I have been told that LiveJournals have a bit of a poor reputation among 'serious' blogger circles. Although I've never seen this first hand, I can only assume it comes from the differences between LiveJournal's structure and that of other platforms, and so I figured it was worth putting a post together outlining these differences and hopefully trying to bridge this perceived gaps. Because I don't like shouting into a vacuum, I want to interact with people, dammit!
How does LiveJournal differ from other blogging platforms? And how does it NOT?LiveJournal is more or less a hybrid of a blogging platform and a social networking site, and has been ever since before MySpace or Facebook ever existed. While I'm not here to compare LJ to those sites, the obvious difference is that the blog is the thing, and every user's front page - such as http://innerbrat.livejournal.com - is their blog page. The 'networking' aspect, what builds the LiveJournal community' you'll see people talking about, comes through some specific features, including friendspages, communities and the ability to lock and filter one's posts.
Livejournal has two account types.Note that I'm not talking about 'levels' here, because I don't think explaining the payment structure of the site is relevant to someone coming from outside. Most accounts on Livejournal are straight forward 'journals' - a single login linked to a single email address with a single password. They're designed to be owned and used by one person, who can then update their journal or use it to join communities.
Livejournal communities (not to be confused with 'the LiveJournal community' - sadly the site is plagued by such confusing terms) are essentially group blogs. These obviously exist on other platforms including blogger and wordpress, but LiveJournal has a join-and-post system that's incredibly simple. I moderate the community londinium, to which anyone with a Livejournal can start posting if they join up. Other communities have moderated membership: you need to apply to join and have membership approved by a moderator, such as milliways_bar and shatterverse - these incidentally are roleplaying communities, a sign of LiveJournal's strong fannish community. Other communities have restricted posting access, such as theyorkshergob - where miss_s_b posts all posts she deems fit for public consumption, keeping her personal journal locked - more on that later. Because it's easy to create and join communities, networks and non-specific 'communities' build up easily; they provide a forum for people to discuss particular subjects and to make connections without leaving the LiveJournal site. Look at large scale fandom communities like the now deleted scans_daily; communities get people organised.
Livejournal has a inbuilt feed reader.Every journal and community has the front blog page and the profile page that you might expect, but the most important page for any livejournal user is the Friends page; for example http://innerbrat.livejournal.com/friends - it might look like just another journal page, but it's updated instead with all the journals and communities that user has listed as a 'friend' - another confusing piece of LJ terminology. My 'friends' on Livejournal are simply the 220 journals I have flagged as 'to read' journals. I have real friends whose journals I don't want to read, and that's fine. Communities I watch are also added to my friends-list, separated by a different journal type. And then, there's the syndicated feeds. These are where LiveJournal really becomes this little self-contained website its users need never leave: all blogs and sites with an .rss feed can be turned into auto-updating LiveJournal accounts. For example, Mitch Benn's website updates can be found at mitchbenn_site, and so I can follow his blog directly from my friendspage without bothering with other feed readers. It also means that anyone who visits my profile page can see at a glance which journals and offsite blogs I'm following, and make judgements on me based on that.
By the way, and I mention it here; what're called 'jumps' in other blogs are called 'cuts' in LiveJournal. LJ has a few specific html tags, and one of them is the <lj-cut>. This means post content visible on the individual journal page isn't visible on the main journal page or friends pages; these are commonly used for aesthetic reasons with log cumbersome posts like this one, to reduce bandwidth on the front/friends page by cutting away embedded videos or large pictures, or to protect triggery content or spoilers. Sadly, AFAIK, these don't translate to jumps in the journal's rss feed, so anyone subscribing to a LJ rss feed directly does so at the risk of seeing content the author cut away.
One feature of the friendslist is the option for filters; I don't personally use them much, but it's possible to create custom groups that the enable the journal owner to view groups of journals separately, for when the general filter gets too big. For example, if you go to http://innerbrat.livejournal.com/friends/people, you might see all the blogs I have specified as being specifically personal blogs, for when I've been away and need catching up on my friends' lives instead of being distracted by politics, webcomics and other cool stuff. If you create a 'custom view' filter, this will be the group displayed on your friends page by default, so you can list 'friends' in your profile without actually reading them.
Why would you want to do that? Well...
LiveJournals have controllable levels of privacyIf you're reading this on LiveJournal, and you don't have a LiveJournal account or are using the computer of someone who does, that's because this post is public; you don't have to be logged in to see it and everyone can see it. There are three other levels of privacy a post can be set to: private, which only the author can see, friends only, ('f-locked', in LJese) which can be seen by anyone the author lists as a 'friend', and custom ('filtered'), which means only those listed in a specific group. I use only public entries, except for my original fiction (http://innerbrat.livejournal.com/499162.html) which is just so I can keep a focus on these projects I never return to anyway. It's common to find LiveJournals with no public entries whatsoever; that creates a more personal atmosphere to the site as a whole, and people talk about their personal lives more.
LiveJournals have special featuresThe only other blogging tool I've ever experimented with was a self-hosted wordpress, so I don't know how may other blog platforms have these features, but LiveJournal does have one or two little features that make it different and which may of its users takes for granted. For a start, there's the nested comments that make it very easy to see who is replying to whom, allowing conversations to develop and flow naturally.
Aside from that, LJ is set apart by the small amount of webspace users get if we pay that small monthly fee: the ability to phone in audio posts for American users (for example), an integrated (if eternally problematic) scrapbook (my scrapbook), and methods to post by SMS, if you're allergic to Twitter or something.
Most important to LJ's may users though, are the userpics. Every LiveJournal post and comment on a post has an image no bigger than 100x100 associated with it. It's a little like forum avatars, except every use may have more than one - the number ranges from six for basic accounts to nearly 200 for permanent accounts, and users often like to use them to add texture to their comments; maybe imply tone, or just to look pretty. It's not a fundamental difference, but it informs usage.
LiveJournal confuses tags and categoriesI know this is sounding a bit like an ad for LJ - it's not designed for that, just explaining what LJ users are used to and what you might expect from a LiveJournal. Not all features of LiveJournal are positive compared to other platforms.
LiveJournal's tag system is legendarily awkward and smacks of a confusion about what they're supposed to be used for. Most LJ users, myself included, tend to use tags like Wordpress will use categories; making up their own tags as they want, and using them as a way of navigating journals. When you want to put categories in the sidebar, you're stuck with rather cumbersome lists like the one I have, or clouds. There is a way to hack certain layouts to layer tags, but that's still using them like categories. The difference in usage causes confusion on sites like Technorati and means LiveJournals don't turn up that often. I get around it by using one use tags then deleting them a few weeks later, but it's still problematic. Don't expect tags on a LiveJournal to work the way the wider blogosphere uses them.
LiveJournal lacks some of the features other bloggers take for granted.It's nice to have this pretty journal with nested comments, an associated feed reader and access to communities, but there are some things I see taking place in other blogs that does make me considerably jealous.
LiveJournal has very recently introduced pingbacks , in the form of a bot account that comments, which prompts notifications according to the post's settings. However, this is only when paid or permanent LiveJournals link to other paid or Permanent LiveJournals, and so I've never seen it done (ETA: It works!. Albeit very limited) If I want to know who's linking to my Journal, I have to use Google Alerts (I do) or rely on the kindness of new visitors to tell me.
There are no tools like viewing stats enabled for LJ, and you need to use an outside service like LJ Toys, which I personally have never found that user friendly. Any suggestions for how I can incorporate a way of finding my popular read posts is welcome.
Finally, embedding of Java and flash is severely limited in LiveJournal, and I can't say I'm that disappointed by this; it's not MySpace, and I don't want to see a bunch of rubbishy flash and Java making my friendspage difficult to load. But the limitations do mean LiveJournalers can't put Twitter widgets or Last.fm flash in their sidebars, and we can only embed videos from certain sources - like YouTube and some TV networks (BBC iPlayer embeds, as does Comedy Central.)
How can I interact with a Livejournal?
Get oneOh, come back here. I'm not saying you HAVE to have a LiveJournal to be here. But it is free and simple to sign up, and plenty of people sign up to have a journal just for viewing and commenting on other people's LiveJournal. There's a wordpress plug-in that means you an set up all your blog posts to update that journal too, if you want. Or you can leave it empty.
If you don't want to have an account everywhere, then LiveJournal also recognises OpenID . This means that if you have an account with one of the OpenID providers listed in the OpenID directory, then you can log into LiveJournal. This includes blogger, flickr and wordpress, but I'll recommend right now that you don't just use any place you have an identity, but the identity you want to be identified with. If your flickr account is your primary online hangout, then by all means use it. Because this Journal is my biggest internet impression, I use http://innerbrat.livejournal.com as my OpenID, but more and more people are hosting their own blogs.But if you have a dedicated blog on your own website, Sam Ruby has a guide for setting that up as your OpenID.
Once you're logged in with your OpenID give LJ your email address, and there you have an effective LiveJournal account with which to comment and - more importantly for most LJ users - track comments and receive comment notifications, even to use the friends page feature without bothering about having an empty journal page. I have set up a dummy OpenID LiveJournal with my Technorati login as an example.
CommentThe LiveJournal community thrives on interaction and commenting, and it's perfectly acceptable to comment with 'IAWTP' (I Agree With This Post) or just to offer one word support. Commenting with content is more important though. Because LiveJournal doesn't offer good enough pingbacks or viewing figures yet, users rely on comments to tell us whether people read our posts and why they're reading our posts. So, if you don't have the Journal 'friended' or have a rapport with the journaller, it's generally considered polite to include in your comment where you found the post - even if it's a linkblog like When Fangirls Attack or a mutual friend linked. And if you decide to link (and please do link!) then consider performing a manual pingback - coming back to the journal and providing a link to your own post.
When you comment, remember to use LiveJournal's nesting system - reply directly to comments you wish to address using 'reply to this' under the comment. Any global replies to the Original Post go on the top level. If you want to reply to a number of people who made different comments, reply to each of them individually. They will receive email notifications and get back to you faster. It makes LiveJournal a good place for personal interaction, and comment threads stay more focused.
Cater your blog for LJ users.I'm going to assume, if you're actually looking to engage with LiveJournal as an outsider, you'd also like LiveJournal users to leave the site and come see your blog. Part of building a relationship with a LiveJournaller is to encourage reciprocation after all.
The most important thing you need to do in attracting LJ users is to set up a LiveJournal Feed of your blog. If you have a paid or permanent account this can be done at the syndication page. If you don't have one, you'll have to work on a rapport with someone who has such an account and see if they'll create a feed for you. When you have one, if might be a good idea to link to your LJ syndication from your site; not all LiveJournal users want to bother with tracking an LJ feed from the rss, so a link from you might help.
When writing for LJ users, remember that they're going to be viewing your blog on a friendspage, where it will compete with their actual 'friends'; journals and communities with pretty icons and an identity beyond the rss logo. So you might wish to pay attention to the formatting of the post; LiveJournal friendspages have been chosen and partly designed by their users, so they want posts that don't corrupt that layout. Here're some of my tips for an LJ-friendly blog post:
That introduction went on for longer than I intended. Let's see if I can't be more succinct with the rest of this.
- don't force text formatting. You can use all sorts of style overrides on your blog page itself, but LJ users will be reading you through their own style overrides, and while pink text might look great on your black-and-pink blog layout, it could be illegible on a LiveJournal friendspage with a white background.
- watch what you embed. LiveJournal has limited support for embedded videos, flash widgets and the like, and only accepts them from certain sources. YouTube is fine, as are some TV network sites, but if you're not sure, add a link to the original site as well. Actually, do that anyway because some browsers don't like videos embedded that way.
- bear in mind the jump in your own blog might not work in translation to LiveJournal - it sometimes doesn't. In that case, remember to warn about spoilers and triggery material early on in your post so we can scroll past. It might help to have a visual marker to point out where this cut comes.
- visual elements aren't a bad idea, either. When you're used to variable userpics to provide visual clues to identify a user and add layer to the post, it's easy to skip visually boring looking posts. So a small picture in the post itself might actually help gain readers.
- identify yourself in the blog post. Most shared blogs explain who's posting in a tagline, but this often doesn't come into the feed for Livejournal. Especially if you write in the first person, or the content depends on knowledge of the author, consider using your name in a first line or subheading.
One final tip to people wading into LiveJournal from outside: appending "?format=light" to any LiveJournal URL will display the page without any of the styling that LJs can sometimes overuse (and mine is no exception - see?).
How can I make my Livejournal more friendly for outsiders?
OK, I wrote most of this post with a non-LiveJournaller in mind, but as most of my readers are actually on LiveJournal, I'm guessing there are LiveJournal users who also want to reach out and encourage non-LiveJournallers into their blogs. This is not a guide to blog promotion: there are plenty of sites that do that, but there are ways in which you can tweak your LiveJournal to make it more amenable to non-LiveJournallers.
Limit locked postsThis might be self-evident, but I'm saying it anyway - no one is going to read what you say if you lock it. Obviously there are lots of reasons to lock posts and that's fine, but if you want non-LiveJournal readers, your LiveJournal has to be readable by anyone not currently locked in.
Enable anonymous commentingGo to the account settings (http://www.livejournal.com/manage/settings/?cat=privacy) page and ensure you have 'allow comments from everybody' - if people physically can't comment on your journal they may not feel like reading it.
Link to your rssAll LiveJournals have an .rss feed just like any blog. The rss URL is just the journal URL with rss appended; mine is http://innerbrat.livejournal.com/rss. Putting a link to this in your sidebar or userinfo could encourage people to add you to their feedreader and you might pick up regular readers.
Use tags as tags.Inside LiveJournal 'tags' are used where software like WordPress uses 'categories': to divide the journal and look up previous entries. This is a valid use for the tags function, but in the wider blogosphere tags tend to be used - by sites like Technorati - to find recent posts about specific subjects. To increase readability on such sites, use specific tags about the content of your post, that might come up as a search term.
Be mindful of your cut textRemember that if people are viewing your blog through the rss feed, they're not going to see the cut text and they're not going to have the choice not to click on the cut. So be aware, when discussing triggery subjects and spoilers, that some readers might have this fed directly to them. And don't put pertinent information in the cut text that if lost from the entry if you come directly to the page. A good idea for cut text is the first line of the font underneath it, or a subtitle.
I'm sure I've missed a lot, but this post got much longer than I wanted to. I hope, however, that there's something there for non-LiveJournallers who feel there are barriers to interacting with my LiveJournal,at the very least. And if there're ay questions, or anything I've missed, let me know!