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Dreamwidth: The Free-for-all that Tumblr was and LiveJournal Could have Been

Dreamwidth was created as a replacement for the blogging site LiveJournal and has gained many former Tumblr users. Both sites censored content that Dreamwidth is more than happy to allow. Dreamwidth is a text-based social media platform focusing on posts and comments, giving users the ability to post content and make friends.

Navigating Dreamwidth

Dreamwidth describes itself as an open-source social networking and content management platform based on the LiveJournal code. Unlike many similar platforms like facebook or Tumblr, Dreamwidth users cannot repost and can only share links, keeping the feeds from cluttering up with reposted material. Dreamwidth has attracted a wide variety of users, with an avid fan fiction community and many others looking to share adult content that might be censored on other platforms, though users can voluntarily add content warnings.

Users have icons, and posts can vary from facebook-style life updates to art. User freedom comes at the price of basic packaging, with a plain aesthetic. There are a variety of different communities with a range of interests. Users have control over what others see, and some journals are locked and require permission from their creators for access.

How They Snagged Tumblr Users

Many users started coming to Dreamwidth when Tumblr started censoring NSFW posts. Even for those who don’t seek to share adult content, Tumblr’s censorship filter has caused issues, with many posts falsely flagged as inappropriate. Paige Leskin lists Dreamwidth as one of four main replacements for Tumblr. Dreamwidth even has a post welcoming former Tumblr users to their site.

Replacement for LiveJournal

While LiveJournal had several problems, inconsistent censorship was a big issue. Abe Hassan, a former LiveJournal employee discussed the problems they had in controlling inappropriate content: “We should’ve taken more of a stance on what ‘sexualized’ meant, and moved in the direction of community standards, like what [image sharing site] Flickr had, rather than freedom of speech.” The lack of consistent standards led to angry users who became increasingly dissatisfied with the site and the lack of clear rules.

Unlike Hassan, Denise Paulucci, who formerly led the LiveJournal support team, went in the opposite direction and sided with user freedom. Paulucci describes LiveJournal’s downfall: “We wanted to be the mom-and-pop corner store of social media, but we sold to somebody who didn’t understand that. And that’s where Dreamwidth comes in.”

By selling to a company that focused on advertising, Dreamwidth was forced to curtail its user’s freedom. This sudden shift in expectations contributed to LiveJournal’s demise. This led Paulucci and Livejournal software engineer Mark Smith to found Dreamwidth as an alternative that lacked the censorship LiveJournal was trying to implement.

The transition from LiveJournal to Dreamwidth appears so natural there are even posts on LiveJournal about how to use Dreamwidth, including one post by user ljlee covering how Dreamwidth’s mood indicators work and how to create your own custom mood theme. 

What’s Different About Dreamwidth

Covering the exodus from Tumblr, Sean Captain writes about what makes Dreamwidth unique, quoting Paolucci: “Our user base is very, very appreciative of the fact that they are our users and not the product that we’re selling.”  Since Dreamwidth is user supported, it has been able to avoid relying on adds or engaging in mass data harvesting. However, user freedom comes at the cost of limited finances, especially compared to major platforms like Tumblr. Dreamwidth has no video platform, and the site focuses more on facilitating the very sort of text-based posts that might come under fire by advertisers.

In the war between users and advertisers, Dreamwidth sides with the users. Whether the users will be able to back them up with the needed funding is still unknown. For devoted users, a plain platform is the price for freedom.