2017-04-08

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I'm joining the migration to Dreamwidth, finally. Well: that's kind of a mischaracterization on two counts. First, I don't use LiveJournal much anymore; second, I've had an account on Dreamwidth for years, but I just kept using LJ anyway.

I know that a fair number of people, including some who were on my LJ friends list, abandoned LJ back in the Six Apart days when they had their brief flurry of panicked journal deletion-and-reinstatement because Save The Children Something Something. And, on the one hand I get that, but on the other hand, Six Apart listened to their users, reinstated most of the journals, promised to do better, and for the most part did. Was this perfect? No, but it seems at times like they never got even partial credit for trying harder. Water under the Bridge of Khazad-dûm and all now, I suppose.

The sale to SUP, the Russian media company, was interesting, in what a friend described a while ago as the American sense. ("When Europeans say something is interesting, they mean it's interesting. When Americans say something is interesting, they mean it's worrisome.") In retrospect, though, I think SUP did a lot of things right that they don't get credit for, either: for years, LiveJournal was the Number-One-With-A-Bullet blogging system in the Russian Federation, and SUP did their damndest to keep it a free and open platform--no mean trick given the political reality. That's why "LiveJournal, Inc.," remained an American subsidiary, with their servers on American soil, for so long.

I suspect, though, in the end that became their undoing. In September 2015, Russian Federal Law 242-FZ, the "Russian Data Localization Law," went into effect. It mandates that any business that collects or stores personal information--which includes names, email addresses, and even IP addresses--of Russian citizens to use data centers in Russia.

While I couldn't find any smoking gun that suggests this law is why SUP moved their servers to Russia, it's hard not to suspect that's the case. In mid-2016, Russia blocked LinkedIn for non-compliance with the law, and at that point the writing was likely on the wall. In theory, SUP could "simply" run servers in both the US and Russia, and segregate data based on a geolocation algorithm. In practice, though, even assuming they had the resources for that, they'd be under harsh government scrutiny. Dissidents start figuring out how to get his data on the US servers, and that gives the government enough pretext to take the whole company down. From SUP's perspective, it's a choice between submitting to Putin or going out of business. It's easy for us to say they should have chosen the latter, but it's not our livelihoods in question, is it?

Also, let's be blunt: given the Trump administration, SUP probably didn't think having servers in the US was much of a safe harbor anymore.

Will Dreamwidth rekindle my longform blogging? Honestly, I doubt it. It's not that I don't still have that desire, sometimes, it's that Dreamwidth just isn't a platform I like much. "But it's the same as LiveJournal!" Well, no, it isn't. There are a few clever things with filters and access that DW does better than LJ (whenever I'm critical of DW they always get brought up, and yes, I get it, honest), but in terms of the overall design and UX, DW feels pretty much like the LJ of a decade ago, and the LJ of a decade ago didn't feel that much different from the LJ of a decade before that. The reason I kept sticking with LJ is--well, partially inertia, okay--but also because over the last few years or so, SUP put real effort into modernizing things. (Unfortunately, they also closed off the code base.)

And, frankly, all of them feel way less modern than Tumblr--the site I suspect is one of the three crucial legs in the LJ diaspora (the other two being Twitter and, as a distant third, Facebook)--or, for that matter, WordPress 4. And then there's sites like Medium, which are joys to write and read on. (And, for that matter, publish on. I don't think there are any modern LiveJournal clients anymore. If I were writing this for Medium, I'd be writing it in my beloved quirky Markdown editing app Ulysses, and publishing it directly from there. As it is, I'm still writing it in Markdown, but it's going to require some effort to get it from Markdown to DW, because Markdown was invented in 2004 and that's just too dar recent for the LiveJournal codebase.)

Having said that, though, DW/LJ offer unparalleled access control, something that you'd think would be more popular these days given all the concern about online harrassment. There are other valuable things, large and small--from threaded conversations in replies to multiple user icons that we can set for a given post based on topic, mood or whim--that seem to have fallen by the wayside in recent years. The goal of clean, simple UIs is worthwhile, but maybe there's some functionality we should be re-imagining for a new decade rather than merely stripping away.

I've thought a lot about this; people who follow me on Twitter know I've half-joked about making a "modern" LiveJournal equivalent. The thought's still there, although I'm not honestly sure the time and energy is. On the other hand, I'm at the age for a good and proper midlife crisis, so we'll see.

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chipotle

August 2017

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