Time to Put LiveJournal Out of Its Misery (A Note to International Media Trainers)September 5, 2009
Normally, I focus more on promoting things done well rather than rail against things done poorly. But, I gotta say, there’s room for exception in some cases. Enter: LiveJournal. I’m sorry, but I kinda think the world would be a better place without LiveJournal, given the available alternatives.
Sure, it would leave a huge number of people who use it to blog, express themselves, connect with others, create networks, social network, and whatever else they do, out in the cold. Particularly in eastern Europe, in places like Russia and Ukraine, where LiveJournal has a commanding lead in the blogging platform market. But, while my party line tends to be “try NOT to make things any harder in developing and transitioning countries, because they are hard enough already”, with LiveJournal I have to take a longview, pragmatic, and perhaps short-run heartless stance and say, “Cut the cord. You’ll thank me for it”.
Because, to everyone still on LiveJournal, I have to say: in the end, all this platform’s doing is holding you back. It really is subtraction by addition. And besides, there are so many other options that are much, MUCH better.
Okay, here are my bones to pick with LiveJournal (and trust me, running through this is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you, LiveJournal devotees):
Seriously, the overall interface is REALLY outdated. It looks like stepping into a time warp back to 2000. LiveJournal is celebrating its 10 year anniversary, and kinda looks like it hasn’t aged a day (which is great if you are Nicole Kidman, but not if you are a website). Now that I think about it, everything I am about to say revolves around the primitivity of the interface.
Way Too Much Text
Now, text is generally a good thing, as opposed to way too many images, especially in countries with a high rate of low bandwidth, where too many images can kill your whole afternoon just trying to view a single website. But somehow, LifeJournal has taken text to text overkill. Maybe my real beef is that a lot of the text that is used for navigation is just a series of links, left to right, a series of words and commas. I’m thinking in particular about the Friends and Communities on the Profile page. Just usernames and commas. Get more than just a few people there, and it feels like I’m back in 1996’s Internet. Compare that to Facebook, where you have not only people’s names (and not just usernames, but their actual names), you see their profile pics. And so little of the text navigation, if any, is grouped in boxes, or anything else that would make it easy to scan.
If LiveJournal is someone’s first encounter with publishing their own content online, the way this text and navigation is handled is likely to give you the wrong idea about good practices in Web design.
Way Too Much Scrolling
Too much scrolling is required to view categories of content on a page. Just look at the Profile page, where every category of info you can see on a person is vertically organized. Hello! It’s 2009. We’ve advanced the technology to create boxes of content side by side so that you can see different categories of content, and click for more, should you need to dig deeper, but more importantly, you can get a lot more of an overall sense of what is on that page without having to scroll (that navigation and scanning issue from my previous gripe comes back!). If someone adds a thousand friends and a thousand communities, that just makes you have to scroll more. Scrolling bad. BAD!
Then you click on Explore LJ, and see a much more effective way of handling content and minimize scrolling, rather than what wrong is wrong with so much else in LiveJournal, aka too much vertical. It could give one hope for LiveJournal, since they obviously “got it” somewhere on the site. But, unless they find a way to incorporate this approach to pretty much everything else in the site–gauging from just how primitively designed the rest of the site is, I don’t see it happening–LiveJournal’s going to (hopefully) become but an entry in the annals of Web 2.0 history.
Way Too Much White Space
Sure, Facebook’s got a lot of white space, too. But, at least that white space surrounds mostly content that has been organized not only up and down, but left and right, and more gives it a simplicity, as opposed to oversimplification. With LiveJournal, it’s the latter. WAY too much wasted space on pages that just results in more scrolling. Remember, scrolling bad. Type something in the search box, and just BATHE in the white space down the right side of the screen, as you delight in more bad practice reinforcement.
Search is Barely Even Search
Use the Find Your Friends feature, and you can only search based on email addresses, instant messengers, and usernames. So, if you don’t know your friend’s username and he or she doesn’t have an email or IM name in there that you know, well, guess you aren’t finding your friend. Now, try the same thing in Facebook, and you get a menu of possibilities to locate people. Not that I love their search, but at least I’m not better off just searching for my friends on it using Google, like I am with with LiveJournal. Type something into the search box in the upper right, and you get matches that appear to have no order whatsoever, which is GREAT once you get several hundred matches. Not alphabetical order. Not what visibly has the most friends or members. Just a randomized list. Basically, LiveJournal is a search black hole, unless you know EXACTLY what you are looking for, spelled exactly correctly (which represents a fairly small portion of searches–try it sometime, and see how often you search something with exactly the write spelling and no extraneous words or characters).
Navigation Links Change
Now let’s crank it up a notch, next level “here’s what really bugs me about LJ”, for the next few annoyance categories. Click on Journal, Friends, or ScrapBook along the top navigation menu, and your navigation menu that you use on the pages Home, Profile, Communities, and Explore LJ (aka, HALF your navigation options) goes away. So, for half your options, all of those options stay. For the other half, they disappear, and you have to click “Home” to get back. Seriously? Haven’t we learned the your core navigation options should never change? Seriously?
Another check on the list of bad Web design fundamentals.
Interconnectivity with Other Web 2.0 Technologies
Now I’m starting to feel like I just stepped off the Gravitron at the state fair. I’ve found that LiveJournal is extremely limited in its ability to incorporate widgets and related Web 2.0 tools into its interface to link and showcase your content from other platforms. Sure, you can easily embed code into an individual post to add YouTube videos, podcast players, whatever. But, try to incorporate widgets into your overall design, and you’re kinda SOL.
When we were training in Ukraine how to put a Twitter widget into people’s LiveJournal accounts, the best we could come up with was to put it into people’s Profile pages (I’ve already mentioned how much I love that Profile page for its scrolling issues), which buries it under a heap of clothes in a closet, essentially. I’d much prefer that go right there on the Journal page, and remain on all pages that the public would view. But, unlike WordPress, where you can add a Twitter feed that links to your Twitter page, and will appear on every page of your blog should you choose, I have yet to see how you can do this on LiveJournal. Nor can you put a Facebook Profile widget in there. Or anything else, as far as I can tell. Not in the overall interface. Meanwhile, Facebook, WordPress, and all other industry leaders in social media and blogging that allow widgets at all (and MUCH more customization than LiveJournal) are, every day, opening new widget and Web 2.0 interconnectivity possibilities for you.
There IS an RSS feed for your journal that makes it possible to feed OUT of LiveJournal. But what about feeding IN? Not that I can see.
The real issue here is that it appears LiveJournal hasn’t taken the approach of opening up their API for outside developers to build applications for. That might have been fine five years ago. But, with Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, and so many other sites storming the market with an open API approach that encourages developers to get involved, LiveJournal’s going to either have to make a life change or end up in a Web tech cemetery.
So, basically, LiveJournal makes it impossible to really interconnect sites, and spread content, like so many of its competitors, suffocating many of the best things about Web 2.0.
Social Networking is An Illusion, at Best
On paper, the cool thing about LiveJournal is that it combines blogging with social networking. What a great idea, being able to do both in one place–easily publish all of your great ideas, frustrations, breakfast choices, whatever, while also being able to create and join communities, and find your friends, to keep tabs on their great ideas, frustrations, breakfast choices, whatever.
The problem is, you kind of get the worst of both worlds. It’s like a hybrid bicycle. The idea is that you get a road bike and a mountain bike in one. Except, ride on the road, and you’d rather have a road bike, since a hybrid is bulkier and has fatter tires. And, ride off road, and you’d rather have a mountain bike, since a mountain bike is sturdier and better equipped for going over rough terrain. Same thing applies to LiveJournal. For blogging, WordPress, Blogger, etc. are much better because you have much more control of the design, can incorporate Web 2.0 interconnectivity to feed your content in and out, and, oh yeah, your blog content appears first when people go to your URL.
And, for social networking, Facebook is much better. On Facebook, not only can you create and join groups, find your friends, etc., but you can also follow the discussion in ways LiveJournal just can’t. On LiveJournal, you create “Communities”, which are like Facebook Groups, but when you click on that particular community’s page, all you see (unless I am grossly mistaken) is who is a member of that community. You can’t actually see postings from individual members to the community, or see conversations taking place between members in a public forum. (So, how is this social networking again?). With Facebook, you can join Groups (I won’t even get into Facebook Pages here, which along with Groups makes Facebook much more powerful. If you are interested in learning the power of Pages, I invite you to read this), but more importantly, Groups have a whole page where you can hold public discussions, share pics and videos, and if you are an administrator, you can send a mass group message enhancing its communication capabilities (I have yet to see the mass message option in LiveJournal’s Communities).
With LiveJournal, you can, however, follow your friends’ posts on your Friends page. Yet, the design is so screen consuming that you have to do a lot of scrolling to keep tabs on your friends. Facebook still has a big leg up on LiveJournal here. With Facebook, people can send status updates quickly and easily. This makes it much easier for people to stay updated on their friends, given that blog posts tend to take a lot more time, and thus people are less inclined to post as often. With LiveJournal, I haven’t seen any status update feature. And, since Twitter is becoming so popular, driving more and more people toward status updating, it is making LiveJournal even more a thing of the past.
Why These Shortcomings Matter
A lot of what I am grousing about here might not be that important to a substantial population of consumers (though data on growth and use of LiveJournal from 2008 to 2009 compared to sites like Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, and Blogger show that LiveJournal is getting KILLED, which suggests that these other sites are probably doing something better). But that is their choice, and maybe LiveJournal works fine for them.
What I am doing is thinking on this from an international media development perspective. Sure, there are benefits to training LiveJournal in some cases. Its oversimplification does make it easy to use for someone who has little or no web publishing experience. And, in places like eastern Europe, where it is very popular (10th most trafficked site in Ukraine, 9th in Russia, as of this writing–here’s hoping you are reading this in the future, and these numbers have dropped in ranking), it is very tempting to train people how to use LiveJournal to help them tap into an existing social-networking market.
When I was in Ukraine, training blogging and Web 2.0, I chose sticking with LiveJournal, given that our training was an “ABCs of Social Media”, we were already training many other tools, the overall skill level of the trainees was comparatively low, and LiveJournal was so culturally familiar. Man, I really had to bite my tongue and hold back my true feelings on LiveJournal.
I am here to encourage the media trainers of the world to think twice about training LiveJournal, and instead go with sites like WordPress and Facebook, when possible. I will admit that it is certainly better to get people on LiveJournal than nothing at all. So, perhaps if that is the case, we can think of LiveJournal as a gateway to bigger and better.
However, please keep in mind that with all of these shortcoming I have mentioned (and more I haven’t gotten to), further institutionalizing LiveJournal in places where Web 2.0 skills are comparatively low does mean you aren’t exposing them as much to the much more effective and modern Web 2.0 tools that they could be using, that would connect them to the larger world that is using them, and that really are still pretty easy to use, by comparison. Moreover, these other tools are much better equipped for interconnectivity, meaning you can publish in more places at once and reach more communities more easily (think: some people prefer blogs, some prefer Facebook, some prefer Twitter), rather than limiting yourself to just one (assuming that expression, communication, and reach are among your goals).
The reality is, unless big things change, LiveJournal is a technology of the past. And with the whirlwind of investment in and development of these other apps going on for all these other tools I’ve mentioned, clearly they are the technology of not just the present, but the future.
So, why condemn people to the past?
Photo 1: Courtesy of openDemocracy.
Photo 2: Frank N. Furter from the film “Rocky Horror Picture Show”. Courtesy of Amadscientist.