I never used LiveJournal, but I love Ben Werdmuller’s description of it as a place to journal in private with your friends. Although that’s not exactly what Substack provides, the interaction between the longer-form and the shorter form (through Substack Notes) is getting there.
It’s not as if it would be ideal to just have a place for existing friends, as you need new people and ideas to mix things up a bit. So it’s that semi-permeable membrane that makes things interesting: not quite fully public, but not quite fully private.
If you missed its heyday about twenty years ago, LiveJournal was a private blogging community that led to much of what we know as social media. You could follow your friends, and they could follow you back if they wanted; your posts could be shared with the whole world, just with your friends, or with a subset. Every post could host thriving, threaded discussions. You could theme your journal extensively, making it your own. And while you could post photos and other media, it was unapologetically optimized for long-form text. The fact that the whole codebase was also open sourced, paving the way for Dreamwidth and other downstream communities, didn’t hurt at all. Brad Fitzpatrick, its founder, went on to build a stunning number of important web building blocks.
Public social networks force us to use a different facet of our identities. In a private space with your friends, nobody really cares about your job, and nobody’s hustling to promote whatever it is they’re working on. Twitter nudged social networking into becoming a space for marketing and brands, which is a ball the new Twitter-a-likes have picked up and carried. Much like the characters from The Breakfast Club, each of the new Twitters has its own stereotypical niche: the nerds, the brands, the rich people, the journalists. But they all feel a little bit like people are trying to sell ideas to you all of the time.