate with battery pens of programmers slavishly working away. But if you look at the holiday post picture then that's it. That's LJ. And two of those people have moved ointo bigger and better things. And technically I don't even work for LJ any more - I work for the internal RnD group. So that leaves, err, 5 engineers.

Things like vgifts - they're a bit of fun and, in the grand scheme of things they don't take very long and they let the team do something a bit silly which stops them going insane. Flickr got the same thing with the whole "Ho Ho Ho Hat" malarkey over Christmas.

One complaint we get is over LJTalk. What people forget is that brad and crucially wrote DJabberd in their spare time. Integrating it into LJ was really trivial (basically an authentication and roster plugin which used existing LJ apis) and, of course, for the people who don't want to use it then they never even have to see it. So for us it rankles a little when people complain about it.

However, despite all that, you're right (in a way at least) in that you have every right to get knarked when you post a comment and it just vanishes. We can only promise to try (even) harder (THE BEATINGS WILL STOP WHEN MORALE IMPROVES!).

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 12:25 pm (UTC)

Now I feel bad for the tone of my comment on that news post. It is just that with MS and ADD, any change is painful whether it be for the good or not...

Thu, Feb. 1st, 2007 07:01 pm (UTC)

Wow, it's strange how demanding the users can be. Personally I like it and I don't expect to see more features considering how... err... free LJ is.

I support and write software for traders - if anything goes wrong or they don't have the "features" they need, they can be losing thousands of dollars a minute.... but they are very reasonable about their demands. Which also surprises me!

Mon, Feb. 5th, 2007 04:23 pm (UTC)

Amen, brother.

Have you read Brand Hijack>? (Mental note to self; Steal office copy back off of pretentiousurl and put back on desk).

Thu, Feb. 15th, 2007 08:46 pm (UTC)

I think you have many good points, but from my perspective as a user, "FLASHY BRIGHT FLASHY STYLE WITH LOUD AND OFFKEY MUSIC THAT LOOKS LIKE A BOTTLE OF PEPTO BISMOL EXPLODED OVER A KITTEN!" (for example) does *not* constitute "improving the site", and that's pretty much what some of the styles look like to me. I know there are others that disagree with me. That's perfectly fine.

But to say "we've improved the site because we've added #xyz styles!" - and have things like, say, full-text searching, which people have been *begging* for for five years, and a supported backup program, which people have been *begging* for for four years - it's like, your (collective) priorities are for as much flashy bright flashy as possible, and mine are as little flashy bright flashy as possible, and of course there's going to be a disparity there.

The Valentine's Day thing didn't really bother me, but it looked TRULY, VIOLENTLY DISGUSTING with my colour scheme. Fine, I got over it, after wincing and cringing. Telling people that "you can't opt out of these schemes because we don't want you to have the right", on the other hand, is not so cool. Some of the things in suggestions, which I've lately referred to as the "black hole of LJ" (and don't even bother submitting there any more because it's a waste of my time), were "WNBI"'d FIVE YEARS AGO because the architechture at the time couldn't support it. Or because ONE PERSON (usually brad) either didn't like the idea or didn't personally have a use for it. Has anyone thought to revisit those suggestions, and see what can be implemented now? And what effort is being given to make those which *can't* be implemented now be available at a later date?

That might draw some attention away from what *some* users are complaining about.

Thu, Feb. 15th, 2007 11:58 pm (UTC)

Hmm, excellent points. I'll try and deal with them vague in order.

So, yes, the styles thing is, well, subjective. The Valentines Day scheme look disgusting with my theme as well.

Search - well, I'm working on it now. The problem is that full text search is a huge problem. It would have been far too much work to dedicate to up till now - there's no way that the team could have spared someone full time to come up with a solution especially since very few people have any experience with large search engines. What people might think is easy ("Why don't you just use MySQL's built in search") actually isn't.

Backup - not sure. I'll ask though. It's a strong possibility that it just hasn't reached the top of the TODO list.

Suggestions - it's a good idea and despite what you may think we do pay attention (look at the last news post for example) but it's hugely time consuming to try and keep up and reply to everything.

And that is basically, the crux of the problem. The LJ team isn't big and the proportion of users who pay us in some way (permanent, paid or plus accounts) is small so we can't get much bigger. So we can't do everything so we have to make choices.

Sometimes the choices we make aren't the right one. Actually since there's always some people who want the feature and some people who don't we're always going to be wrong in someone's eyes.

We could do more but that would probably involve getting rid of free accounts, increasing advertising or increasing fees. And we don't want to do any of those.

If we get some time it's not a bad idea to go over some of the old suggestions and see what's already been done or could be done. I'll try and look into that.

Sun, Feb. 25th, 2007 09:36 am (UTC)

That you're working for LJ/SixApart explains why you've disappeared. Still, let me know next time you are around Central London. :-)

Sun, Mar. 4th, 2007 08:02 am (UTC)
dimajazz: Volunteer

I'd like to search or research if I could understand more clearly exactly what you're looking for. If you could leave a definition of what you are looking for please do not hesitate to leave a comment in my journal. Diana Marie Chapman
I only heard about Live Journal a few days ago, liked what I saw & started an unpaid account. Diana