Whatever happened to Livejournal, anyway?


The header to George R.R. Martin’s Livejournal … which is a blog, and does exist. (Livejournal)

“Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin belatedly joined Twitter yesterday … apparently for the sole purpose of promoting his Livejournal.

Hold up: Livejournal? That thing’s still around?

Livejournal, you’ll recall, was a popular blogging platform of the early-to-mid aughts, particularly beloved by teenage emos looking to spill their souls out to a sympathetic Web. At its peak, the platform had more than 2.5 million active accounts. But its peak was almost 10 years ago, in early 2005 — and since then, most of the English-speaking world, with the apparent exception of GRRM, forgot that it was there.

Surprise! It still exists. And it’s actually doing pretty well, compared to some other popular Web sites of that era. In fact, according to the analytics firm Alexa, Livejournal remains the 150th most popular site on the Web — a ranking that puts it firmly behind WordPress or Tumblr, sure, but well ahead of major networks like the Chinese social network Badoo or the video-chat service Skype.

What has changed is where those visitors come from: not the U.S. or Canada, as in my Livejournal days, but eastern Europe, particularly Russia — where Livejournal remains the 12th (!) most-visited site. In fact, the Russian translation of “LJ,” ЖЖ, serves as a kind of shorthand for any kind of blogging — just like we use “Google” as a synonym for “search.”

The story of Livejournal’s rise to Russian prominence is one of chance (… as so many things on the Internet are). Roman Leibov, the first Russian-language blogger on the platform, told the BBC in 2012 that he happened upon a link to Livejournal in a forum in 2001, and thought it would be “funny” to blog in Russian. From there, Leibov — an academic — began sharing the platform with his friends. The platform soon became “a plaything of an elite group of Russian internet professionals” — journalists, techies and other notables who spread the platform to the masses.

They were aided by the fact that the site’s servers were in the United States, where they couldn’t be tampered by the Kremlin — and by the fact that, even early on, Livejournal supported multiple languages.

By 2007, so many Russians were on the platform that a Russian media company, SUP, shelled out an estimated $30 million for it. In 2009, SUP laid off Livejournal’s remaining San Francisco employees and relocated to Moscow, where it consolidated operations in the Russian market.

Even though that relocation — and the implied threat of censorship — worried some Russian bloggers, the platform has remained popular, even critical, there. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and prominent opposition activist Alexey Navalny both have Livejournals; at one point, Navalny said that Livejournal was his only opportunity to publish critical information about corruption and other social problems. In fact, Russian observers have frequently said Livejournal, as it’s used there, is more analogous to mass media than it is to social networking or personal blogging. Here’s how Russian media entrepreneur Anton Nossik put it to Wired U.K.:

In Russia, LiveJournal’s primary function has shifted from social networking to mass media, so it makes little sense trying to figure out how many people are actively blogging in Russian LJ — tens or hundreds of thousands. It’s the readers that count, and the readership has been growing quite steadily over the last five years.

All this begs the natural question: How many Russians are reading our good friend George R.R.?

Probably not too many, truth be told: While Russian translations of “Game of Thrones” have been in print for years, and while a Russian TV company finally inked a deal to carry HBO last year, GRRM blogs in English — not exactly LJ’s lingua franca these days. Still, his blog is absolutely worth reading. There’s talk of “Star Trek,” airport security, threesomes, ice dancing … and naturally, plenty of “GoT.”

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Caitlin Dewey | June 10