Strawcat (strawcat) wrote,

Livejournal, from social community to profit machine

As Brad outlines the history of LJ's need to find a balance between revenue generation and maintaining a growing community, we see that a simple pattern emerges. The changes in ownership can be characterized by a gradual succession of larger/richer corporations with progressively more ambitious agendas that co-opt our community as a better profit machine than its predecessors. There isn't anything novel or unusual about this; if LJ can be considered a commodity, it mirrors the history of most other products. When ever an entrepreneur is innovative enough to conceive of ways to produce and sell a product more efficiently than the current producer, everyone is better off if this person can buy out the means of production and take over, at least in theory (in practice, it's usually the consumer who gets the short end of the stick, they just don't always realize it because cutting corners tend to be manifested in gradual or subtle ways that are not immediately apparent). The main reason the current owner will be persuaded to accept the offer is because it is predicated on the buyer's projection of future profits exceeding those of the seller.

There are problems with conceiving and treating LJ purely as a commodity, though. This is because it is a social community, which complicates things. When Brad points out that "freeloaders" are contributing much of the content that paying members are paying for, he illuminates the special nature of value within LJ. Unlike most commodities, this value is not reducible to whatever the producer adds through the production process, but rather it is 'decentralized' and distributed through its base of consumers by means of sharing. Increasingly, the urge to make a bigger, better profit machine out of LJ seems to exacerbate rather than facilitate its function as a community, but a lot of people are unwilling to leave because it is difficult for them to place a monetary value on what they would give up if they looked for greener pastures. There is a certain non-substitutability at stake where you have an interest in maintaining your ties with particular groups of people. I think that the extent to which the owners of LJ externalize the mutual social benefits when thinking of ways to maximize profit, is the extent to which they undermine the original spirit and purpose of this place as a community.

I think I need to make it clear that I realize that LJ is also a service and there are costs associated with providing this service, which is why at the outset, I recognized the need for finding a balance and between revenue generation and maintaining a community. But it seems that where we see a community that runs on basic services, certain corporations see an investment in a commodity to the expense of other considerations. Can you think of other ways that LJ differs from a commodity?
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