LiveJournal wants to matter again, and is making a number of changes over the course of 2014 which the company hopes will make it a more relevant social networking destination, starting with a major revamp of its homepage and user interface, rolled out into beta just yesterday. On the horizon, the company is also promising several new services as well as new mobile apps, in an overarching vision that sounds as if it wants to find a new niche for itself as something of a competitor to Medium.
Though LiveJournal isn’t interested in specifically detailing these new services today, the company would say that they’re designed to help bloggers “highlight their best content and amazing writing,” plus help readers better network, and bring “location aspects into long form.” In other words, a lot like the modern blogging platform Medium.
Plus, the company isn’t beyond stretching into other, not as social areas, too. For example, it’s also exploring the idea of helping users run e-commerce shops on its site – something that many of its users in Singapore do today.
Stateside, A Stale Reputation
The blogging platform, which publicly claims 60 million+ monthly unique visitors and more than 48 million journals, is, of course, still associated with an older era of the web, when blogging was still relatively novel, and a far more community-oriented activity.
First launched in 1999, LiveJournal grew in popularity by offering users free personal journals, which were set up as online diaries or broader online communities, often around some niche fandom. It became home to things like fan fiction, support groups, creative communities, gamers’ discussions, and more. In fact, it was sort of like a precursor to Tumblr, but with a more advanced, albeit complex, set of administrative features for managing and moderating LiveJournal sites. It even publicly struggled with the issues surrounding its hosting of adult content, including illegal activity, much like Tumblr itself faced in later years.
However, more recently, LiveJournal’s biggest claim to fame in the U.S. is that it hosts “Game of Thrones” writer George RR Martin’s website, dubbed “Not a Blog.” But more often than not, the name LiveJournal is mentioned with a sort of smirking tone, as with Salon’s April post about “5 famous people who still have LiveJournals,” for example, which referred to the site as an “outdated blogging platform most often associated with teens from 2004.”
The company has also had a variety of owners over the years. Its creator Brad Fitzpatrick sold the service to Six Apart (Moveable Type, TypePad) in 2005, and then, a couple of years later, it was sold again to Russian firm SUP Media. Now, it’s owned by Rambler&Co, which is controlled by ANN Investment Group.
The site today has a large footprint overseas, where it’s the number one blogging platform in Eastern Europe, and is ranked 138 (Global) according to Alexa. Though the company wouldn’t speak to its revenue specifics, it would say that currently half of revenues come from user payments related to promotion of posts and premium features. LiveJournal also runs some advertising, but this is not its core focus.
Getting A Makeover
And now, LiveJournal is hanging out the “under new management” banner yet again. Last month, the company announced a new CEO, Katya Akudovich, who previously worked at Google, Box and Microsoft. Akudovich was confirmed in a unanimous vote by the board of directors, who believe her international experience at these major tech companies will help her make LiveJournal a top social media platform yet again.
“My Box experience, where I started the Deal Desk department, gave me unique insights into how a company turbo-charged an amazing product,” she tells us. “At Google, it was about bringing the right content in the right form to brand new Google Play markets. And this is exactly what we’re planning to do at LJ,” Akudovich says.
In addition to the new services Akudovich teases, LiveJournal is also rolling out new iOS and Android applications next month, designed to appeal to both writers and readers. And the company is hopping on the ‘anonymity’ bandwagon, now in vogue thanks to services like Whisper, Yik Yak and Secret, noting that LiveJournal “will remain anonymous and will never ask its users to identify themselves.”
That’s also been a big selling point for the service in areas of the world where free speech crackdowns continue, including in Russia. (For instance, LiveJournal recently removed the display of subscriber numbers on LJ blogs, following the approval of a new Russian law that imposed stricter rules on bloggers with over 3,000 daily visits.)
But LJ’s new strategy for 2014 and beyond is one where it hopes to promote itself as a platform for longer-form content and self-expression in an era when users can’t seem bothered to post status updates, preferring Instagram selfies, looping Vine clips, GIFs and texts over longer articles, lengthy videos, and the like.
But that, thinks LiveJournal, is the opportunity.
“There’s a big market for this that really only we and Medium are filling – and with significantly more personalization, while still being easy to use,” says Akudovich. “Our users generate an amazing amount of deep content – half a million long-form posts a day – these are not tweets, these are real long-form posts where people write some very interesting things. We have amazing communities too,” she says.
That may be so, but a LiveJournal “comeback” would require more than a few new services and a fresh coat of paint to achieve this vision of a long-form content network. And let’s remember, this isn’t the first time the company has rolled out a makeover, after all.
The company still has a way to go to make the “LiveJournal” brand something that isn’t just hilariously retro, but a name that can make inroads with a larger, and yes, younger, crowd of online users looking for a personal home base beyond a Tumblr blog or Instagram profile.