I'm moving to Dreamwidth. Ask me why. - Livre d'Or

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I'm moving to Dreamwidth. Ask me why.
Sunday, 03 May 2009 at 06:38 pm
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So, Dreamwidth. It's a fork of LiveJournal, which in my opinion has most of the advantages without most of the disadvantages. And although nothing is certain in the internet world, I think it has a very good chance of being viable and sustainable at least on a scale of years. In short, I'm excited enough about it that I'm ready to ditch the place that has been my internet home for 6 years, and overcome the inertia of moving and the hassle of keeping up with my friends in two places. Let me make this absolutely clear: it's my friends who are important, not the particular flavour of social networking software we're using to keep in touch!

Dreamwidth's official policy is that we should promote what's great about DW, and not just be negative about LJ. But the truth is that I've been hoping for an LJ alternative since they introduced ads here in 2006, and really desperately looking for an LJ alternative since the ad-free options were removed a year ago. And Dreamwidth is the first thing that's come along that looks like it could be a workable alternative. So far, the evidence suggests it's going to be quite a bit better, but I wouldn't move for a handful of shiny features if I weren't also feeling increasingly uncomfortable on LJ.

The advertisements issue

I'm not in principle against paying for internet services using ads. When people host their own blogs, it's totally cool to include ads to pay for server costs. I have no problem with the ads that Google serves me to make it possible to provide me with a really excellent free webmail service. However, LJ feels to me like across between my online home and a projection of my personality, and I do not want to appear to the world at large as a shill for stupid diet products and other quack medicine, dodgy browser games and download sites, or empty promises of sex.

People argue: ads don't matter anyway, because you can use browser add-ons and never have to see them. Well, that doesn't work if you ever browse the internet from a computer you don't have control over. But there's a deeper issue: if advertisers are the major income providers for the site, then advertisers are the most important customers, and what they want determines the direction of the site much more than what actual users want. I know it's possible not to care, but this sort of thing makes me feel more than a little queasy, personally.

Other people argue that they never see ads because they just get a paid account. The problem is that some people won't and many people can't pay for internet services, and it's a high priority for me that other people can interact with my journal and with the site in general without being exposed to ads. When there were a lot of racism discussions going on around LJ earlier this year, it felt like a punch in the gut to read a deeply personal account of the experience of being Asian in Britain and see it surrounded by ads for "hot Asian chix".

The most powerful argument in favour of ads is that without them, sites aren't going to be viable or affordable. Which brings me onto:

Why I believe Dreamwidth is sustainable

Dreamwidth has modest goals and an actual business plan for achieving them. They're hoping that it will eventually pay a couple of full-time salaries, or optimistically half a dozen. They're not hoping that it will be the next Facebook or Twitter, a cash cow that can be sold for multiple millions. There's no venture capital involvement, no shareholders or investors clamouring for instant and unrealistic profits. Account prices are slightly more expensive than on LJ (where the prices haven't been raised in 10 years). With that, I've seen believable projections that the site will at least break even if one user in 20 pays for their account. They're also willing to refuse the two most common demands because they're just not financially viable: ongoing sales of permanent accounts (they sold one batch, and one only, to get an initial capital injection), and à la carte or effectively unlimited icons.

Apart from the financial side, I am really impressed with the way that Dreamwidth is staggering the launch, with a real beta when the site is actually in beta, meaning that there's a list of critical bugs that have to be fixed before the deadline. They bought serious hardware in preparation for the launch, and have added 20,000 new, active accounts in 3 days without the site falling over. They're thinking seriously about scalability. Yes, there was a major blip when they claimed they were going to launch last summer, but things got stalled. But between January this year and now, the site has gone from being little more than a domain name and a hope to being a very nearly fully functional site.


The Dreamwidth founders are Denise, aka rahaeli, and Mark, aka xb95. The former was employed as customer relations manager at LJ for years, the latter as one of the original programmers. So they understand the technical and social aspects of LJ better than pretty much anyone else on the planet (not excluding the current owners of LJ, the Russian media company SUP). This is why they're able to make a true fork of the code and then maintain it, not just clone LJ's code and hope that the parent site makes bugfixes available. Dreamwidth has also managed to get a breathtaking level of involvement from some of the most engaged and knowledgeable LJ people, including some of the high calibre employees who got the chop in January, and people with years of experience as volunteers, developers and power users.

This really distinguishes Dreamwidth from any of the clone sites out there. I think the only LJ clone that's big enough to be viable is InsaneJournal, and that has some major problems, including awful branding, and running an ancient version of the LJ code with some huge bugs up to the level of random data loss. I don't want to speak badly about any of the people who have set up alternative sites; indeed, before Dreamwidth came on the horizon, I was just about ready to jump ship to Inksome. But the fact is that I don't really want to move my whole social life to a site that's being run as a part-time hobby by someone who may be a competent programmer, but has no experience in running a complex, commercial site or understanding of the ten years of accumulated kludges that make up the LJ code.


One of the ways that Dreamwidth has taken my breath away is precisely in getting so many people involved and excited about it. Yes, it's partly hype. But it's also dozens and dozens of people who are willing to put serious effort into building and maintaining the site. It's truly Open Source, not just on the level that theoretically the code is available to be used or modified, but because they actually do accept and commit patches from anyone who wants to fix a bug or introduce a new feature. And they've gone to major effort to clean up the code so that it's consistent and properly commented and runs on modern versions of Perl and Apache. And they're putting time into training people with no experience of coding, including yours truly.

Someone asked me how DW can get away with using LJ's code, and I explained that LJ is Open Source. When I went to look for a link to back this up, I discovered that LJ has hidden and obfuscated everything about its Open Source origins, so that basically you have to know exactly where to look to get the code repositories, and after that you're on your own. But Dreamwidth is actually Open Source in spirit as well as in theory, and it's great fun to see and be part of.

Shiny features

Like I said, I'm not moving for the shiny features. But there are some really neat ones all the same. Basically, if you are used to LJ, Dreamwidth will be pretty familiar, except with a usable, intuitive navigation and interface, and a whole bunch of things that should have been possible on LJ but nobody ever got round to coding. The thing about getting rid of "friends" and replacing it with "people who have access to my locked content" and "journals I read" is mostly cosmetic, but it's a very good sort of cosmetic. Navigation strip preferences are now site-wide instead of being connected to journal style, so if you like the strip you see it everywhere as a dashboard, and if you hate it you can avoid it without having to resort to Greasemonkey scripts. You can preview comments without having to go to the extended options page. They're working on the ability to control multiple accounts with the same login.


This is the big one, for me. Dreamwidth isn't trying to lock people in to the site, quite the opposite, they're making serious effort to create a situation where it doesn't matter which site your friends prefer. They've implemented OpenID properly, so that if you don't want to create a Dreamwidth account, you get full functionality in terms of having a reading page, getting comment notifications, voting in polls, taking part in the trust system, etc; the only thing you can't do is make journal entries or join communities. You can already import all your content from LJ or related sites, and if you import comments, the comment author can log in with OpenID and manage the copies of their comments on Dreamwidth. You can cross-post between Dreamwidth and LJ from the update page itself (not third party tools), and choose to keep all your comments in one place if you want to.

The real killer app isn't quite there yet, but it's well on the way: ability to aggregrate content from any LJ-based site into a single reading page. That includes reading locked posts if you're entitled to and not otherwise, seeing all the comments attached to their correct posts, seeing the full text of posts even if the RSS feed is truncated, the whole works... The consequence of this is that people who want to stay on LJ should barely notice the difference when their friends move, and more than that, it means that if you want to run your own private little installation rather than trusting a hosted service, you can totally do that, and I can still read your posts on my normal DW reading page.


Accessibility isn't an optional extra on Dreamwidth, it's built in right from the beginning. Everything from providing HTML only versions of pages, to meeting a very high standard of screen reader accessibility, to insisting that the wording of the site documentation should not exclude anyone with a disability or an unconventional setup for reading the internet. The people in charge of the accessibility project have serious experience in making stuff usable for people with disabilities, but actually this is good for everyone, if you're using an old browser or a limited device such as a mobile phone, the site should just work. And if it doesn't, it's a bug, and people care, and accessibility related bugs get fixed with high priority. Anyway, for all these reasons, this will be my last post on LJ. Future entries will be at Liv's place over on Dreamwidth. And yes, things are still shaking down, both for the site itself and for my own set-up there, but I'm pretty psyched about finding a new home to love as much as I love LJ.

I am not putting pressure on you to move. Dreamwidth is not going to bring about world peace, it's just another internet site, and if you're basically happy with LJ, why go to the hassle? I'm moving because I'm not happy here any more. I am not cutting you out of my life if you don't want to move to DW. I will continue to read LJ and comment here, at least until they finalize the awesome feature that will let me read all your posts without having to leave DW! I won't cross-post (because I'm a little nervous that doing so would violate LiveJournal's ToS, even though they're not enforcing it at the moment, and also because it's annoying for people who are in both places). I think I'll make occasional posts, perhaps weekly or monthly, with lists of titles of recent DW posts. If you want to read me over there, you're welcome to make an RSS feed there's an RSS feed at liv_dw. I rarely make locked posts, so this isn't a big deal, but if you particularly want to see my occasional comments about work details or family medical issues, I'm happy to friend your LJ account (through the magic of OpenID) so that you can do that without having to join Dreamwidth.

If you do want to join Dreamwidth, and I emphasize it's only if you want to, I won't think any less of you if you're not interested, or if you'd rather stick with the devil you know than trust a newly started site, or whatever, I have a certain number of invite codes. At the moment my list looks like this (deleted names are people who already have accounts from other sources, but do correct me if I deleted you in error):
darcydodo (if you actually want one?)
ajollypyruvate *sent*
jenny_pop (if you're still reading)
------- (new based on this post)
catwithclaws *sent*
hmw26 *sent*
------- (waiting list)
jacquic *sent*
flying_peanuts *sent*
rivermilk *sent*

Comment if you still want the promised code; I have five available right now and I think that covers everybody I've already promised. And comment if you're not on the list yet but want to be added.

I also believe enough in the site that I want to invest in it financially. There's an annoying bug with the payments system right now, such that you have to use a Paypal account to pay, but as soon as that is fixed, I am willing to buy 6 months of paid time for up to 10 people. I'm going to prioritize people who actually intend to use the site, not just namesquat, cos otherwise it's a bit pointless, and I'm afraid I'm not going to pay for random strangers, only if I have at least some idea who you are.

Comments are screened by default, so that you can include an email address to send a code to, or let me know if you have a different name over there so that I can find you on the new site. Or sign up for me to sponsor you with paid time. But I'll unscreen any general chat about your opinions of Dreamwidth or this post or whatever.

Whereaboooots: Dreamwidth
Moooood: optimisticoptimistic
Tuuuuune: Burning Bush: Avrix mi galanica
Discussion: 37 contributions | Contribute something

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catwithclaws: default
Date:May 3rd, 2009 07:10 pm (UTC)
18 minutes after journal entry, 01:10 pm (catwithclaws's time)
have a code? I've heard much and like the fact it's created by ex-LJ employees, but haven't joined. yet.
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: geekette
Date:May 3rd, 2009 09:02 pm (UTC)
2 hours after journal entry, 10:02 pm (livredor's time)
OK, now I have more codes than folk on my waiting list. PM me an email address, please?
(Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
friend_of_tofu: default
Date:May 3rd, 2009 07:11 pm (UTC)
19 minutes after journal entry
Heya. Have added you on DW!
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) (5/3/09 07:51 pm)
livredor: portrait
Date:May 3rd, 2009 08:04 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 09:04 pm (livredor's time)
I completely respect that; thank you so much for letting me know. I am pretty impressed by the amount of effort that Dreamwidth are going to to implement the cross-site authentication in a non-skeevy way, but it definitely is a security / privacy concern to have any other site involved at all. The plan is that LiveJournal will handle everything to do with what I'm allowed to read or not, and the risk of unknown people getting access to your content is no greater than the chance that I might let someone read my LJ friends page over my shoulder. Right now I trust Dreamwidth more than I trust LJ, frankly, but that's no reason why you should.

I'm not at all trying to persuade you to change your decision! My own concern is that another malicious site might set up with the Dreamwidth code, altered just enough to give bad actors or the world in general access to friends-locked entries on LJ. And if I'm worried about that possibility, it's totally reasonable for you to worry that Dreamwidth itself might be untrustworthy.
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(no subject) - amireal (5/3/09 11:22 pm)
(no subject) - pw201 (5/4/09 01:40 am)
(no subject) - livredor (5/5/09 07:11 am)
(no subject) - zeightyfiv (5/4/09 05:47 am)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) (5/3/09 08:01 pm)
livredor: teeeeeeeeea
Date:May 3rd, 2009 08:05 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 09:05 pm (livredor's time)
Ooh, yay, thank you!
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mathcathy: default
Date:May 3rd, 2009 08:26 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 09:26 pm (mathcathy's time)
I won't move. I have a community of friends here and I don't have the drive to try and convert a whole group of people who really just use LJ occasionally as a way to keep in touch and discuss weekend plans into another medium.

On top of that, I've had this blog for long enough that I couldn't tell you everyone who reads it occasionally, and would be scared to lose old relationships that are mostly dormant, as part of the move.

And the things about LJ that bother you have never worried me.

I've liked being your "friend" over the years since I first started reading your words, and if there's a way that I can keep reading by just simply adding your DW user ID to my LJ friends list, and if you're willing, then please let me know what I should do.
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livredor: teapot
Date:May 3rd, 2009 08:35 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 09:35 pm (livredor's time)
That makes complete sense. As I said in my post, where your friends are is way more important than the technological features offered by any given site. I am a little worried that I'll lose readers I don't even know about, but I'm hoping that I'll fairly quickly build up a readership again on DW.

Probably the best way to keep reading is to leave things as they are, and I'll make summary posts here every so often so you can see new DW content. I know it's extra clicks, and I apologize for that. I put a lot of thought into whether it was worth putting my friends here to inconvenience, and concluded that it was, but it's not ideal. (Unfortunately friending my DW ID won't help very much at the moment; that's one of the deficiencies with LJ that DW is trying to improve on.)
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(no subject) - mathcathy (5/3/09 09:09 pm)
(no subject) - livredor (5/3/09 10:07 pm)
(no subject) - mathcathy (5/4/09 10:08 am)
(no subject) - livredor (5/5/09 07:19 am)
403: String Theory
Date:May 3rd, 2009 08:42 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 01:42 pm (403's time)

Re: Automated-crossposter spam

Have you considered making a syndecated feed of your public DW posts, to LJ? That way people who aren't moving could just add the feed to their friendslist, and you wouldn't have to worry about spamming people who are on both services.
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livredor: geekette
Date:May 3rd, 2009 10:06 pm (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry, 11:06 pm (livredor's time)
Good suggestion. RSS feed now at liv_dw, and post amended accordingly!
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taimatsu: default
Date:May 3rd, 2009 08:44 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 09:44 pm (taimatsu's time)
I have a code and an account, so you can take me off your list :)
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
green_knight: Bluebells
Date:May 3rd, 2009 09:55 pm (UTC)
3 hours after journal entry, 10:55 pm (green_knight's time)
In defense to SUP, the free accounts have been restored, though in a slightly sneaky way (you have to create one with ads, then you can change the type back to basic, you cannot create a basic account and I think a lot of new users never find out about it) and they generally seem to be more on the ball and more interested in LJ than Six Apart ever was. The current kerfuffle over anti-gay ads that is just about to break out and which marta is already stomping on is a good example for that.

I love that DW exists and that it gets taken up by so many of the people I care about, I shall watch with interest, and eventually, I probably _will_ switch over, but now is not the time.
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
ursamajor: default
Date:May 4th, 2009 07:04 am (UTC)
12 hours after journal entry, 03:04 am (ursamajor's time)
Caveat with Basic Accounts, though - even those are no longer totally ad-free; ads display on the journals of Basic Accounts to anyone not logged in to LJ, no longer just on Plus Accounts.

(And marta did awesome this afternoon. I wish I knew where she's getting her seemingly infinite supply of patience!)
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(no subject) - livredor (5/5/09 07:25 am)
Date:May 4th, 2009 03:49 am (UTC)
8 hours after journal entry
If you still have codes to give away, I'd very much like one.
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
siderea: default
Date:May 4th, 2009 05:29 am (UTC)
10 hours after journal entry, 01:29 am (siderea's time)
When there were a lot of racism discussions going on around LJ earlier this year, it felt like a punch in the gut to read a deeply personal account of the experience of being Asian in Britain and see it surrounded by ads for "hot Asian chix".

*SPASM* *skincrawls* I'd somehow missed that one.
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livredor: ewe
Date:May 5th, 2009 05:32 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 06:32 pm (livredor's time)
That's one of the reasons adverts are so creepy, because not everybody sees the same ones. Most likely the person whose journal I was reading didn't know what crap was being slapped on her writing, because she probably stays in. And probably people reading from the US got different adverts from us Europeans, even if they did see ads. But yeah, it really was utterly foul.
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thewhiteowl: default
Date:May 4th, 2009 09:12 am (UTC)
14 hours after journal entry, 10:12 am (thewhiteowl's time)
Why do you think cross-posting may be against the ToS, Liv?
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
pne: default
Date:May 5th, 2009 06:05 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 08:05 pm (pne's time)
I was wondering that, too.

Then I thought she probably meant specifically cross-posting using Dreamwidth's built-in cross-posting interface, which requires that you enter your other-site (LiveJournal, in this case) username and password, i.e. divulging your login details to a third-party site.

If you cross-posted through, say, a client that runs on your machine and that can log into multiple sites simultaneously, I imagine that would not be a problem since the password remains under your control. (Hopefully.)
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jacquic: default
Date:May 4th, 2009 10:54 am (UTC)
16 hours after journal entry
If you still have any codes, I would like one, sometime; but if not, don't worry!
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: bunneh
Date:May 5th, 2009 02:51 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 03:51 pm (livredor's time)
I picked up some extras just now; can you let me have an email address to send you one?
(Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
Date:May 4th, 2009 04:46 pm (UTC)
21 hours after journal entry
Well said! I moved to dreamwidth about a week ago! I am still setting things up, but I like the dual functionality of it! may well look you up on there! :)
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: teeeeeeeeea
Date:May 5th, 2009 05:38 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 06:38 pm (livredor's time)
Would you like to introduce yourself? Lurkers are welcome, but I'd be interested to know who you are if you don't mind.
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ewx: default
Date:May 4th, 2009 09:38 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 10:38 pm (ewx's time)
They do seem to have done a pretty smooth job on the initial bring-up, considering how many people must be hammering on the door.
(Reply to this comment) (Thread)
livredor: geekette
Date:May 7th, 2009 01:33 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 02:33 pm (livredor's time)
Apparently they bought four times as much hardware as they needed, even with the initial rush on the launch date. Which is an incredibly good business decision; the slightest little bit of flakiness, even if intellectually it was understandable, would have convinced half their potential userbase that it was just a fly-by-night thing and not worth bothering with.
(Reply to this comment) (Up thread) (Parent) (Thread)
rivermilk: default
Date:May 4th, 2009 11:55 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry
Salutations! I dicovered this Dreamwidth operation through likerain, who referenced you in regards to her optimism about the site. If you have any more codes available, I would appreciate one.
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