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 issueI'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 sustainableDreamwidth 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.
CompetenceThe 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.
CommunityOne 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 featuresLike 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.
InteroperabilityThis 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.
AccessibilityAccessibility 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,
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?)
------- (new based on this post)
------- (waiting list)
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.