Brad Fitzpatrick (bradfitz) wrote in lj_biz,
Brad Fitzpatrick
bradfitz
lj_biz

Punching the monkey...

Hi, LiveJournal founder here. I haven't posted here in awhile, but I figured it was time I made an appearance. If you don't remember any of my previous rants over the past seven years or so, the summary is that I hate advertising. Especially punching animated monkeys that slow down my computer and distract me from what I'm reading.

Ever since LiveJournal started, we've had a very anti-advertising stance:

  • We don't put ads up on journals.
  • We don't spam you.
  • We don't even let YOU put ads on your journal, just in case other people on the net see them and think they're from us, and we don't want that reputation.

So how does LiveJournal continue to exist? (financially, etc...)

We've always asked users to pay. Normally websites make money from advertisers, not from users. To entice people to pay, we've held back some of the features from free users so there's a reason for people to pay. And though not everybody paid, the small percentage of people who did covered the costs for the entire operation.

This kinda sucks because:

  • Not all users want to pay. They're used to sites on the web being "free" because they're used to advertising.
  • Not all users can pay.
  • We want everybody to see all the fun features we have. As it is, only the paid users can appreciate them.
  • If more people could pay (even indirectly through looking at ads), then we'd have more money to hire more hacker monkeys to bust out cool features.

The thing people have been trying to beat into my head lately is that some users don't mind ads. That's frickin' crazy talk to me because I can't stand the things, but I guess it makes sense. (I also still don't understand why people would want to use a web-based email client, whereas most people nowadays don't even know of any alternatives! tangent...)

So in summary:

  • Some users can pay.
  • Some users can't.
  • Some users hate ads.
  • Some users don't.
  • The world doesn't universally recognize the awesomeness that is LiveJournal because some of the awesomer stuff is locked up in paid-only land.

My goal is to make everybody happy all the time. I always fail, because it's impossible, but it's a noble goal. So how do we make everybody happy?

Currently we have two main service levels:

Don't
Pay
Extra
Features
No
Ads
Paid Accounts - Check! Check!
Free Users Check! - Check!

What about the people who don't want to pay but want more features? Remember our impossible goal of pleasing you all.

So what we're planning on adding as an option (details still fuzzy) is a third level that users can choose if they want:

Don't
Pay
Extra
Features
No
Ads
Paid Accounts - Check!+ Check!
New Level Check! Check! -
Free Users Check! - Check!

(It's in yellow to show it's new, not that it's golden or better.)

Key things to note:

  • Paid users won't see ads -- if you're logged in as a paid user, you won't see ads, anywhere, even on a journal of a user that has enabled ads. We're not going to double-dip on you. If you paid us directly, we're not going to make more money by putting ads in front of you.
  • Paid journals won't have ads -- anybody looking at any part of a paid user's journal won't see ads, logged in or not.
  • You can switch levels -- if you want to try out the ad level, go for it. You can switch back to free or to paid if you don't like it.
  • Free is staying -- we're not phasing out the free level.
  • The new level with ads is opt-in -- we won't throw ads on your journal without you switching to the new level.
  • You should control your ads -- we want you to have a lot of control of what ads and what type of ads we can/can't show on your journal, lest you offend your readerbase/etc. These options won't be available right away, but it's what we're most interested in developing over time, especially as we get feedback from users.
  • We haven't worked out all the details -- a lot of details haven't been figured out, so we'll be asking for the community's input as things firm up. The last thing we want to do is tick you off. If we tick you off, you leave, and then we're sad because we're sitting around computers writing code for nobody.
  • We want you to kick and scream right now -- because I'm sure we missed some stuff in this post. Please let us know all your fears about how stupid/evil we are, so we can try and show you otherwise. (We can say whatever we want in lengthy posts like this, but actions speak louder than words....)

Pre-emptive FAQ time!

In alphabetical order...

Uh, why? Why now? LiveJournal's been doing fine for like 7 years!

Honestly, we probably should've done this years ago but I guess my hatred for advertising always stopped me. Nowadays a lot of sites do advertising well without annoying users (e.g. Google), and I hope we can do the same through our own ways/options.

We really do want people to see our cool features without paying, if they can tolerate ads. (which apparently people can, considering the web is full of them...)

Pop-ups? Punch the monkey?
Hell no.
Is this Six Apart's fault? You guys were cooler when you were goat herders from Oregon rather than money-hungry San Francisco tycoons!
How does one reply to that strong of an argument? :-) Actually, we chose Six Apart because the other options weren't cool enough. The founders of Six Apart were two people working together in their living room, much like LiveJournal. We're growing together.
So why should I keep paying now?
Paid users will still have higher limits/quotas than the new level. (More storage, more pics, more bandwidth, etc...) If none of that matters to you then it may depend on how you balance the inconvenience of paying versus the inconvenience of ads.
What features will the new account level have?
We haven't worked out those details. The idea is they'll have most of the paid user features but with less capacity, and without the ability to, say, customize their journal style enough to be able to remove ads. :-)
But when are you going to fix ____________? Like memories!
At any time a lot of stuff is broken or in flux as we add/change features. It's regrettable, but it's life. We're actively reworking a lot of broken stuff on the site right now (memories, outgoing email architecture, etc...)

Joey is actively working on fixing memories.

Isn't there another way to make money? Why don't you sell more t-shirts or sell printed journals or go door-to-door?
I think we actually lose money on T-shirts, and they're still way too expensive. Printed journals are okay, but there are copyright issues when we want to sell you printed comments or the contents of your friends pages. And then it's also very low margin.
What are you going to do with all that extra advertising money?
What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas...

It depends how popular the new level is. Hopefully a fair number of users prefer it over free and we'd be able to hire more programmers, buy more servers, and just generally make LiveJournal better.

So now that you're making money from advertisers, what's to say you won't stop listening to users as you spend an increasing amount of time listening to the needs of your advertisers!?
That's my biggest fear! That's why when I introduced myself to our ad person here at work, I gave my title as "Consumer Advocate" (much to the amusement of everybody else at work). The LiveJournal team and I are very reluctant to do anything which distances ourselves from users. We'll do our best to keep the ad people in check. (to be fair, our ad people are very pro-user to begin with, but they don't necessarily understand LiveJournal users yet.... you're uh, unique. :-))

They've started posting in lj_ads, and will regularly, so go read that if you want to know more and give them feedback. (we'll also be posting to lj_biz and news, linking to relevants posts wherever they appear, so don't worry...)

If I'm a free user, will I see ads on my Friends Page? (sorry, the link is for the non-LJers who might be confused...)
No.
If I'm a free user, will I see ads on my friend's entry pages once I click off to their journal from my Friends Page?
Yes, if your friend has turned on ads. The way we see it: your Friends Page is just your aggregator of all your journals/blogs/news you read, and people on LiveJournal already read lots of ad-supported websites. So if a new user comes to LiveJournal and enables ads, and you find them interesting and want to read them, how are ads on LiveJournal any less offensive than ads on a remote site?
What about your Guiding Principle to avoid banner advertisements? What about things you've said in the past? Why should I continue to trust LiveJournal?
Well, we're not forcing it on users. It's purely a new option that users can enable if they want, so we don't feel it's that evil.
I am morally against ads. Why should I keep supporting/promoting LiveJournal? If you're going to bring in so much money now, why should I keep volunteering for you?
That's a question you'll have to ask yourself. We're not going to try and convince you to like ads or what we're doing, if you're morally opposed to it. Hopefully you respect at least how we're going about this.
What if I see an ad that is inappropriate?
We won't be accepting inappropriate ads, but the definition of "inappropriate" is very subjective, so we want to eventually let users control their ad options (if they want) and have very easy ways to complain about ads they don't like. We won't launch with this level of control right away, but we will work on developing it over time. Of course, you could also just turn them all off too by switching to another level.
Will free users ever get any new features or just ad and paid users?
Free users will continue to get new features. Our model's always been to give out a little to get you addicted, then hope you pay if you're happy with the service and want more.
And what about communities?
Currently communities can choose either the free or paid level. Eventually community admins will be able to opt-in to the new level with ads if they choose. We're working on what we will offer communities in the new level. We'll talk more about this later and solicit your suggestions.
Will any of my "personally identifiable information" be sent to advertisers? Will my email address be sold?
No.
Are ads going to slow down the performance of the site?
Not any more than any other site with ads. Your browser will have more stuff to download!, but LiveJournal's performance will be exactly the same. The ads will be served from different machines, unrelated to the LiveJournal servers. If you have a fast computer and fast Internet connection, you won't notice.
Why is this being posted to lj_biz and not news?
lj_biz is where we've historically discussed stuff like this, although we regret we haven't been using it as much as we used to. It's also a smaller audience for us to get initial feedback/questions/fears/etc, so when we do our news post it'll be more comprehensive. Also, we like to reserve news for stuff that's available immediately, not plans for the future. Plans for the future are better in lj_biz and lj_dev. Please share this post with your friends and others that might be interested if you don't think they read this community.
When are you launching the new level?
Not for another month or so. We're trying to do it very carefully, taking our time, trying to get everybody's feedback incorporated. I'm sure it won't be perfect at launch, but we'll continue to improve it over time, as we have with all the other levels and features. Check back here and in news for more information, and in the meantime leave your feedback in the comments below.
How can I trust any of this information?
I guess you can't. I'm just the old fogey poking my head in again with my ideals. It's easy for me to make statements, but like I said earlier, actions speak louder than words. Don't just blindly trust me ... wait and see. We're working hard to do this in a way that won't suck, and we're going to listen to you and do what we can to make sure we make as many people happy as possible, even if we can't please everyone. Check back in later to make sure we're being nice.
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