Technology doesn’t come from out of nowhere – there are always roots. The roots of modern blogging truly run back to the success and formatting that grew out of LiveJournal, a social sharing platform that encouraged users to create and share their thoughts, experiences and more. It set up the culture of openness/oversharing that we all know and love/hate today.
Understanding the foundation that LiveJournal created for us is an important step in making sense of how the blogosphere developed, leading us from message boards to the very way that you and I are communicating right now.
The History of LiveJournal
Back in the late 90’s, there just wasn’t much on the internet. Without mobile and without the high speed internet that we know today, there were dramatically fewer people on the web and vastly fewer places to go. LiveJournal was created by Brad Fitzpatrick in 1999 as a way for people to share their thoughts online in a long format, with the original idea being a way to connect with high school friends. LiveJournal proved to be revolutionary when it was launched. Though there were other blog sites on the web at the time, the features that LiveJournal brought to the table, like friends lists, icons, and threaded comments, took the best of the message boards, list servs and chat rooms that were highly popular at the time and brought them to the blog format that is ubiquitous today.
While under the guidance of Fitzpatrick, LiveJournal flourished. The site enjoyed very little controversy and a wide range of innovations like the invitation only model were adopted to control the quality of the site.
In 2005 LiveJournal was sold to Six Apart, a company that would run a completely different business model. The company ended up hosting major controversies including the introduction of advertisements, account suspensions and security breaches. Six Apart sold LiveJournal to to SUP Media, a Russian firm, in 2007. It turns out that LiveJournal is massively popular in Russia, having even more of a cultural icon status than it does in western countries. In fact the word for LiveJournal in Russian has evolved into a generic term for blogging in general.
An important piece to note here is that LiveJournal is still teaching us things. While it was a forerunner in the world of blogging, unlike some of our other TBT pieces, this one is still around will millions of active users sharing online. Though its user base and influence have gotten smaller in the years since it first rose to prominence, you can still go start your own LiveJournal!
What did LiveJournal teach us?
Those heady, early days taught us so many things, and not just about the Internet, but about how technology could help us to connect with one another. Self expression was something that everyone had access to, and connecting with communities of people on the fringe wasn’t just for those who lived in large cities anymore – everyone could find likeminded individuals to connect with.
LiveJournal offered the chance to create “shared blogs.”
Lesson: Multiple writers are better than one.
Most blogs today (including this one) aren’t just created and driven by one person, but are full of content that’s generated by several writers, in some cases hundreds. LiveJournal offered the first real window into the modern world of shared blogging, allowing users to post about a wide variety of subjects. By having many writers, it’s easier to have better quality content that’s more regularly posted.
LiveJournal pioneered tagging and listing.
Lesson: Connections matter on and offline.
A hallmark of the early LiveJournal platform, one of the pieces that truly set it apart, was tagging and listing. What these really did was connect content that would otherwise have been wholly unrelated and difficult to put together. It truly offered the precursor to the current hashtags and trending content that is at the center of much of the internet experience today. For instance a user could write an entry about NSYNC and tag it with the band’s name, then when they came back to that same subject they could again tag it NSYNC and visitors to their LiveJournal could easily find all of the content related thanks to the tag. A similar function was true for lists, which allowed readers to track entries and users that they liked and to follow and connect content effectively.
LiveJournal preserved the mystery with “lj cuts.”
Lesson: People hate spoilers.
LJ cuts allow LiveJournal writers the ability to hide part of their content behind a link, preventing users from getting to the goods before they were ready. By hiding the best content behind a link, LiveJournal writers improved readability and also had the chance to keep readers from seeing information that might spoil the surprise. How does Facebook not have this? How many relationships have been ruined because people let that Game of Thrones twist out of the bag? Unfortunately an arguable legacy of this truly functional way to control content delivery is clickbait, which works to control the user experience but to perhaps devious and misleading ends.
Lesson: To reach the most people, do most of the work.
While other sites like Blogger offered more versatility and a far more intense ability to customize, LiveJournal was relatively restricted in terms of what users were able to do to their pages. That turned out to be a great thing, as it allowed people who would otherwise have been lost in the techspeak to participate in this online platform. Today we can see the legacy of this in sites like WordPress, which offer ready-made platforms that require very little technical know-how. In order to get the most out of LiveJournal, you did need to have some working knowledge of HTML, which is where the sites that followed really made their mark in offering an easy to use, if strikingly cookie cutter, experience.
The Blogosphere has a lasting effect
Blogs are a dominant modern form of communication, a free and easy way for people to release their thoughts out into the ether. Blogging can be both cathartic and also intensely troublesome. It’s been life changing for many people, offering them the chance to escape their day jobs and find financial prosperity. It’s also be the path to fame for many. For most of us, blogging is a way to share ideas and to engage with strangers halfway across the world who share our view of the world, or in many cases don’t.
LiveJournal led to a personalized Internet and a stream of longform content that was not created by a company but that was generated by the people. LiveJournal gave us all a voice, a voice that we’ve seen shape the real world in both intensely personal and also geopolitical ways.
Creating Engaging Content
Dynamic and highly-engaging content has driven consumers since the early days of LiveJournal. How has your company setup your marketing strategy? If you need help, our professional content marketing strategists would love to help – we’ve been blogging away since the prehistoric era of LiveJournal, ourselves!