In Before Conspiracy Theor- Oh. Too Late!

It is not a good time for us LiveJournal Users, or indeed the ones who are running it.

When it’s not the bugs and the glitches from failed updates, the whole site is getting DDoS’d. We’ve had a disrupted usage and downtime every month for the past six months, and poor site service overall ever since Six Apart came along and then was sold over to SUP.

Lots of people are moving to other sites, other people are just giving up on blogging completely. The thing is, when LiveJournal works, it is the only blogging-based social-networking site (as opposed to Social-Networking based blogging sites) out there to do what it does, in the way that it does it, as well as they do it (Which says something, I know). There’s a nice mixture of a basic, steady platform that we can rely on, that the designers and developers have worked on, and a lot of room and settings to play with.

I’ll be honest, the part that we can play with has got more complicated ever since they switched their Customisation section from the old system to the new system, which limits the basic settings you can change and puts more power on customised CSS codes that can override them. For someone who knows nothing about CSS code, it’s quite daunting and sometimes frustrating. But my point is, for those who are a whiz with CSS and layout coding and such, it’s a very nice playground to be in.

You don’t get a nice balance like that on other blogging sites, not even the imitation ones like DreamWidth and InsaneJournal. DreamWidth has a small selection of default layouts and default customisations along with them and there’s not a lot of customisations you can do outside of your layout. I know next to nothing about InsaneJournal but I’ve heard it pales even more in comparison. LiveJournal allows you to do more with your profile, it has the best security control for posts that I’ve seen, the navigation is very good too. Yeah, the introduction of the Seasonal Banner left a lot to be desired, and there’s a few things that should be Opt-In rather than Opt-Out, but the best bits really are the best on offer out there.

When LiveJournal doesn’t work… Well…

The main problem is, is that by now, we’re used to the lack of communication from The Powers That Be that  now run LiveJournal. We have become very cynical to a lot of the things that the designers, developers, coders, maintenance team and customer service team say to us.

They change things “for the better” and end up making it worse, or something else worse. They recently changed the allignment for a layout called Flexible Squares. The “Glitch” by-product was that videos and pictures, no matter their original position or allignment, are now cut off either at the side or right down the middle, due to the new margins. That’s been a problem for a month and when the team first addressed the problem, they said “We know want went wrong, we’ll be releasing a new update soon that will fix it.”

A month on, we’re still waiting for that update. What is the hold up? We don’t know. We’re not even having that question answered, we’re just being ignored. They can’t even use the excuse of the most recent DDoS attack, which LiveJournal is still fighting against apparently, because they are two different groups of employees respectively dealing with the issues.

The thing is, is that all this cynicism has lead to some pretty big conspiracy theories. A lot of people are thinking that these DDoS attacks are actually downtime brought on by glitchy updates. It doesn’t matter if you tell these people that, actually, these are legitimate cyber attacks brought on by Russian Politics, these people refuse to believe it.

I can understand why. LiveJournal are doing a very poor job of defending themselves against these attacks. The attacks get bigger but we should see an exponential response of defense, and we don’t. There’s a very controvercial opinion that, even though LiveJournal is now owned by a Russian company, it was originally American so there should be two servers. One for the Russian users, and a second for the rest of us, so that we don’t suffer the consequences of politics we’re not involved with.

I don’t know whether I agree with that mindset, but I can certainly empathise with those who do. They are not Russian, they might not even be American, and they are spending money on a service that got itself tied up in something that it is too old and too weak to survive. Being involved in the Russian Politics might just be the downfall of the site and bring about the LJColypse. In their opinion, they are wasting their money. The site did used to be better, customer service wise, before the Russians took over.

And the main Russian owner doesn’t seem to care about the users outside of Russia. Up until very recently, if anything went wrong with LiveJournal, like a DDoS attack, the rest of the world found out up to two days after the Russian users did. I have personally trawled through Russian news blogs and news sites to find out information that, as a LiveJournal user, I should have known anyway. It’s like an immovable force has actually met an unmovable object, and eventually something will crack and give way.

So going back to the conspiracy theories, if LiveJournal don’t seem to be doing their best to right the situation, or preventing that the exact same things don’t happen in the future, it makes sense that people are getting suspicious. The theory that LJ are lying about a DDoS attack as an explanation of glitch-based down time is absolutely ludicrous, but some others do have a bit of foundation to them.

Like the site being down iconsequentially of the DDoS attack, just to bring about new updates. Sneaky and could actually be true. Back in 2002, on the anniversary of the 11th September attacks, Fanfiction.Net was closed down for the day in commemoration. When it came back, it turned out the admins of the site used the downtime to rid the site of NC-17 rated fanfictions.

Crime of Opportunity doesn’t seem the right phrase there, but either way, it left a lot of people unhappy and disgraced at the actions.

So that Conspiracy Theory comes from something believable. There’s no evidence I can think of to suggest it’s the case here, but I know for a fact that the FlexiSquare glitch was noticed around the time of the last DDoS attack and brushed off originally as a consequence of DDoS related bugs.

Again, LJ aren’t best known these days for their customer service and communication skills, but at least they owned up that it was actually an update glitch on top of a badly timed DDoS attack.

So what can LiveJournal do to satisfy their customers? Well, I don’t know. I have some ideas and suggestions, but nothing that would please everybody.

I know they need to deal with their server defense, because just shrugging their shoulders after it’s taken place and going “Sorry, we’re dealing with it.” doesn’t instill much confidence. They need to work on prevention.

Upping the customer communication is almost always welcomed. Issues recognised and stated etc, and apologies wouldn’t hurt either. They really need to stop fixing what isn’t broken and focus on what is broken instead. For every time they “improve” something, they bring down a backlash upon themselves because people liked it the way it was, and what’s worse, it usually breaks something else. If they just undid the update, it would fix things within seconds. Instead, they leave the new “fix” as it is and work on trying to fix the problem they caused.

They need to do something that makes us users want to stay, and not just because it’s better than the rest. If we’re going to deal with poor service from them, we might as well go deal with almost-as-good-as service from another place.

…Dare I say it? Maybe selling LiveJournal to another company wouldn’t go amiss either. I know it’s along the same lines as separating the servers, but LiveJournal seem to have both feet in the toilet and bringing down a crap storm upon them because of it. I just think maybe some separation would be beneficial someway. I mean, selling the site couldn’t cause more than there already are, could it?

In the meantime, it’s better the Devil I know for me. But don’t worry, i’m all set up for when the LJColypse does happen. Meet me at the Carousel in Fantasy Land!

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