Maybe you think they should have been caught in Alaska and made a nice meal of. Maybe you think they should still be swimming happily.
What they actually happened is, in the wonderful cycle of life, they swam upstream, deposited a jillion eggs, and died.
Maybe not the way you want to go, but it works for the salmon.
This week LiveJournal, the most active web community no one ever talks about, announced that they were changing their rules of engagement. Those rules were previously the foundation of an ecosystem where a very few paying people subsidized the actions of a lot of "free" people.
Because LiveJournal is a community, they had a self-organized board to represent the users of LiveJournal with management. This board includes both Brad and Danah. Influential voices who understand the way social media works and generally not people you'd care to alienate.
What LiveJournal has done is mess with the spawning grounds for new paid users. From now on, free users will be subjected to advertisements - which they previously were not.
Danah especially believes that this will create a less hospitable environment to new users. She says:
Systems like LJ are an ecology and individual-driven monetization approaches fail miserably. People have different levels of participation, engagement, and tolerance. What they want from the system differs as does the way that they relate to others. It's a networked system and pissing off users affects more than just the user-company relationship - it affects the whole network. I totally understand that it's not possible to provide a service (and engineers and support and ...) for free, as much as we would all like that to be the case. But... I'm not convinced this is the right move to balance the financial scales.
We see a few things in Danah's response.
(1) The community as a whole was not respected in the decision.
(2) Specific community members with a vested interest in the community were not respected in the decision.
(3) The decision made has philosophical impacts on the community.
It's important to note here that Brad, Danah and most of the people objecting to this decision were paying users. Theoretically, they shouldn't care about changing new free accounts because they aren't directly impacted. So their objections are not based in a personal financial hit.
The issues here lie solely in the LiveJournal community's self-concept. The LJ community, judging by the comments to the announcement, as well as to Danah's post, strongly feel that free users feed the community with needed content.
Where the LJ staff saw Dead Fish in the free users, the paying users saw healthy spawning salmon. The paying users, in other words, were willingly subsidizing free users because of the benefit they received from the free user-generated content.
Wow. Most social networks would kill for such an ecosystem.
There is a second slap in the face. The disrespect of the community.
Regardless of intent on the part of Six Apart, the community felt slighted by the way this was rolled out. The LiveJournal Advisory Board was not intimately involved in a change that they felt deeply impacted the community. Due to their faith and support of the Board, many LiveJournal users feel slighted.
Respect is Key
Trust gets a lot of airtime in the world of social networking and social media. We don't talk about respect quite enough. This is a situation, sure, where SixApart violated the trust of their users - but it's the respect issue that we feel from the posts of Brad and Danah.
Their core concerns are: You didn't respect the free users and you're not respecting the Board. The Board gave preliminary "thumbs down" for the change. As Danah says:
Needless to say, Brad's pissed. I'm pissed. Not only because we both vehemently disagree with this change, but because they made such a change without consulting us. Or rather, we were both at a lunch a while back where they asked us what we thought and we both told them that this was the worst idea ever, although for different reasons. I had thought it had been tabled until I learned of this. After it had been posted.
Trust is the engine powering social media. But respect is the fuel. (I know, I'm mixing metaphors again).
Thanks to Andrew B. for bringing this to my attention.