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[BRIEF NOTE] On Livejournal becoming many things, hopefully doing at least one of them well

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On Saturday, James Nicoll–ruling blogger of English-language Livejournal–linked to a new video advertisement on YouTube for Livejournal.

In it, an anonymous narrator suggested that Livejournal would meet the needs of people who would like to write at length in anonymity, to shed the public identities of Facebook and the like for something pseudonymous, even anonymous.

I said in the comments of that YouTube video that I wished Livejournal had done it before now. Visiting that page again, I see that it recorded only 647 views. That’s up a few hundred since the first time I saw the video, but still. The commenter at James’ blog who suggests the whole thing is moot until the people who left Livejournal for Facebook come back is entirely right.

I mentioned in May that Livejournal was also being positioned as a competitor to Medium, as a host for long-format writing. This new use is not incompatible with that previously-stated use, yet I have to wonder. Does Livejournal know what it is doing? Or is it desperately casting about for something that can keep it going in the English-speaking world?

Written by Randy McDonald

September 15, 2014 at 11:04 pm

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • blogTO wonders, in the aftermath of companies confiscating bicycles parked on city property, if Toronto should clearly mark off public and private space on its streets.
  • Centauri Dreams studies news that the Stardust probe may have captured bits of the interstellar medium.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze reports that sun-like Alpha Centauri A and B can both support planets in stable Earth-like orbits.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes the impact of changing patterns of snowfall on Arctic ice.
  • Eastern Approaches studies Balkan volunteers in wars abroad, both that of Albanians in the Middle East and of Serbs for Russia in Ukraine.
  • Far Outliers looks at Japan’s farmer-soldiers on the late 19th century Hokkaido frontier.
  • Spacing Toronto favourably reviews the new psychogeography-themed book Unruly Places.
  • Understanding Society points to the massive success of a comparative statistical analysis of historical Eurasian populations.
  • Window on Eurasia links to a photo essay of an empty post-Olympics Sochi.
  • Writing Through the Fog’s Cheri Lucas Rowlands argues that modern social media hinders memoir writing, by making it too easy to publish quickly.
  • Wonkman points out that the problem with subtle homoeroticism in modern popular culture is that, well, it doesn’t need to be subtle any more. What needs to be hidden?

[BLOG] Some politics-related links

  • 3 Quarks Daily links to an essayist wondering why people talked about Gaza not the Yezidis as a way to dismiss Gaza.
  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly notes how Americans subsidize Walmart’s low wages by givibng its employees benefits.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that Chinese plans to reforest Tibet could accelerate the dessication of its watershed since trees suck up water, observes the existence of a new Chinese ICBM and links to a report of a Chinese drone, notes that the ecologies of Europe are especially vulnerable to global warming owing to their physical fragmentation, and notes that Canadian-Mexican relations aren’t very friendly.
  • Eastern Approaches notes Russia’s reaction to the shootdown of the MH17 flight over eastern Ukraine and observes the issues with Poland’s coal industry.
  • Geocurrents’ Martin Lewis calls for American military intervention to protect the Yezidis from genocide.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at the plight of the Yezidi, examines the undermining of liberal Zionism, wonders how Russian relations with Southeast Asia will evolve, and after noting the sympathy of some Americans on the left for Russia analyses the consequences of a Russian-Ukrainian war.
  • Marginal Revolution wonders if Russia’s food import ban is a sign of a shift to a cold war mentality, notes the collapse of the Ukrainian economy, wonders about the strategy of Hamas, and comments on the weakness of the economy of Ghana.
  • The New APPS Blog comments on the implications of the firing of American academic Steven Salaita for his blog posts.
  • The Pagan Prattle looks at allegations of extensive coverups of pedophilia in the United Kingdom.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw notes the decreasing dynamism of the ageing Australia economy.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer doesn’t think there’s much of a crisis in Argentina following the debt default, notes ridiculous American efforts to undermine Cuba that just hurt Cubans, examines implications of energy reform and property rights in Mexico, has a good strategy shared with other for dealing with the Islamic State.
  • Understanding Society’s Daniel Little contends with Tyler Cowen’s arguments about changing global inequality, and studies the use of mechanisms in international relations theory.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy touches upon Palestine’s case at the ICC against Israel, looks at Argentina’s debt default, and wonders if Internet domain names are property.
  • Window on Eurasia has a huge set of links, pointing to the rivalry of Russian Jewish organizations in newly-acquired Crimea, looking at Ukrainian ethnic issues in Russia, suggests that the Donbas war is alienating many Ukrainians in the east from Russia, notes Islamization in Central Asia, suggests that Russia under sanctions could become as isolated as the former SOviet Union, suggests Ukrainian refugees are being settled in non-Russian republics, wonders if Ukraine and Georgia and Moldova will join Turkey as being perennial EU candidates, suggests that Belarusians are divided and claims that Belarusian national identity is challenging Russian influence, looks at the spread of Ukrainian nationalism among Russophones, looks at the consequences of Kurdish independence for the South Caucasus, and notes that one-tenth of young Russians are from the North Caucasus or descend from the region.

[FORUM] What do you think of online rating systems?

Two weeks ago, there was an article at Toronto Life, “Why Momofuku’s David Chang thinks Yelp reviews are dumb”, that caught my attention.

David Chang knows his fast food, so it makes sense that he’s signed on as the official Northeastern U.S. “burrito scout” for ESPN blog FiveThirtyEight, which is currently conducting a rigorous, March Madness–style search for the country’s top burrito (and, in the process, examining the relative reliability of crowdsourced recommendations versus other sources of data). Chang recently spoke with the site about his personal views on user-generated restaurant reviews, particularly those on Yelp. To put it concisely, he’s not a fan. Here’s what he had to say:

I’m just going to come out and say: Most of the Yelp reviews are wrong. They just are. Yelp is great for finding information if you forgot the address of a place. [...] But for the most part, no chef is going to take a Yelper’s review seriously, even though they might read them.

The problem with Yelpers, according to Chang? They take everything way too personally, and usually don’t know what they’re talking about.

The best analogy I can give is fantasy sports or lawn-chair stockbrokers. For the most part, unless you’re really studying the stats and you’re a former football player or baseball player and know the industry inside and out, it’s most likely that your insights aren’t that great.

My reaction, as expressed in the comments, was critical. Chang’s argument leaves no space for well-informed amateur critiques, or for informed readers, and additionally seems to verge on making the fallacious argument that everyone is making one-star reviews based on a single thing that doesn’t work for them.

What say you all?

Written by Randy McDonald

June 23, 2014 at 4:00 am

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • Centauri Dreams features an essay by Andreas Hein arguing that interstellar travel will be quite easy after the singularity hits, when our minds can be copied onto physical substrates.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that the dispute between Vietnam and China over their maritime boundaries runs the risk of intensifying.
  • Far Outliers chronicles the Australian creation of the Ferdinand radio network in the 1930s, a network of civilian radio broadcasters in northern Australia and Papua New Guinea charged with reporting on border security.
  • Joe. My. God. notes controversy in Israel over a harmless music video by trans pop star Dana International.
  • Language Hat notes one Russian writer’s suggestion on how Russian-language writers can avoid Russian state censorship: write in officially recognized variants of the Russian language (Ukrainian Russian, Latvian Russian, et cetera).
  • Language Log examines “patchwriting”, a subtle variant of plagiarism.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money is just one blog noting the insanity of George F. Will’s claim that being a rape victim on a university campus is a coveted status.
  • The Map Room’s Jonathan Crowe links to OpenGeoFiction, an online collaborative map-creation fiction.
  • Marginal Revolution notes that, before Hitler, the Biblical pharoah was the figure used as the embodiment of evil.
  • The New APPS Blog takes issue with the claim that photographs sully our memories. Arguably they supplement it instead.
  • Personal Reflection’s Jim Belshaw notes, following Australia’s recent budget cuts, how young people lacking connections can find it very difficult to get ahead.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that ethnic minorities and secessionist groups in Moldova are being mobilized as that country moves towards the European Union, and observes the maritime sanctions placed against Crimean ports.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell is very skeptical of UKIP founder Alan Sked’s statements that the party was founded free of bigotry.

[ISL] Peter Rukavina on chance and blogging the remarkable

The title of Charlottetown blogger Peter Rukavina’s blog post “I remember the day the bus exploded right in front of the fire eater and her amazing magical cat…”. He recounts how he just managed to bear witness, not least via his Twitter account, to the background of the incident described in the blog post’s title.

Despite myself I was always a fan of the Road to Avonlea television series. It was hokey, and not even shot on Prince Edward Island, but it was also endearing and provided a useful lens through which to look at life in contemporary Prince Edward Island.

The archetypal episode would involve some interesting character from away arriving in the village of Avonlea, with hijinks ensuing.

A long-lost huckster cousin of Aunt Heddy would show up and talk Jasper out of his inheritance.

Or a rough-looking carnie would arrive on the train from Charlottetown only to run into Olivia and sweep her off her feet.

(When I think of developer Richard Homburg and his arrival in Charlottetown as a billionaire saviour I tend to think about it in Road to Avonlea terms; it’s far more entertaining).

And so it came to pass that yesterday, while popping down the street for a quick lunch before heading to the dentist, I spied an intriguing character walking down Queen Street: an eclectically dressed woman walking a cat on a leash and carrying a well-worn hula hoop on her shoulder.

The whole story is fantastic.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 10, 2014 at 11:08 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] On Livejournal being made into Medium, or Tumblr with text

James Nicoll linked to a Techcrunch article describing how the new CEO of Livejournal wants to position this blogging platform as a kind of Medium, as a place for long-form writing.

LiveJournal is hanging out the “under new management” banner yet again. Last month, the company announced a new CEO, Katya Akudovich, who previously worked at Google, Box and Microsoft. Akudovich was confirmed in a unanimous vote by the board of directors, who believe her international experience at these major tech companies will help her make LiveJournal a top social media platform yet again.

“My Box experience, where I started the Deal Desk department, gave me unique insights into how a company turbo-charged an amazing product,” she tells us. “At Google, it was about bringing the right content in the right form to brand new Google Play markets. And this is exactly what we’re planning to do at LJ,” Akudovich says.

In addition to the new services Akudovich teases, LiveJournal is also rolling out new iOS and Android applications next month, designed to appeal to both writers and readers. And the company is hopping on the ‘anonymity’ bandwagon, now in vogue thanks to services like Whisper, Yik Yak and Secret, noting that LiveJournal “will remain anonymous and will never ask its users to identify themselves.”

[. . .]LJ’s new strategy for 2014 and beyond is one where it hopes to promote itself as a platform for longer-form content and self-expression in an era when users can’t seem bothered to post status updates, preferring Instagram selfies, looping Vine clips, GIFs and texts over longer articles, lengthy videos, and the like.

But that, thinks LiveJournal, is the opportunity.

“There’s a big market for this that really only we and Medium are filling – and with significantly more personalization, while still being easy to use,” says Akudovich. “Our users generate an amazing amount of deep content – half a million long-form posts a day – these are not tweets, these are real long-form posts where people write some very interesting things. We have amazing communities too,” she says.


This proposal certainly does seem to reflect the way Livejournal is now used. Of the people active on my friends list, most of them are people who write long-form entries. Many of them are, in fact, published authors. Rejigging the non-Cyrillic functions of Livejournal to service this demographic does work.

And yet. Is this an innovative effort to position Livejournal as a platform of choice for long-range writing, perhaps even social journalism, or is this trying to take some advantage of the fact that the users who have remained are too locked to their journals and communities to move? I’ve migrated already: this text is being entered into a window at Dreamwidth, which then automatically posts to Livejournal, and will be cut-and-pasted over to WordPress. Making Livejournal an active hub for me again, as opposed to a second-order backup with a friends page I visit, will take some doing.

There’s also the non-trivial question of whether or not Livejournal can make these changes without alienating its user base. Not a week ago, I was perturbed to find out that Livejournal had switched the user interface entirely. I couldn’t locate my aforementioned friends page. It was only when I found out, via a LJ friend’s post, how to switch the user interface back to a usable format. I fear that Livejournal may yet change it back. I had no idea this particularly was coming, but the idea that Livejournal’s administrators would unilaterally change something critical of the site without letting its users know is sadly not a surprise. The commenters at Techcrunch shared their own stories of how the site has let them down. Navigating a revamp of the site without angering frequently disappointed long-time users is going to be an issue.

I hope Livejournal can survive in some form, but I will need to be convinced. We’ll see what will happen.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 30, 2014 at 3:35 am


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