So yeah, we know that there's been an elephant in the room, sorry it took two days to announce that yes indeed, Six Apart did acquire LiveJournal. It has been hard not to react to all the questions and comments but we needed to finish all the legal documents and close the deal officially before we could say anything.
Finally I can spend some time talking about why we did this deal, what it means for LiveJournal users, what it means for Movable Type and TypePad users and for Six Apart and Danga. I hope that I can even dispel some crazy rumors.
As my posts tend to be pretty verbose, I'll first link to a FAQ that should answer a lot of questions that people may have. Once you've read it, please take the time to read the rest of this post so you can get a more extensive look into the deal and its makings.
Who is Six Apart?
Since I'm certain that a great number of LiveJournalers will be visiting this site for the first time, I want to give a little background about Six Apart. Much like Danga, Six Apart was started by people who really just wanted to create a cool tool and not necessarily a company. My husband Ben and I were 24 when we released Movable Type in October 2001. It quickly grew from a hobby to a full-time job and we realized that we wanted to try to make a business out of it. In October 2003, we launched TypePad, a hosted weblogging service. Over the past three years, we've grown the company by taking two investments (one in April of 2003, the other in October of 2004).
In the past year and a half we have grown from about 5 employees to almost 70 people internationally and have offices in Tokyo, Paris and now after a New Year's move, San Francisco. Ben and I are still at Six Apart -- he's the CTO, I'm the President. Barak Berkowitz serves as our CEO (I wrote about him in much detail here).
We approached Brad about a possible acquisition many months ago. Through the grapevine we had heard that he was considering selling and we felt it would make sense to at least approach him to see if he'd be interested in working with us. In all honesty, I didn't know what Brad thought of Six Apart and was ready to hear him say "thanks, but no thanks." After all, LiveJournal had been around since Ben and I were still in college and we were, in relation to Brad, still pretty new at the game. And since we knew that LiveJournalers and webloggers can sometimes be like oil and water, we were careful not to seem presumptuous that he'd even want to join forces. When Brad did express an interest in Six Apart, then we began talking in earnest.
Brad's initial question -- an expected one -- was "why does Six Apart want to acquire Danga (LiveJournal)?" The answer was simple: "Many of our weaknesses are LiveJournal's strengths and many of LiveJournal's weaknesses are our strengths."
There's the infrastructure that LiveJournal knows how to build, the talent of Brad and his crew, and the community that we can learn a lot from. Yes, LiveJournal also has a large user base and joining companies make us stronger.
And of course we're doing this deal because we believe it will increase the value of Six Apart. We're a company and don't make apologies for that.
But, in order to increase our value, we need to keep our assets valuable and for LiveJournal, that means not messing with things that aren't broken. To do so means keeping LiveJournal as good or better than it is the day we closed the deal.
A decision like this isn't made easily. We've got a good thing going right now at Six Apart with TypePad and Movable Type. Having another product under the Six Apart umbrella is a risky proposition for a company our size.
However, our core conviction to provide the best tools possible to all audiences, makes us willing to take on this risk.
A Vicious Circle
I believe that LiveJournal has, unfortunately, received a bum rap because many have considered the postings on LiveJournal to be trivial. It's sort of like a vicious circle: Journalists make fun of webloggers saying that they only post about their cats, webloggers make fun of LiveJournalers saying that they only post about high school angst and LiveJournalers make fun of webloggers saying that they are SUV-driving yuppies who think they have something important to say (and I'm generalizing). The fact is, webloggers and LiveJournalers are in essence doing the same thing: they are posting their thoughts to people who are important to them. For some webloggers, it's 100,000 people, for others it is 10. For LiveJournalers, it may be 30 people, it may be 3 (or a combination of some number).
And this is where it gets interesting.
We started Six Apart because of Movable Type and Movable Type started because I wanted a blogging tool that would make it easy for me to have a creative outlet to publish to the world. But, it turns out, I didn't want to publish to the world -- I wanted to publish to the people who I had been reading for years and respected, who, in turn became my friends in the offline world. I made friends through my weblog and realized that I was more comfortable writing to this subset.
That isn't to say I didn't still like writing to the world at large. Mena's Corner is meant to reach as many people as possible. And, I'm comfortable with that. What I'm not comfortable with is posting pictures of my best friend's baby on my public weblog. That's why I also keep a private weblog. For the past year and a half, we've been advocating TypePad as a tool to use if you want to keep a public or private weblog. We have users that have tens of thousands of readers, while others password-protect their family weblog and allow 6 people in. Weblogging is not just about publishing, it's about communicating.
Squashing Some Rumors
In reading some of the feedback to Om's post, I've seen LiveJournalers worried that we're going to turn around and start charging, close the LiveJournal source, own the content on LiveJournals, force the users to use TypePad/Movable Type and plaster their sites with advertisements. (We're not going to do this). I've seen our licensing changes in May cited as proof that we're capable of doing this. We did make some mistakes when it came to the changes in the licenses. But, I also believe we fixed them in our revised licensing. We learned from these mistakes and have spent the last half year thinking about how to be a successful company and still stay true to the essence of what we believe in -- people should have the ability to inexpensively publish and communicate with the best tools possible and we should have the ability to sustain ourselves as a business.
We go into further detail about these sort of questions in the FAQ.
About the Open Source issue: We made a decision to not GPL Movable Type or TypePad. That doesn't mean we don't believe in the Open Source movement. If you look at Ben's contribution to CPAN for the past four years, you can see this commitment (one that is shared by our staff at Six Apart). Religious wars about licensing are about as useful as religious wars in general. There is a happy medium and we believe that with LiveJournal, Six Apart has reached this nice middle-ground. While the code bases will remain separate (since LiveJournal is of course remaining Open Source), we will have unification through APIs, syndication formats and shared functionality (i.e. TrackBack support).
I have great respect for LiveJournal. I wouldn't, as a board member, have approved this deal if I didn't think that this service, company and users were something special. Sure, I realize that there are communities that I can't understand or necessarily want to encourage, but I also know that there are many types of people out in the world and a great number of them aren't 27 year-old white women who work at weblogging companies. (Though, I can say that once I was a teenager that liked to wear a lot of black once, long ago).
The funny thing is, you can have a weblog and a LiveJournal. The fact that some of the funniest and smartest people I know have both only reaffirms that we shouldn't limit ourselves to one sort of publishing/communication mode.
Earning Your Trust
Change is scary and we can certainly expect LiveJournalers to worry about what this acquisition means for them. While we certainly can't just say "trust us" and gain all 5.6 million users' trust from day one, we hope that our post-acquisition actions will allow them to gradually understand that the LiveJournal that they use will not only continue to be the LiveJournal they know and love, but a service that will continue to improve and expand.
I believe that improvements can be made to LiveJournal to improve usability and functionality and I think that the current LiveJournal team with some help from us can do this. We're providing them the resources to let them focus on the users and not have to focus on day-to-day business operations. I also think that the collective teams we will have in place working on Movable Type, TypePad and LiveJournal are capable of bringing online publishing to an entirely new level. Our goal is to slowly evolve the tools so as to not cause any unsettling changes. We realize that this acquisition is a very sensitive issue for many of LiveJournal's members. We've "bought" their home and they don't know if we're going to increase their rent, kick them out or make them move into our own house. It's very true that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" and we will try to follow that principle. But if something is broken, we will try to fix it. That said, we will encourage the sort of communication that is evident throughout LiveJournal's notices and news.
And for all of our loyal Movable Type and TypePad users, we believe that the momentum that we're gaining and the stuff we have coming up will only increase your excitement about our products. We're excited to enter this new phase and we look forward to the highs and lows.
I think it's just starting to get interesting.