Anatoly Vorobey (avva) wrote in lj_biz,
Anatoly Vorobey

LJ, free users, abuse: a request for discussion

This entry is a request for discussion about the possible ways to shape LiveJournal's future policy on the subject of free users, new account creation, abuse issues, and in general ways to help LiveJournal attract more support and contribution from LJ users than it currently does. If you have opinions on these issues, please share them here. If you can, please come up with more creative ways to help LiveJournal than those initial suggestions outlined below and state them here. Your opinion counts. All useful suggestions will be collected and summarised in a further post on lj_biz, and further commented on, until, hopefully, really good ideas will emerge and will be implemented.

Many of you reading this already know about the fresh new system of invitations set up instead of the old system in which anyone could get a free LJ account. In the new system, to get a new account one must either pay up front or get an invitation code from an existing user; free users get one code to give out to anyone they want, while paid users and contributors to the site get more codes according to the system outlined here. This system was created to solve two primary problems:

  • The uncontrolled growth of free users most of whom do not understand the philosophy of LJ and do not contribute back to the site. LJ is a community-driven site. Help is needed to run it in forms of money (paid accounts), time and experience (to help run the site, develop its software, answer support requests, run systemwide communities, and so on). However, most of the new free users have no idea about any of this. They think they're getting a completely free ride; while this is technically true, there's also a moral obligation on them to help the site grow and prosper if they can - but they're usually unaware of this obligation.
  • Uncontrolled creation of new accounts has resulted in a large number of abuse incidents in which a new account is created with the special purpose of leaving abusing comments in other people's journals. Since creating new accounts is just so easy, and users usually prefer to let other LJ users beside their friends leave comments, abusing the system requires little effort, alienates abused users, and wastes a lot of contributors' time.

On the other hand, the newly created system of invitations is surely not the only possible way of dealing with these problems, nor was it publicly discussed and criticised before being employed. The purpose of this discussion is precisely to encourage discussion and criticism of this and other ways of dealing with the problems.

Consider some of the drawbacks of the system of invitations:
  • It makes it very difficult to try out LJ for people who discover it through some Web links or press coverage. Although it seems reasonable to suggest that most people are drawn to LJ by their friends and relatives who are already LJ users, this is by no means the only way of discovering LJ. And paying up front for a service you can't try out is a very unpopular and unefficient way to attract people on the Web.
  • It makes it hard to draw in a whole bunch of your friends and relatives, once you discover for yourself how great LJ is. This has traditionally been one of the great strengths of LJ, but in the new system the severely limited number of invitation codes prohibits that, and paying for many of your friends up front is not practical.
  • It makes it especially difficult to use LJ for people who do not live in the US and usually cannot afford to pay for a paid account. Although most of LJ users are Americans, very many users are not.

What are some alternative ways, not as drastic as severely limiting creation of new account, of addressing the first problem - encouraging people to contribute to LiveJournal?

  • Currently, much less is done on LJ pages to encourage helping out than it can be. The home page of LJ may feature a terse explanation of the philosophy of LJ with links to more information. Existing communities which function to help the site grow and prosper - such as lj_dev, lj_biz, news, and many others - aren't promoted enough. Users who subscribed to receieve email updates aren't getting any - though they could easily be getting one every few weeks with some information on what's up with LJ as well as calls for contribution or paid accounts.
  • A little bit more intrusive ways can be found to encourage free users to help the site. For example, a community may be set up to which all free users are mandatorily subscribed. Every week or so, it would feature an explicit discussion of how paid accounts help LJ stay alive and grow, and in which areas of the site contributor help is needed. An entry on one's friends view once a week doesn't seem too intrusive.
  • Free users may be further restricted in their abilities on LJ. This is a much harsher solution, of course, and one which should not be attempted lightly. One possible way is to restrict the use of the <img> tag to paid users.
  • Any other suggestions? Please help us come up with more of them! And criticise the ones here, too.

What are some alternative ways of solving the problem of abusive users?

  • One way is to create an option which allows comments in the user's journal only by users who are "older" than, say, two weeks. This, however, may not be a satisfactory solution since hard-core abusers can create accounts just for abuse and wait whatever time is needed before employing them.
  • Another way is to create a mode in which arbitrary users can leave a comment in the journal, but the comment does not appear there immediately. Instead, the journal's owner is notified of the fact that some previously unknown user is trying to leave a comment; after this the owner can easily authorize the user to leave further comments without delays, or the owner can ban the user and avoid the comment ever appearing in the journal. While technically this is just a trick that's not much different from the owner just deleting the offensive comment and banning the user, psychologically it may help because no invasion of the owner's "personal space" - their journal - ever takes place.
  • Any other ideas? Please help us come up with more of them!

Update: There have been several suggestions to delete inactive accounts. Unfortunately, this doesn't help at all. Inactive accounts do not create a stress on the servers, they just take up disk space, of which there is plenty.

Another update:
I would like to reaffirm at this point that all replies in this discussion are going to be considered very seriously. Discussions like these often generate huge amount of comments, which may discourage people from reading all of them and posting further ideas. Don't be discouraged, and if you can't be bothered to read everything written so far, don't be and just write what you have to say even if repeats someone else. On the other hand, by all means engage in debate and flesh out pros and cons of various suggestions if you can. I will monitor each and every response here and will create a shorter summary in a day or two, based on how discussion here goes.

Update: A summary of the whole thread is now being worked on, and will be posted to [Unknown LJ tag] as soon as it's finished. There were a lot of wonderful suggestions and thoughtful debate here - thanks to all who contributed!

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