me, fearless leader
  • burr86

sponsored community guidelines

In response to your concerns, we've written up something that we're going to ask our sponsors to agree to before they proceed with creating their communities here. We want to strike a balance between allowing companies to have somewhere on LJ where they can talk with people who are interested in their movie/product/gerbil sweaters/whatever, but also be very respectful of your individual spaces and your use of the site. To that end, we're going to require our sponsors to agree to some ground rules, just like advertisers agree to our ad guidelines. (Yes, we're going to put these in the sponsored community FAQ.)

Companies creating sponsored communities on LiveJournal will agree that ...

  • They will select a username that is not already registered; they will not be given any usernames that are in active use.

  • LiveJournal will not remove any other content that discusses the same topic in any fashion, positive or negative, unless it is in violation of our Terms of Service.

  • Within the boundaries of our Terms of Service, they are otherwise free to run their communities however they wish; the maintainers/moderators of those communities can delete comments and entries at their own discretion.

  • Users will not be automatically joined to communities under any circumstances. Users must specifically choose to join, read, or comment in these communities.

  • Representatives of the community will not send community invites to any user who has not clearly requested one. They may not use the "community invite" tool to send unsolicited messages to users, nor are they allowed to post unwanted identical comments or entries ("spam") intended to promote their community in other journals or communities.

  • They will not utilize contact information from member or watcher lists, nor will they initiate contact with you outside of the community without prior written notification or user consent.

  • The community will be clearly labeled as a sponsored community, and the icon next to the community will be different from the regular community icon.

  • Their maintainer accounts will not attempt to hide their identities; company representatives will be listed in the community's userinfo as maintainers.

  • They will not create additional accounts to artificially inflate the membership count, nor will they use alternate accounts to generate additional traffic (such as entries or comments) in their communities.

I know you're going to ask, "Why didn't you have these written up before you launched this program?" The answer is simple: we thought we were doing a good job of explaining the general norms and practices here on LJ to the sponsors. (The existing sponsored community is well within the boundaries set forth above, for example.) We've also been working only with sponsors who we expect to play fair and provide something of interest to users.

So, we didn't think there was a need to formalize the rules beyond that. We recognize that having additional guidelines will put some people more at ease, so we're willing to make this agreement explicit with our sponsors if you feel it will help to make things clearer.

Alternative Name for Sponsored Communities... Forums?

Love 'em, hate 'em, or really hate 'em..... sponsored communities aren't going away.

But nobody (not us, not the companies) wants to trick you about what they are ... these companies want a place to communicate with you. Yes, with you. Not at you. If they wanted to communicate at you they'd make a website or advertise on a billboard. (which they also do) But they want a forum in which they can talk with you. Maybe you have no interest in talking to them ... that's fine. Don't go there.

But done right (which we haven't done yet), they can be good in two ways:

1) they give us money, so we keep going and doing things which you do care about,
2) if you care about the company, you have a place to talk to them, on a site you already use.

Sure, maybe you don't care about the current company(ies) which have sponsored communities, but maybe your favorite wonderful company (not an evil one like us), comes along and you actually would like to talk to them ..... then you might care.

Help us make it not suck. Asking for it to go away won't help, so give us something constructive ....

-- if we can rename it, let's rename it
-- if we can hide it better from you, tell us where (and we will hide it for Basic users... subsequent post coming on that)

Basically we screwed this up. The feature could've been great, but everybody thought, "What? Companies want to pay for LiveJournals to talk to their customers? Uh, sure.... we already have that!" But obviously we didn't already have it, because it needs more disambiguation loving.

So about renaming it...
I was thinking today about calling them "forums". As in, "a forum for companies to talk to its customers". The the icon could be a little greek forum w/ columns and stuff.

Or maybe "Sponsored Community" everywhere is enough, if we don't forget anywhere. And maybe still keep the forum icon.

Thoughts? We don't want you to think it's a trick. That's totally not the goal. We're also fine branding employees that maintain the "forums" too ... the more you know, the better.

Brad just does damage control....
And yes, I do only come out for damage control, but that's because I care about LiveJournal a lot... it's been my baby for like 7 years. The reason I sold LiveJournal, to retell an old story, is because I was too stressed doing LiveJournal alone (it's a ton of work), and I was on the verge of shutting it all down. I sold it to the least evil company I could find, for a lot less money than I could have if I had no standards. I was looking for help, and Six Apart's been great. They let me work on the things that interest me, and generally that's the more technical backend details ... the plumbing that makes LJ tick, not the user-visible things. But when I see the users in distress, I care and get involved with the community again to fix. Let's fix this together. We have a lot of cool shit coming down the pipe.... IM/Jabber integration, SMS, another round of ESN (notifications) improvements, etc...

More later
As Abe keeps saying, this is far from over. More later.

Please reply, but constructive, please.... it's a lot for us to read.
me, fearless leader
  • burr86

how a sponsored community is different

Okay, one of the first things we wanted to address is all the issues relating to sponsored communities. A lot of you are (very understandably!) upset about this, and I think it's partially due to confusion about how things are going to work, and partially due to us screwing up some of the implementation. (And, yes, some of you hate the idea entirely. We've heard you, and we're going to try and work out a compromise so that everyone can get a little of what they want, even if all they want is to be left alone.)

What makes a sponsored community different than a regular community?

Basically, nothing. :)

They're different in that sponsored communities are highlighted both on the main LJ homepage and in interest searches, to both Basic and Plus users. (We'll talk about Basic users seeing them and how we're going to fix that problem in a later post.) The sponsor might also want to run regular ads on the site, through the existing ad rotation, so they'll have that option available to them. They do get access to paid account features; after all, they are paying us to advertise on LJ. And the obvious: they're run by representatives from that company, with a bit of help from some of the LJ staff.

Besides that, they're just like regular communities. In many ways, we're actually going to be a lot more aggressive about holding them to a certain standard. We're writing up a list of "behavior guidelines" that we're going to ask all our sponsors to agree to. It's still making its rounds around the office to make sure we've addressed the biggest issues that have come up, and we'll post it here once we finalize it.

In particular, some of the concerns we're going to clarify:
  • Spam and community invites
  • Visibility in interest searches
  • Concerns about access to user data
  • Fears of censorship (see also: fandom)
  • Getting usernames
  • Fake accounts
  • ...

So ... can't they create the community for free, like normal?

We've always allowed people to engage in a little bit of "commercial activity" in their journals -- if someone knits sweaters for gerbils and wants to sell those, we let them sell those in their own journal. We don't want to prohibit you from doing that; that would anger a lot more people. However, we do prohibit larger companies from doing this -- companies that obviously turn a profit of at least a million dollars a year (we're not going to be auditing you :P) aren't permitted to just set up a community and profit from creating a community here. By requiring that they go through us, we'll be able to hold them to higher standards, so you know what to expect.

The distinction between the regular community icon and the sponsored community icon isn't clear enough

Thanks for the feedback -- and special thank you to those of you who offered up alternative icons! It seems changing the color isn't distinctive enough (and I'm inclined to agree with you guys), so we're going to come up with a different icon entirely. We'll let you know when that's ready.

More later, probably tomorrow, etc etc. Keep an eye out. :)
animated bunneh icon
  • burr86

new community icon

I have a really, really long post about sponsored communities that we're still working on, but we wanted to go ahead and post an announcement about one of the changes we made already. A lot of people brought up concern about being able to distinguish between sponsored communities and regular communities. We were already planning on changing the little community icon, but we didn't actually do that before we posted the announcement, and I'm very sorry about that.

To that end: when you link to a sponsored community, you'll see it listed with a green icon (that is, you'll see sponsored_comm instead of community). This icon will also be used in interest searches (more about those in a subsequent post) so you can scan through the list and immediately identify which communities are sponsored and which ones aren't.

More to come: separating them out on people's list of friends on the profile page (where there aren't icons next to the usernames).

More more to come: We'll be posting about other changes and answers to your questions -- stay tuned. And point your friends here, if they want details.
animated bunneh icon
  • burr86

we're listening!

I know we haven't gotten a chance to answer all the concerns you raised in comments to the previous posts in this community, but I'm just posting to say: we're reading your comments, we're listening to what you have to say, and we're changing things based on your feedback.

The entire LJ team met this morning to discuss this, and I'm personally very happy with the results. We think you will be too, but we'll let you decide when we post those announcements over the next few hours and days.

Keep an eye out, and I'm sorry we kept you hanging this weekend.

And, yes, for the record, we unanimously agreed not to post any radical announcements on a Friday night. :)

Sponsored Confusion

Bleh. Sorry, everybody...

There's some messed up communication going on internally and to you guys. Ignore lots of this. I'm sorry that I haven't been paying more attention (or really that lots of us haven't been paying more attention). (Un)fortunately, we prefer to hack on the new stuff, and not spend a lot of times with the sales department. Our bad.

Here's some clarifications:

  • sponsored "whatever" are ads -- don't worry, we (at least most of us?) realize sponsorships are the same as ads. and we remember which account levels see ads and which don't. For clarification for outsiders:
    • Free / "Basic": limited ("basic") features, no ads.
    • "Plus": more features, ads.
    • Paid: even more features, no ads.
  • paid users won't see sponsored stuff -- ignore the previous post. paid users won't ever see ads. that's why you paid, and we're not in the business of pissing off paid users. (just in the business of writing misleading posts to paid users, apparently... *sigh*)
  • SMS feature level --- SMS is a Plus and Paid feature. It costs us money to send and receive text messages, so we can't give it out for free. We'd lose too much money on it. But because enough free users will (presumably?) want it, we're letting you optionally use it, if you agree that you recognize it's a Plus level feature (Plus == ads), and thus for that part of the site, you see ads. But if you're a Free (er, "basic") user and don't want to see ads, don't use SMS and don't see ads.
  • Slippery slopes, boiling frogs -- no kidding. That's all our biggest fears. We bring it up a lot.
  • Sponsored communities -- don't look at them if you don't want. We try to label them everywhere as sponsored, but if we don't, let us know and we'll fix. It's a bug if they're not labeled (like on front page and interest search).
  • ....
I'm sure I'm missing stuff but I'm late for something and have to run. I just wanted to post this now instead of waiting until Monday for every to discuss it.

Don't worry, there's not as many evil people here as you might think. Clusterfuns like this one are caused by poor communication and rushing to get things done, not because we hate you and want to kill the site. But whenever this happens (and it's happened a lot, not just this time), we change things so it doesn't happen in the same way, for the same reasons, in the future. So some good might still come out of this.

More later when I know more, or if there are more major complaints/questions I forgot to address.

Update (7:52pm): just got back, haven't had time to read all comments yet, but wanted to apologize for possibly indicating Denise was in any way responsible for any of this. It's definitely not Denise's fault. There were just a lot of people acting and talking independently without as much inter-group communication as was needed ... it's hard to single out any root cause on this, but it's definitely more a communication/structure problem than a personel problem. Sorry, Denise.

who the fuck is todd?
  • rahaeli

Sponsored Content

We've been working with some great companies who are really excited about LiveJournal and want to help us give you guys access to new features and special content. In the coming weeks and months, we'll be launching some new offerings, including:

  • Sponsored communities: LiveJournal communities run by companies who are looking for a way to connect and interact with people who are interested in finding out more about their products and getting special deals and exclusive content.

  • Sponsored features: Features that might cost us too much to offer by ourselves, or touch on areas where we're not as experienced, which we'll be able to offer through partnerships with other companies.

For instance, you'll be able to visit a community sponsored by the makers of the next hit movie and get access to things like exclusive trailers, behind-the-scenes footage, and promotional pictures. Or a community sponsored by a travel company to get travel advice, tips and tricks, and special deals, or one sponsored by a technology company to get the computer hint-of-the-day, or -- well, anything else our partners can come up with. Sponsored communities function much like regular LJ communities, but there'll be a banner at the top of the page to let you know you're seeing official, sponsored content. We'll also be making minor changes to the community icon for sponsored communities so you can tell at a glance.

We launched our first sponsored community, the Science of Sleep movie community (scienceofsleep) a few weeks ago, and there'll be more content from different sponsors in the future. We think it's a great chance for sponsors to take advantage of some of LJ's best features, and a chance for you guys to get access to exclusive content not being offered anywhere else.

As for sponsored features, they'll be things we've wanted to offer for a while and never quite known where to start. We'll be working with companies who are experts in the areas and technologies we think would be cool to offer, and through their sponsorship, they'll bring new features to LJ.

Our first sponsored feature, SMS integration with LiveJournal, will be launching to paid users soon. It's sponsored by Amp'd Mobile. We're really excited about these features, since people have been asking us for a really long time when they'll be able to interact with LJ via tet messaging. We're really glad to be able to work with Amp'd to finally get this out to you guys.

And, before anyone gets a chance to bring it up, we'll be honest: paid users are going to see the (unobtrusive!) sponsorship information on pages about sponsored features. We don't consider it to be advertising (though I'm sure some of you might disagree!). Our sponsored features are partnerships with companies who can make it possible for us to offer cool and nifty things we wouldn't be able to do otherwise, and we think that giving them credit is the right thing to do. It's what makes these partnerships attractive, and lets us be able to give you guys more stuff.

We're also putting the finishing touches on another awesome sponsored feature, but we'll let that be a surprise when we get there.

So now it's your turn! What types of companies, features, information, and special deals would you be interested in seeing?


Okay, there's enough confusion here in the comments that I need to clarify:

Sponsored communities and sponsored features aren't the same as the banner ads and Google ads displayed on Plus journals and to Plus users.

Our goal for sponsored communities is to give businesses an opportunity to connect with their customers, give you special deals -- free stuff! -- and information. More and more companies are moving to blogging as a form of communication -- people are starting to understand that there's a huge potential for conversation, and they want to reach out and have that conversation somewhere where the tools are already built in, like LJ.

Sponsored features are just that -- new things on LJ, made possible through partnerships with other companies, like technology companies that do things we don't have the experience or resources to do. We think it's totally fair to include a "this feature is made possible by this company" statement in exchange for those features.

Both of them are completely optional. You don't have to use sponsored features, and you don't have to join sponsored communities. We think they're going to be worth it for you guys -- I personally can't wait for the SMS stuff, especially since we've had people asking for it for literally years. But if you don't want to see it, you don't have to.

We want to give you guys options. One of those options is more features; one of them is the choice of seeing whether or not you want to listen to what companies have to say and offer about their products. But it's your choice -- you can also choose to completely ignore it if you want.
who the fuck is todd?
  • rahaeli

Don't Panic!

So, tomorrow you might load LiveJournal and say "...wait, what the heck?" We'll be launching our new global navigation scheme, which is out of beta and has now been officially named Horizon. (The vertical navigation option, when we finish it, will be named Vertigo.) If you'd like to try it out in advance, you can go to the Browse Preferences page and specifically select it. (It's still called "Beta Navigation" on the page, but we'll be updating that as well.)

Soon, everyone who's not logged in while browsing the site will start seeing LiveJournal in the new Horizon scheme (we were planning for Thursday, but we've hit a few snags), and in a few weeks, anyone who hasn't explicitly chosen one of our other site schemes will probably also get changed over. (We're not storing that information quite yet, so if you don't want to automatically be changed over to use Horizon in the future, wait until the default logged-out page starts using Horizon, and then go to the Browse Preferences page and select the scheme you'd like to keep.) We'll be keeping the other schemes available for people who want to keep using them, but we won't be updating them to include new links and features -- we just don't have the time and resources to support four different versions of the navigation scheme.

So wait, why redesign?

A bunch of reasons! Including:

  • Our existing site designs were starting to feel the pressure of time -- we've added a lot of features since we designed them, and it was starting to get difficult to shoehorn those features into the various menus. The Horizon scheme is designed to be expandable over time, as we add new features.

  • Many, many people have reported that it's hard to find features under the existing site schemes, because the division of the menus isn't logical. To build the menus for Horizon, we got the whole staff into groups and set out index cards with all the pages on the site, then shuffled them around until everything fit into logical groups. Then we pulled out the most frequently-used tasks, and the ones we felt defined LiveJournal as a service, and built the menus around them. We've been listening to feedback from our beta testers and tweaking the menus ever since.

  • We wanted to fix the usability problems with the existing site schemes. For instance, with XColibur, when the submenu appears on hover, one tiny little mouse twitch and you lose it again. Ouch.

  • We wanted to have a prominent link for our notification system's message center, right up in the top of the design. What notification system? Oh, stay tuned to news, because it's pretty much the best thing to happen on LJ since the advent of the friends page... (Our permanent account holders are already getting a sneak peak, and in the coming weeks, we'll be launching for everyone. We can't wait.)

Where can I find out more?

The lj_design community has a series of posts about the new design, including more information about what we're trying to accomplish and possible plans for future changes or additions. Take a look if you're interested in learning more about why we made the choices we made.

What if it doesn't work for me?

We've done a lot of testing, and we've fixed a lot of bugs that came up in various browsers and resolutions. We think we've gotten most of them, but if you're still having problems, please open up a Support request with as much detailed information as possible about your browser, operating system, screen resolution, and what problems you're seeing.

(If you just think it's ugly, not broken, we're probably not going to be much help, but we're quite happy to listen to why you think it's ugly. You can email feedback @

Why should I use it?

Because it'll walk your dog and take out your garbage for you! ...Okay, no, that's a lie. But we think -- and beta feedback agrees -- that the number one advantage of using the new site scheme is how easy it is to find things. It might take you a few days to retrain yourself where to look for things, but once you do, we think you'll find that locating links to commonly-used tasks is suddenly a lot easier. (For instance, no more flailing around and trying to remember where the link to edit Friend groups is. That's been annoying me since about 2003.)

So if you want to try it out, or just want to see a screenshot of what it looks like, head on over to the Browse Preferences page and give it a test drive.

Stay tuned to news for our upcoming feature announcements -- August and September are going to be pretty busy -- and keep watching lj_biz, because I plan on making posts like this, explaining what's going on and why we're doing it, for many of our new upcoming features. Happy Wednesday!
who the fuck is todd?

At least we'll always have Frank

I've seen a lot of people wondering about recent changes or proposed changes to LiveJournal's navigation and user interface, and asking why they're necessary. We've talked about our individual goals for some of the changes in the lj_design community, but we haven't talked about why we're working on the project overall, and I wanted to take a minute and explain what the problem is, what we're trying to solve, and why we're trying to solve it the way we are.

See, we've done a bunch of studies and data-gathering, including usability tests with both new and existing users. The data are conclusive, and they're kind of scary: people have trouble completing even the most basic tasks on LiveJournal. Our experienced and long-term users have adapted to working around these user interface (UI) problems really well -- well enough that they've forgotten the steep learning curve they had in the beginning -- but new users don't want to read 15 FAQs before they can get started with their new journals, and even people who have been using LJ for years have trouble finding and using all of our features.

LJ grew organically over the years, and a lot of the UI decisions made quickly at the very beginning have stuck around for a long time. We've seen people get so frustrated at trying to figure out the basic taskflow that they throw up their hands in disgust and give up. One study shows that there are a lot of people who don't know there's anything other than the Friends page on LJ. (I'm not kidding. I wish I were.)

I've heard a lot of people saying that we're trying to 'dumb down' the site. We're not, but we know why it might look like we are: people who mountain-climbed that initial learning curve have blocked out how steep it really was, or were fortunate enough to have a set of expectations that match LiveJournal's UI assumptions. When you use LJ every day, you get used used to all the little quirks and annoyances, and they seem like second nature to a lot of you by now. Try finding a friend who's never used LJ before, and sit them down to create an account. I'm pretty confident in saying: they're going to have a lot of problems.

Last week I was trying to show my sister -- a smart, computer-savvy professional woman -- how to set up a feature, and I finally just took the keyboard away and set it up for her myself. It was easier than explaining.

We think websites shouldn't need an owner's manual. We think you should be able to sit down in front of a site and be using the basic functionality in ten minutes. We know we're not there yet, and maybe we never will be, but we're trying. Fixing a lot of the problems with the site's navigation, UI, and workflow is important enough that it's one of our top priorities for the rest of 2006. (I'll let some other people talk about our specific plans for doing that, and over the coming weeks and months I'll make a few more posts about what our goals are and how we think we're doing with them.)

We're armed with lists of tasks people have demonstrated trouble figuring out how to accomplish, with data about where people give up while they're trying to get things done, and with a whole wealth of research into LiveJournal's navigation, usability, and UI. We never had a lot of this stuff before, so when we made changes, we couldn't tell if they made things better or worse. We've got it now, so we're making choices and decisions based on fact, not on guesswork or statistically-inaccurate samples. (Like our friends lists. We're all users too, but our friends tend to be the kind of people who find scavenger hunts for hidden features fun.)

We know that any change to make things better will wind up irritating some people who are used to doing it the old way. Trust me, I hate change too -- I'm still using the same instant messaging client I used in 1997, because I can't find a newer one that doesn't make UI decisions that contradict what I've trained myself into. Just because something's familiar, though, doesn't mean it's necessarily "usable".

I know that a lot of you are really passionate about LJ, and that you love it, warts and all. We love it, too. I love it so much that every time I hear someone say "I tried using LJ, but I couldn't figure out how to do anything, so I just gave up," it makes me want to bang my head against the keyboard. We're trying to fix that.

It might be a rough ride for those of you who are used to the way LJ used to be, and I'm sorry for that. We're trying our best to make our changes as unobtrusive as possible, but it's not always practical, and we don't always have the time or the resources to maintain two or more different versions of the site, with the "old way" and the "new way". I know it's obnoxious to have to retrain yourself on new user interfaces, especially when you can't figure out the exact reason for the change. We don't make change lightly, though. Every UI change we've done or are contemplating is to address something our data have identified as a critical problem.

We are listening to you when you give us feedback, even if we can't always respond. I know it doesn't always look like we are, and we are trying to make it more clear. Because so many people are using LiveJournal in so many varied and diverse ways, sometimes something aimed at making it easier for one group of people to use LiveJournal looks like something that's actually designed to annoy people.

That's never our intent, though. Everybody on staff here knows and recognizes what an amazing product LiveJournal is, and every change we make is designed to address some problem that's preventing people from making full use of the awesomeness that is LiveJournal. We know we're not always going to get things right the first time, but we're trying our best to make sure that LiveJournal remains a stable, usable, relevant site with the widest possible attraction to all groups of users, new and old, and I wanted to make sure you guys know that.

(I'm going to leave the comments on for this post, because I love hearing what you guys have to say, but please don't be offended if I can't reply to them. I am reading, though!)