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October 1, 2006

The Science of Sheep
Posted by Teresa at 06:43 PM *

Want to see a high-end PR disaster in progress? Go here.

Lee pointed it out in one of the comment threads:

[A]nyone who is interested in astroturfing should check out this community on LiveJournal. The “community” in question is one of LJ’s less-inspired notions, a “corporate-sponsored” promotional site. But of particular interest is the fact that most of the people making positive comments about the movie have brand-new LJ accounts. If these aren’t corporate-paid astroturfing sockpuppets, I’ll eat my hat.
Lee’s hat is safe. The LJ sponsored community is full of posters spontaneously saying totally believable things like:
Win autographed Gondry stuff, cash, clothes, etcetera

Threadless T-Shirts put together an awesome contest. Check it out:
http://www.threadless.com/loves/thescienceofsleep

and
I saw it two days ago and it changed my life forever…

thank you Michael Gondrey… not only did you bring my dad and I closer, but you made me a different person

and
I am soooo looking forward to see this movie!!! I really liked the idea and I adore Gael Garcia Bernal! ;) So it changed your attitude? made you a different person? That makes me want seeing this movie even more
and
I’m going to watch this movie in a few hours, I’v been waiting for it to show near my house and it has finally arrived. I’m so excited!
Then LJ reality reasserts itself. Here are the responses that followed directly after that last comment:
lol

let’s see.

you made your journal a month ago and have 14 total journal entries, and now you’re in this community.

looks like a FAKE MARKETING SHILL to me

that is truly pathetic. there is not even an effort to make it look real. give us a break. we’re not gonna fall for that
And:
odd how every positive poster in this community has their entire journal friends only.
And:
It throws into sharp relief the problem of sponsored communities, doesn’t it? Who is real? Who isn’t? I don’t know who this person is, but I do know that what she wrote is incredibly over the top, and isn’t something I would expect a real human being to say about any film short of Schindler’s List or something of equal weight. …

Fifteen months is a sneeze in the movie business, so it is possible this person is a corporate troll. Whether she is or not, the fact that she posted her opinion here makes it suspect to me.

That’s why sponsored comms blow chunks. They create an atmosphere of suspicion and distrust.

And in classic LJ fashion:
Yup. Out of the moderators:
b1soux is almost definitely a sock puppet - “Date created: 2006-08-25.”
endlessfalling started 8-30-06.
f1ora started 8-25-06.
samoutlaw started 9-12-06.

Their only LJ friends are each other plus people involved with lj_biz. LOL!

And whoever made them actually went to the trouble of “friending” one or two token people with each, giving them indie-rock usericons, and writing two or three vague entries like “HAY HERE’S MY JOURNAL” and “HERE’S A DREAM POEM I FOUND.”

Or, you know, maybe 4 people decided around the same time to make four journals that are all essentially the same. Whatev, that sounds REALLY plausible.

And one other set of responses:
i find it just a little suspicious that most commenters here have had ljs for a very short amount of time are in less than 5 communities, have very few entries, have myspace…

maybe some of you are real, just plain old sad

but it is so very suspicious, like you were all created to comment here.

i actually thought it looked interesting but there’s no way i’m watching this now. not paying anyhow.

the comm about a movie is almost, almost understandable.

but filling it with these posers who say ’ OMG THIS MOVIE IS SO GOOD IT CHANGED MY LIFE!”

and other such things.

not only is lame, it reminds of myspace.

Congratulations, thou astroturfing PR firm, thou! Your target audience now associates this movie with the least-cool aspects of MySpace.

The conversation at the site is gradually filling up with LJ regulars who are politely but firmly explaining that while they’d previously been planning to see the film, they’re now going to give it a miss. And they’ll encourage their friends to do the same. And they’ll do the same to anything else advertised on LJ in this dishonest fashion:

insomnia: And just to think, I was actually curious about seeing The Science of Sleep in a movie theatre before this unwanted ad sellout in LiveJournal. Now I’m going to have to give the movie a pass, simply for ethical reasons… and I will use my journal to encourage others to do the same.

ilea: What part of my comment did you not understand? I won’t be seeing this movie nor will I be talking about it in a sponsored or unsponsored community because of what they have done.

The only buzz they’ll get from me is “..science of sleep? yeah that’s the movie that produced the first sponsored community on lj complete with sockpuppet journals. They started the ruin of LJ. I won’t pay money to see it ‘cause of their marketing practices….you shouldn’t either.”

elsabet: It’s sad cause this is actually a good movie. I saw it on opening night before I even heard about all this sponsored community crap. Huh.

swoozie: I WILL NEVER EVER SEE THIS MOVIE.
You are a sponsored community. It does not make me want to talk about you or go see this movie.
LJ crossed the line when they invited you.

Orb2069: Pity. Seemed a lot like Amelie in the previews. Wanted to see it, Wife didn’t, was going to rent it when it came out on DVD.

Not now. I actually just took it off my ‘To rent’ list, quite literally.
This lying/astroturfing/’Gorilla Marketing’ is not acceptable on LiveJournal. Go away.

missmurchison: I find it interesting that while most of the maintainers of this comm are clearly socks, I recognize many of those complaining as long-time LJ residents. If Six Apart were in politics, I’d say it’s eroding its base.

It grieves me to contradict these upstanding netizens, but I think it’s possible that this wasn’t LJ or Six Apart’s fault. They’re fairly straightforward about sponsored communities being paid-for commercial space. It’s not an inherently corrupt concept. I can imagine circumstances where such a site could be a force for good, and attract a real community of people who are honestly interested in whatever-it-is.

What I can really imagine is LJ management and Six Apart having no idea that the publicists for The Science of Sleep were going to pull such a boneheaded stunt. You know how it goes: if you hang around the net long enough, it starts seeming obvious to you that of course clumsy sockpuppetry will be detectable, undisguised message headers will tattle on the sender, and covert PR campaigns will yield to traffic analysis. You forget that there’s no mystic force that keeps fools from calling themselves media consultants.

Next thing you know, you’re watching, jaw dropped, as some person or organization you’d have sworn knows better is caught pulling some unbelievably stupid online stunt—a category to which the Science of Sleep campaign clearly belongs.

Meanwhile, courtesy of Miss Murchison’s own site, another potentially delicious story of astroturf gone astray: the task of providing fraudulent online support for Katherine Harris’ campaign may have been outsourced to India. It wasn’t just that the messages could be tracked back to India:

The comments sound stilted, as if English wasn’t the first language of the writer.

“Guys let us come out of this blue eye shadow,” one says. “Let us not discuss such irrelevant details.”

Hoist, begad! The Party of Cheap Labor strikes again!
Comments on The Science of Sheep:
#1 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2006, 11:24 PM:

Shades of V*nn* B*nt* in rasff.

#3 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2006, 11:33 PM:

These guys seem to be going for a lot of Internet viral marketing. In addition to that Threadless t-shirt design contest, there's also a YouTube video contest.

#4 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2006, 11:34 PM:

I bet someone told them that "viral marketing" works.

#5 ::: Torie ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2006, 11:44 PM:

I bet Michel Gondry would be horrified. What I don't understand is the irrational outrage towards the director--it's not his fault that Warner Pictures has completely and, well, hilariously mismanaged this. I, for one, count Gondry as one of my favorite directors and a lame PR stunt isn't going to dissuade me from seeing the film. I suspect, however, that we'll be seeing a lot more of this kind of thing... Publicists are desperate to understand and manipulate viral marketing. Look at Snakes on a Plane.

#6 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2006, 11:50 PM:

Did Snakes On A Plane do significantly better than the average action/adventure movie opening in August?

#7 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2006, 11:54 PM:

The real breakthrough will come when we can have dueling shills from rival companies in Bangalore. One really bitter presidential campaign could create a whole middle class!

#8 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 12:03 AM:

My review, presented for those curious about the actual film, attached below.

What James said. This smells of shabby Studio-instigated hackery.

* * *

The trailer for "The Science of Sleep" shows a lot of goofy and imaginative special effects, and suggests that there is a strong fantasy element.

The actual movie does have more fantastic stuff that you'd expect in a comedy-drama, but it _is_ a comedy-drama.

Stephane is a flaky, over-sensitive thirty-something who has just moved back to his childhood home in Paris after living for many years in Mexico. (Stephane is played by Gael Garc´┐Ża Bernal, a talented Mexican actor.) In the very first scene we learn that Stephane copes with life by living in a dream world . . . not a particularly far-out or fantastic one, but interestingly surreal.

His mother arranges a job for him at a company that makes calendars. Led to believe he's going to be a staff artist, he ends up doing tedious text layout work. He falls for his new next-door neighbor (Stephanie), but is so socially inept that he claims to live elsewhere, and as a result has to sneak into and out of his apartment.

I came out of this one feeling a bit bummed. It has its moments, but Stephane is a bit too whiny and hopeless to be sympathetic. Worse, his fantasy life is dippy.

(Contrast this with _Amelie_, another comedy drama with a tinge of fantasy. That film pulls it off.)

Interesting trivia: This is a trilingual film. About 1/4 of the dialog is in English, which is a fallback language since Stephane speaks French poorly and the other characters don't speak Spanish well.

#9 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 12:14 AM:

The whole issue of "sponsored" comminities in Lj strikes me as poorly thought out.

Do they pay more for the privilege of being sponsors? I presume they do, otherwise they could just plunk down $25 bucks, and do it anyway. It's not as if users on Lj don't have contests, talk about things they know and the like.

Which means they expect to get something for their buck. What will they do when they start to get response of a more negative nature than just the sort of thing going on there? I can see them wanting Lj to do something to prevent negative publicity.

Which, of course, will backfire.

The sock-puppetry, well I don't really expect PR types (perhaps esp. studio PR types, familiarity and contempt; you know) to be clued in as to how obvious that sort of thing is, and how ill-recieved (the latter I think is the big blind spot. They figured the sorts who would see through it would just brush it off as a business decision).

But Lj/Six-Apart ought to have had some idea of how it would play out.

#10 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 12:19 AM:

They really must think we're (as a whole) stupid, out here in that strange Intarweb thingie with its tubes and stuff.

Because, you know, nobody ever thought of registering a handful of user names and using them to promote their own opinion before... oh, wait, no, the first instances of sockpuppets date back to before the Great Split on Usenet.

Oy vey. Heaven keep and defend me from clueless suits who think they are Oh So Clever.

Well, that's two Warner Brothers movies I won't be seeing this year...

#11 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 12:22 AM:

Terry, I think people (like the LJ/Six-Apart folks) immersed in the whole San Francisco/Silicon Valley Web 2.0 culture sometimes forget just how clueless seemingly clever, slick, hip people (like Hollywood marketers) can be about on-line communities. After all, *their* friends/associates/colleagues would *never* do something so obviously stupid, and these Hollywood publicists wouldn't have so much money to throw around if they were stupid, would they?*

I think neither side, LJ management nor Hollywood publicists, realizes how wide the gap between their world-views is.

[*] Always a silly mistake, assuming that people with money to spend got it because they're smart. About as silly a mistake as assuming the opposite.

#12 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 12:31 AM:

Jim, I'm sure Snakes on a Plane did better than it would have if there hadn't been big Internet hype about it. It was, from everything I've heard, a pretty crappy movie.

And the studio for Snakes was taken by surprise by the net.hype. They didn't plan it that way; a bit of an interview with Samuel Jackson made it onto the web, and Jeffrey Rowland made a comic about it, and it all just took off from there.

I suspect that Warner Indie is hoping for that same kind of phenomenon. The Dumbrella webcomics collective (of which Rowland is a member) is currently running ads for The Science of Sleep, and John Allison (another Dumbrella cartoonist) is talking about Science in the news section of his comic, Scary-Go-Round. Not that I think Allison is being paid to act as if he likes something that he wouldn't otherwise, but it's possible that he heard of the upcoming movie because the studio's ad people placed ads in with his collective.

#13 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 12:35 AM:

Avram - Threadless is quite honest about its sponsored competitions. In fact, I wouldn't put the contest in the "viral" bucket at all. It's a sponsorship.

You can have corporate viral marketing. I recall a Ford internet ad featuring a tiny eurocar taking on a neighborhood cat. Funny, obviously produced with corporate blessing, but totally unairable, even in Europe.

Creating a whole bunch of fake posters to say nice things about a movie isn't viral, it's just unsophisticated and stupid.

#14 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 12:52 AM:

James D. Macdonald:

Did Snakes On A Plane do significantly better than the average action/adventure movie opening in August?

Having ended up with a subscription to Daily Variety through a weird chain of events, I can answer this one: no. Had an OK first weekend and then sank like a stone.

#15 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 12:54 AM:

Right. There's certainly brilliant viral marketing. This, for instance, works because it's simply beautiful, and people pass it on to their friends out of sheer amazed delight.

Making up fake people, pretending they're real, and sending them out into social spaces where people are accustomed to assuming others are on the level? In that, there's no amazement, beauty or delight. It's just sordid.

#16 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 01:16 AM:

To the roll of Stupid Online Stuff we can add Joe Lieberman's Blog.

#17 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 01:48 AM:

Terry, I can think of any number of companies whose goods have fans on LJ. I can imagine one of them wanting a little LJ platform where they could interact with their more devoted customers and pass goodies on to them. One employee could do it -- just start a journal, and use it for company purposes -- but that wouldn't be wholly satisfactory. Also, it would be improper. Corporations ought not get space at the same low price as individuals. So instead, they'd pay a good deal more, get a few extra bells and whistles, and use the space for innocent customer outreach.

As I see it, the sin isn't anything inherent to the sponsored community format. It's hiring shills to impersonate fans, and post things they don't believe.

Jim, thank you for the Lieberman links. I'd wanted them for the story, but I had one of those frustrating moments when you can't find your way back to something.

#18 ::: Jared ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 01:56 AM:

Teresa,

What you don't know is that FAQ didn't exist until just recently. It was quietly slipped in without any annoucement to the users of Livejournal. LiveJournal has been up to this point completely ad free. This was a promise that the original founder gave to us and when Brad sold to SixApart, they promised us that they would keep the site completely ad free. The community of Livejournal has always very vocaly told SixApart we do not want ads, we would gladly pay to use several times. In the last six months or so SixApart has deceptively started to slip in the changes that were annouced as quietly as possible over the weekend.

Again, the FAQ you point to is new, I would assume it was created September 8th, 2006 since that is when it was last updated.

#19 ::: Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 02:22 AM:

To be fair, Jared @ 18, advertising supported accounts were created in response to demand by non-paying users for features available to the paying custom.

In any case, Warner Independent's behavior on LJ is inexcusable, and SixApart should establish rules for acceptable behavior by firms buying 'sponsored communities.'

#20 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 03:20 AM:

The people who did this are the Green Card Lawyers of LJ.

(Now that dates me, doesn't it.)

#21 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 03:59 AM:

As LJ's currently the online hangout of choice for a large proportion of my real-life friends and their friends, I tend to watch through my fingers as Six Apart try one scheme after another to either (a) try to make LJ profitable or (b) try to make another of their products more attractive to LJ users. This time they have at least made it clear up front that the community is a sponsored one. I am not, however, sure what they think the sock puppets will achieve. It seems grounded in a lack of understanding of online social interaction: the implicit leap from 'I have a lot of friends I've never met' to 'I believe the uncorroborated endorsements of strangers'.

Having said all that, Michel Gondry is the single director I'm most excited about at present and no matter of incompetent marketing will prevent me from seeing this film. PS I am not a sock puppet.

#22 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 04:10 AM:

Also, Bill: I think it's complete tosh to suggest that the sponsored accounts were created to meet demand. That was certainly the spin put on it by LJ/Six Apart, but I'd never seen any evidence of such demand. They were created to find a foothold for ads on LJ.

#23 ::: Jared ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 04:20 AM:

@# 19 Bill

I and many others would have rather had our rent raised. Either that or they could have introduced a more tiered rent. Say, $5, $10, $25, and $50 for example. I currently pay $35 a year ($25 for a paid account status and $10 for extra icons. $25 a year is nothing.

Cable Television works the same way, their subscribers pay x ammount of dollars for x ammount of channels and features. Yes, they advertise, but they are honest about it. (And I know cable was founded on no advertising, so I guess you win that arguement.)

#24 ::: marrije ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 06:57 AM:

My boyfriend has a theory that the uproar about the sockpuppets is part of the plan: generate even more publicity for the movie by purposely upsetting the LJ community and getting them to talk about the outrage.

Not sure how that would actually benefit the product being promoted here, and the theory makes my head hurt, but, yeah, can't exactly put it past the complicated minds of viral marketers.

#25 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 08:00 AM:

A company I no longer work for tried this crap on Amazon - a series of overenthusiastic reviews, all posted the same day by users with no previous posting records, one review for each item in the product line. But then Amazon changed their policy so that the entire product line was now considered one item, not several. All the reviews became visible in one online spot, one following another. Busted.

(Oh, and the ex-employees, who had been proud of their work even after they were mass laid-off, were horrified.)

#26 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 08:10 AM:

Damn, and we were planning to go and see it tomorrow night. It's Gondry, and it's partly in French. Damn, what a classic example of shooting themselves in the foot. Oh well, I guess we can see The Journals of Knud Rasmussen instead.

#27 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 08:42 AM:

The discussion on the "lj-biz" community is full of people reposting the old LiveJournal "social contract," which they quietly pulled after Brad sold the place. And people pointing out that why wasn't this fine new feature announced in the news community that we're told to watch for new and important stuff? et cetera.

With the side note that they had one of the staffers make the first announcement, someone who had a lot of street cred for her time working in support, including investigating LJ abuse cases. Then when people complained, Brad came along and blamed her loudly for poor phrasings, or some such, before restating everything substantive in her post. So they appear willing to screw over both users and employees.

The problem is, as Alison said, it's where an awful lot of my friends hang out, and I don't see a better option.

#28 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 08:54 AM:

A company I no longer work for tried this crap on Amazon - a series of overenthusiastic reviews, all posted the same day by users with no previous posting records, one review for each item in the product line.

That's a plan PublishAmerica authors have come up with all on their own.

#29 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 08:58 AM:

That "no advertising" social contract from the Wayback Machine:
http://web.archive.org/web/20040401175244/http://www.livejournal.com/site/contract.bml
(via pbristow)

#30 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 09:40 AM:

#9 ::: Terry Karney muttered:
The whole issue of "sponsored" comminities in Lj strikes me as poorly thought out.

Do they pay more for the privilege of being sponsors? I presume they do, otherwise they could just plunk down $25 bucks, and do it anyway. It's not as if users on Lj don't have contests, talk about things they know and the like.

I can't really speak for the LJ model, but there's a long term tradition of company sponsored lists/journals/meetings/yada. In some cases, it's very successful - in others, it's got about the same degree of success as we're seeing here.

For my part, I'm not opposed to sponsored communities, as long as they're clearly identified as such - and the sponsor doesn't attempt to stiffle other related communities.

#31 ::: Katrina Stonoff ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 11:49 AM:

Is it just my screen...or did the SoS community change their journal to white text on a white background?

#32 ::: roadknight ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 12:25 PM:

I just want to know what kind of sad, empty person willingly does this as a job, because they obviously don't really care what we think. If they did, they'd PAY ATTENTION to the ad campaign flops before them and DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. But instead they just kind of continue to bumble along.

Jeremy Leader:
It's called "Taking their money". Just because somebody pays you for something, doesn't mean you're obligated to make sure they don't make a fool of themselves with it. Six-Apart is in business as an online community, not as a marketing consulting firm.

#33 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 12:48 PM:

xeger: It's not that I am against company sponsored lists. I see lots of good reasons for that.

I just wonder what will hapeen when they start asking Lj to pay the piper. I pay $25. Warner is paying $X. If Warner gets the feeling I am hurting them, are they going to ask Lj to sanction me in some way?

What about users with permanent/early adopter accounts, who aren't paying anything?

It's not as if that sort of attempt to stifle bad publicity/criticism hasn't happened.

I'd like to know it can't, easily, happen here.

#34 ::: DB ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 01:37 PM:

"To be fair, Jared @ 18, advertising supported accounts were created in response to demand by non-paying users for features available to the paying custom."

Bollocks. It was done to get the advertising foot in the door.

So what if the non-paying customer wants features? Pay up or don't get them. People ask for free shite all the time, doesn't mean you need to give it to them.

And I don't recall too much in the way of asking for adverts in exchange for more icons. There's a fair number who say they'll pay extra though.

#35 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 01:41 PM:

Katrina, it's black on black for me, or was last night; try sticking ?style=mine at the end of the code group.

#36 ::: Jenett ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 02:02 PM:

Alison @22: the idea of companies having business-focused journals is actually a really old issue (I can think of examples of people either wanting it, or getting shut down for trying it back to 2000)

The policy for a while was no business stuff on a journal - personal or community. Then, it was (quite rightly, I think) decided that that was a) hard to figure out and b) unfair to people with small businesses (jewelry, soap, etc.) and arguably to others (authors, artists, & musicians who wanted to talk about their work, but that work was also for sale.) In other words, big parts of those people's lives that could not be discussed if they had to avoid all business mention that might potentially lead to sales, links to the business website, etc.

So the general approach has been that it's okay to have business stuff and "Hey, Cool New Thing!" in a personal journal, as long as some other guidelines were followed (not *just* about the business, no click-throughs, charging for additional access, charging for access in the first place, etc.) And, ideally, such that there was also personal conversation on some level there, not just business-related stuff. (Though this is much more an honor code sort of thing.)

The thing is, that's left some companies who had communities created about them in weird places - sometimes with copyright issues, sometimes with other concerns. And it means that companies that would ethically and thoughtfully use a community (for discussion and promotion of Cool New Stuff) couldn't do so.

I can see the point of sponsored communities: it makes it really clear who's in charge of maintaining the community, that it *is* intended for a commercial purpose (and not 'hey, group of people who like this thing'), etc.

I'm not likely to go look at almost any of them, mind you. But I can see why they might be attractive to some companies, including some I enjoy. And I can see why LJ might consider it worth trying.

This doesn't mean I'm happy with how they handled announcing it, or this particular example, or some other culture and/or communication glitches that have happened. I'm not. But I'm not against the basic concept, either. And I can definitely see that there might reasonably have been some demand. (And not just from big companies with no prior interest in LJ.)

#37 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 02:46 PM:

The more I look at this, the more I conclude that some of the posters at least are real people, with real LJ accounts, who are being paid to rave about the film. Students perhaps? One of them has hundreds of posts, all made two years ago, for example.

and Jennett @36, I was talking about sponsored accounts, not sponsored communities. Sponsored communities is a weird thing, isn't it? Over at MySpace I read dozens of pages put up by bands that I like. It's possible that LJ was just trying to grab that market. (Bit late now).

#38 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 03:45 PM:

I tend to watch through my fingers as Six Apart try one scheme after another to either (a) try to make LJ profitable or (b) try to make another of their products more attractive to LJ users.

Thing is, LJ *is* profitable, and has been for a long time. Pre ads, only 5-10 percent of users were paid accounts, out of a million or so active accounts, but that's still a couple of million dollars a year, which was enough to pay for the servers, bandwidth, and a handful of employees, and since support and abuse gruntwork was handled by volunteers, a handful is all they needed.

But then it was sold, and 6A, being Good Capitalists, don't look at the ten percent who pay and say how great that they can support the system, they look at the other 90 percent and say "How can we get revenue from them?". They couldn't just start charging for all accounts, because there are far too many free journalling options. So, ads. Once they made 'plus' accounts the default, they were getting more than 50 percent new users with them, and since free accounts see ads on plus user journals, that meant that most people were seeing ads.

But of course, at that point, your customers are no longer the users; those are just eyeballs to be sold, and your real customers are the companies who buy ads. And thus, things users might want (like a search that works) are irrelevant and new features become all about pleasing the companies.

#39 ::: MatGB ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 05:09 PM:

Vicky (27); the sponsored communites aspect has been around for awhile, I think it's already made News, may be wrong, but we've known for at least a month.

The social contract wasn't "quietly pulled", Brad announced it in the "we've been bought" post January 2005, with a PSB explanation, admittedly, but it wasn't done quietly. You're right about the way it was done badly, and my reading of it is that Brad is really pissed about the thing, yes, he dumped on Raheali a little, but the tone of her post was completely out of order.

Short term, it's LJ to nothing. Medium to long term? My hope is a distributed, OpenID supporting platform that people can run on diffferent servers but integrate seamlessly with each other and with LJ; LJ2Wordpress is a good start.

6A haven't got a clue about the userbase, and ads are an awful idea, completely breaks the old business model in a bad way. But I think this was a genuinely stupid mistake. And the astroturfers are a bit too obvious. Ah well.

One of Brad's plus points about the buyout was the improvement in support staff. Maybe they could hire someone good at customer relations?

#40 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 05:35 PM:

@12 Avram,

Josh Friedman (LOVE HIM!) started the SoaP buzz with his hilarious and wonderful post published on 8/17/2005. Josh was asked to do some script doctoring on the original script but took a pass when the studio was insisting they wanted to call the film something insipid.

While I agree that the movie did considerably better than the studio expected when they put the thing together, I can't agree that it was crap. It was lots and lots of fun and I said so in my weekly entertainment column.

#41 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2006, 09:35 PM:

Teresa, what makes you think it was high-end? My theory is that the movie's PR staff hired some flybynight guerrilla marketing schmucks for cheap, and then set them loose without adult supervision.

#42 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2006, 04:39 AM:

There are a couple of companies on the "paying markets" board at Absolute Write who offer gigs writing posts to make a blog or forum look lively. I occasionally wonder how many of the jobs on offer are for this sort of thing (or for astroturfing).

But taking the prize for *really* sad attempts to shill -- I did a bit of ego-surfing a couple of weeks ago, and found a new review for one of my books in the Google output. Except that when I went to look at the full page in the Google cache, it looked suspiciously as if it had been auto-generated by a database with a few stock phrases and templates. This impression was assisted by the fact that the page layout had a sidebar which I think was meant to be "if you liked that you'll like this", with an almost identical review for another product. And when I looked at the live page, the engine had barfed and was showing the script used to generate the review. :-) My guess is that it was an attempt to generate Amazon Associates revenue by having favourable reviews for any product you look at.

#43 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2006, 05:57 AM:

Dave Bell @ 20: I have a Green Card Lawyers t-shirt.

#44 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2006, 08:47 AM:

Josh, I called it a high-end PR disaster because it's for a well-funded movie that's about to open, and because the LJ site is an unusual, custom-built PR project. That means it had to be thought up well in advance, documented, and approved (after lots of irritating meetings and fiddly changes) by the client. At least six people are working on it, two of whom are LJ staff, plus some indeterminate number of low-level "members" writing posts. The site requires constant monitoring and updating. The project is carefully timed, and it's coordinated with other, more conventional promo for the movie. I can't estimate the dollar budget of the project -- not my industry -- but it didn't come cheap.

#45 ::: Mac ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2006, 12:04 PM:

Julia--I've had that very same question about those paying markets posts on AW. Enough so that I'm inclined to do a bit more poking around, with regards to 'em. It poses no ethical dilemma for some writers, apparently--but it does trouble me.

Of course, that's also most of why I quite my last job.

Ursula LeGuin has a really lovely quote on her website, that I very much take to heart:


Socrates said, "The misuse of language induces evil in the soul." He wasn't talking about grammar. To misuse language is to use it the way politicians and advertisers do, for profit, without taking responsibility for what the words mean. Language used as a means to get power or make money goes wrong: it lies. Language used as an end in itself, to sing a poem or tell a story, goes right, goes towards the truth.

A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.
#46 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2006, 12:43 PM:

Teresa - I may be wrong here, but there are smaller marketing firms that get individual contracts from movies, and smaller budgets. No? The whole thing seems remarkably clumsy. Perhaps it was Sixapart's plan all along, and it didn't have a large budget behind it.

It's just feels like something that was done on the cheap, by amateurs without a big budget. I can't prove anything, but that's my gut intuition. Of course, you've seen more of this sort of thing than I have , so you're probably right.

#47 ::: Shmuel ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2006, 01:53 PM:

And I don't recall too much in the way of asking for adverts in exchange for more icons. There's a fair number who say they'll pay extra though.

And yet people are opting for "plus" accounts, rather than springing for paid ones, which kind of puts a crimp in that claim. If there were no interest, there wouldn't be anything to discuss here.

Once they made 'plus' accounts the default, they were getting more than 50 percent new users with them, and since free accounts see ads on plus user journals, that meant that most people were seeing ads.

I have a free account, and I have yet to see an ad on LJ. Then again, I read virtually all my journals via my friends list. Is that not the norm?

#48 ::: PixelFish ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2006, 03:25 PM:

Shmuel: I usually use my friends list too--which means no ads.

#49 ::: dlnevins ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2006, 03:58 PM:

Shmuel, I wonder how many of those happy Plus-account users have ever stopped to consider the point Tavella (in comment #38) makes in her last paragraph. Very few, I'd wager. Plus accounts and sponsored communities are "free" in exactly the same way broadcast television is "free"; how will those users react when they discover that corporate interests actually control the discourse on what they thought was their own community?

Like anything else in life, you get only what you're willing to pay for. There are already plenty of other "free" (corporate-controlled) social network sites out there; the net doesn't need another one. Is actually requiring people to pay up front for the resources they wish to use such a radical business proposal these days? Certainly LJ's paid user community doesn't seem to think so!

#50 ::: C. A. Bridges ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2006, 05:25 PM:

dlnevins, your whole post seems to suggest that people are complaining about a new company. LJ was established and grew popular due to practices that didn't agree with your statements. Had they not, had they gone for the bucks from day one, LJ would never have become the force that it is now.
I don't think it's out of line for LJ users to be annoyed that those practices are being changed for what seem to be insufficient reason.

#51 ::: Shmuel ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2006, 05:31 PM:

dlnevins: I dunno... I've read Tavella's post several times now, and disagree with all of it, with the possible exception of the first sentence.

how will those users react when they discover that corporate interests actually control the discourse on what they thought was their own community?

Probably with an elaborate yawn.

Like anything else in life, you get only what you're willing to pay for. There are already plenty of other "free" (corporate-controlled) social network sites out there; the net doesn't need another one. Is actually requiring people to pay up front for the resources they wish to use such a radical business proposal these days? Certainly LJ's paid user community doesn't seem to think so!

I think I'm going to start at the end and work my way back through the unfounded assertions...

(1) The seperation of those who pay for LJ services into a community of their own is artificial.

(2) The existance of people willing to pay for additional features and/or to support the community in no way implies that all or most of them support requiring people to pay. Allowing unpaid or sponsored accounts might be seen as being in the best interests of paying LJ customers, giving them easy access to more content.

(3) One could as easily argue that there are already plenty of pay sites out there, and that the Internet doesn't need another one. As it stands, LJ is unique in its combination of its software, policies, servers, and userbase. There are others out there using the same code (with LJ's blessing; they deliberately opt for open-source and open standards when possible), but none with the same degree of popularity.

#52 ::: Shmuel ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2006, 05:41 PM:

If it helps any, I think some of the more basic points of contention are over (a) whether it's in any way possible to create a community of any sort outside of corporate interests, (b) whether people in general think it would be more desirable to do so, (c) whether people should find it more desirable to do so, and (d) whether corporate interests can be a positive force for individuals.

My answers are no, no, no, and yes. I'm guessing yours are yes, yes, yes, and no, as is your right. Just don't mistake disagreement with ignorance.

#53 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2006, 06:35 PM:

Reading the last few posts, I can't help but comment TANSTAAFL.

#52 ::: Shmuel commented:
If it helps any, I think some of the more basic points of contention are over (a) whether it's in any way possible to create a community of any sort outside of corporate interests, (b) whether people in general think it would be more desirable to do so, (c) whether people should find it more desirable to do so, and (d) whether corporate interests can be a positive force for individuals.

I have to say that I find (a) peculiar, with or without context. It's obviously possible to create communities without corporate interest.

Point (b) leaves me answering "it depends on the community", and points (c) and (d) are - well - again - circumstantial.

You seem to be saying something much like water is always bad, because you can drown in it - or water is always good, because you can drink it, when water can be good, bad, or indifferent.

#54 ::: dlnevins ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2006, 07:00 PM:

C. A. Bridges, you misunderstand me; I agree with your position. People ARE in fact complaining about a new company: SixApart, which purchased LiveJournal fairly recently. Prior to that purchase, LiveJournal paid its bills by selling paid journal accounts, extra features like additional icons, and merchandise such as t-shirts and coffee mugs. While most users may not have purchased these things, enough did to keep the company going (and growing). Because LiveJournal wasn't accepting advertising from corporate sponsors, they had to be responsive to what the actual users wanted from the site if they were to remain in business.

Now SixApart wants to change the business model to one in which advertisers foot a part of the bill. That may or may not be a reasonable business practice, but it can't be disputed that the shift in revenue sources may well cause a shift in the site dynamics that favors advertisers' desires over users'. It's a very reasonable concern, and one which the SixApart folks have not yet addressed in any meaningful way.

Noting on the net is free (appearances to the contrary). For a website to keep running, someone's got to pay the bills - and on a commercial site, that's going to be the customers. The question now is who does SixApart see as its primary customers: the current LiveJournal userbase, or the corporate sponsors? I (like most of the LiveJournal users who are worried about this development) suspect the answer's going to be the latter, and in that case, the site may no longer be very useful to us.

#55 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2006, 07:24 PM:

#51 I dunno... I've read Tavella's post several times now, and disagree with all of it, with the possible exception of the first sentence.

Huh? Are you seriously going to argue that a venture capitalist funded outfit like 6A doesn't look at LJ as a revenue stream to be maximized? And I can list probably dozens of blogging alternatives that are free, to explain why they can't simply charge that other 90 percent of users.

#56 ::: dlnevins ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2006, 08:05 PM:

Shmuel, perhaps you're right about how the average LJ user will react when they discover corporate money comes with corporate strings. I rather suspect, though, that some of them will be upset if favorite LJ activites such as icon-making communities, fanfiction posting, and blogging freely about media properties are eventually eliminated because of advertiser pressures. It's a predictable outcome of growing corporate influence over the site, though.

(1) The seperation of those who pay for LJ services into a community of their own is artificial.

Not at all. Paid account holders stand in a different relationship to the company than free account holders do. We are customers, not simply users, and thus have different expectations of how responsive the site should be to our legitimate concerns.

(2) The existance of people willing to pay for additional features and/or to support the community in no way implies that all or most of them support requiring people to pay. Allowing unpaid or sponsored accounts might be seen as being in the best interests of paying LJ customers, giving them easy access to more content.

I repeat: either the users pay the bills, or advertisers do. The money's got to come from somewhere, and the more advertisers foot the costs, the more control they have over the site. Sponsored accounts (nevermind sponsored communities) are problematic for that very reason. Free users are less so; after all, paid account holders have been offsetting the costs of free user accounts for years now, and most paid account holders I know would be happy for that status quo to continue.

(3) One could as easily argue that there are already plenty of pay sites out there, and that the Internet doesn't need another one. As it stands, LJ is unique in its combination of its software, policies, servers, and userbase. There are others out there using the same code (with LJ's blessing; they deliberately opt for open-source and open standards when possible), but none with the same degree of popularity.

You said it yourself: LiveJournal is unique, and finding a reasonable substitute for it won't be easy. Migrating to another site also carries significant costs (chief of which is the disruption of those social relationships previously built up on LiveJournal). It's reasonable for users suddenly finding themselves facing those costs because of a change in company policy to attempt to get the policy change reversed before giving up and leaving.

I'm no blanket enemy of modern corporations, but neither do I see them as always benificient. They are thoroughly amoral machines for making money, and as such, they function very well. But just because the marketplace serves useful functions doesn't mean the ever-growing expansion of marketplace activites into other areas of the public sphere is also good thing. That's why so many users are upset at SixApart's choice; they see a community they created and loved being coopted, for what appears to be no good reason, and there may not be much they can do about it.

#57 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2006, 01:25 PM:

I'm really looking forward to the next time when a conversation is drifting off track, and I can get people back on task by saying
"Guys, let us come out of this blue eye shadow!"

That'll get their attention!

#59 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2006, 04:18 PM:

By a funny coincidence, some of us on LJ are just starting to get our first comment spams. Five last night for me.

Okay, somebody help me out here. There's a program you can use to automatically archive all your LJ entries, right? I have been doing it manually, but am months behind, and I'd like to get up to date really quickly, just in case. People told me about one that works on System 10 (Mac), and since my laptop isn't on the web, I spaced the name. So the questions are:

1) What was the Mac program's name again? I can go use the wireless at Panera's and download it all.

2) Is there a Windows program that does that?

Thanks in advance, as always.

#60 ::: Dorothy Rothschild ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2006, 02:39 PM:

Wow, like I need another reason not to give 6A any more money when my paid account runs out in January.

Kip W, there's a Windows archiving program here. I remember there being extremely detailed instructions about archiving during the breastfeeding icon debacle, but don't know exactly where it is (it might have been on a personal journal).

#61 ::: Beckyzoole ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2006, 10:57 PM:

The maintainers have started deleting the negative comments Teresa linked to here.

Earlier this evening there were over 220 comments, most of them referring to a boycott of the movie to protest sponsored communities as a form of advertising. But now, there are only 42 comments.

#62 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2006, 03:27 PM:

Dorothy R, I saw that before, but was leery of getting into the whole .NET thing, not knowing diddly about it. Do you know, or can somebody tell me, more about it, and what I'd be getting into if I loaded it on my system?

#63 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 20, 2006, 05:52 PM:
PR firm admits it's behind Wal-Mart blogs
Sites that appeared to be grass-roots support for retailer revealed to be backed by Edelman employees.
October 20 2006: 11:44 AM EDT

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- A public relations firm has revealed that it is behind two blogs that previously appeared to be created by independent supporters of Wal-Mart.

The blogs Working Families for Wal-mart and subsidiary site Paid Critics are written by three employees of PR firm Edelman, for whom Wal-Mart is a paid client, according to information posted on the sites Thursday.

Story continues here: http://money.cnn.com/2006/10/20/news/companies/walmart_blogs/index.htm

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