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.
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.