Russian LiveJournal:

The national specifics in the development of a virtual community

Key words: blog — livejournal — virtual community — Russian — national specifics — history — sociology

The community of Russian-speaking users at LiveJournal.com (LJ) is currently the largest virtual community uniting Russian from all over the world. It comprises over 40.000 people and this number is rapidly growing. According to the statistics of LJ user distribution by countries, the Russian Federation holds the fourth place following the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, and the Russian language is the second in the list of languages used in LJ (up to 8% of all LJ communications are in Russian). For Russian Internet users, LiveJournal has become one of the most popular Internet service and definitely the most popular blogging tool. It is used not only for keeping private or semi-private online journals but also for receiving information and news, acquiring friends, socializing, discussions and developing collaborative projects. It has become an independent collective medium influencing traditional media and cultural production at large and, therefore, a significant part of Russian culture.

This paper argues that Russian LiveJournal (RLJ) community shows a considerable deviation from the average norm both on the level of individual blogs and on the level of blogging community. These differences are as follows: 1) an older average age of the users; 2) the predominance of adult professionals; 3) a greater degree of interconnection between individual journals, which is expressed in a larger number of “friends” of the average user and the presence of popular authors with the audience of hundreds and even thousands “friends of”; 4) the significance of reading “friends page”, which sometimes exceeds the significance of keeping one’s own journal; 5) a strong influence upon online and offline media. To sum up, RLJ is older, more serious and more communal than LJ in average.

I suggest that these deviations are determined by the complex of interrelated factors such as the architecture of the service; the historical circumstances of the community building; the socioeconomic conditions in Russia; and, finally, the peculiarities of Russian mentality. In what follows, I develop this argument in detail.

The architecture of LJ, which uses a single database for keeping all entries, allows much higher degree of interweaving between individual blogs and makes community building easier than such popular blogging software and their related web-services as Blogger (blogspot.com) and Movable Type (typepad.com) intended for work with an individual blog. Next, the multi-language environment provided by LJ facilitated the use of various languages and greatly contributed to LJ popularity among non-English users. Finally, since joining and using LJ has always been free of charge (for some time, to create an account an invitations code from another LJ user was required), the users who could not pay could use the service. All three factors made LJ attractive for Russian users.

Historically, the RLJ community was first populated not by the teenager girls who form the majority of bloggers in the West but by mature professionals, predominantly male, including internet workers, journalists, writers, philosophers and artists. This intellectual and creative core contributed to RLJ popularity by their example, word of mouth and numerous publications in the media. The newly recruited users had to participate in the ongoing creative process or at least to imitate creativity. Thus, LJ conceived by its creator as a tool for keeping in touch between schoolmates unexpectedly acquired in Russia an aura of a playground for the intellectuals. This aura has persisted on the later stages of RLJ development, although now it is gradually fading. The use of RLJ as a source of the firsthand information (for example, the users accounts on the acts of terrorism they had witnessed) by the traditional media also strengthened its reputation and popularity.

The age and demographical differences between RLJ and LJ as a whole can be explained by the relatively poor socioeconomic conditions in Russia reflected in the limited Internet access for the younger generation. The number of the Internet users in Russia is estimated from 10.2 millions (the total audience, including those who have ever used Internet regardless of the frequency of use) to 4.2 millions (the core audience, those using the Internet at least three hours a week) which makes 3.9 – 9.1% of population – a meagre figure in comparison with 50-80% for US and Western Europe. Taking into account that the majority of Russians (up to 58%) connect to the Internet from work and the low level of connectivity in schools and universities, one can easily find the answer why the mature users prevail in RLJ.

Finally, the greater than average interconnection between the individual journals, the custom of having many “friends” and the significance of reading and commenting in journal of others, which is a characteristic feature of RLJ community, corresponds to such a well-known feature of the Russian national character as collectivism as a preference for group as opposed to individual self-identification or, at least, as an essential aspect of the latter. Regardless the deep political, economical and social changes in Russia during the last decade, the spirit of sobornost’ (collegiality) has remained deeply embedded into the national psyche which is reflected, in particular, in the use of Internet technologies, even those designed primarily for personal self-expression.


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