LiveJournal, Six Apart, and the future of community governance

SixApart, maker of TypePad and Movable Type weblog services and tools just bought LiveJournal, driving business praise and social angst about the role of the merger on the community.
LiveJournal is a hosted online journal community that is thriving and well-loved by its millions of active participants. danah boyd worries that SixApart will suppress freedom of expression. “My second concern is that Six Apart will not be prepared to deal with the userbase and will initiate practices that are more detrimental because of fear. [For example, what’s the best way to handle an LJ community dedicated to cutters trying to outdo each other via images?”
The social implications of the merger are foretold by Clay Shirky’s writings on Nomic online worlds. When online communities have commercial hosts (or non-commercial hosts who own the server and the code), some differences between the will of the citizens and the business interests of the hosts are inevitable.
Shirky’s article had some interesting and prescient reflections on models for online community governance. Just as democracies evolved to reconceptualize rulers as public servants, elected at the discretion of the populace, there may eventually emerge models of community governance where the host is chosen and serves terms at the discretion of the community.
In order for this to work, content needs to be a lot more portable and platforms need to be more commoditized. And there will need to be new rules and traditions for the management and governance of community infrastructure. In the long run, fees are taxes, governance is the will of the people, and online infrastructure services are public services like roads and schools.
Meanwhile, the in physical world, there’s a trend toward the privatization and corporatization of neighborhoods, controlled by developers and management companies. These corporate-sponsored neighborhoods run into the same sorts of tensions as corporate-sponsored online communities.
In the 90s, Disney Corporation’s efforts to develop Celebration, a Disney-branded community with houses, schools, and community services drew lots of attention. The pristine Disney vacation image foundered in the day to day reality of school board politics, and Disney eventually sold celebration.
The commercial quality control of the management companies conflicts with free speech in the physical world. There’s a bill in the Texas Legislature to permit the display of large American flags, in violation of management company enforced decorum.
Online and in 3D, there are tensions between neighborhoods and corporate hosts. Democracy has value, whether the infrastructure is bits or pixels.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *