I have been watching and waiting for the impact of AOL Journals. Back in January I outlined the business case for AOL to enter the market, using LiveJournal stats to suggest a $48m revenue stream as the prize. I wondered a little if the growth of weblogs would be headed for The September That Never Ended. Then when the news broke of AOL Journals, I was sure it would come. And noted that Clay had framed the big question: would it be a walled garden or open?
Meanwhile, since launch, there has been little impact on blogspace from the launch of AOL Journals. Are you reading their posts? Met any of their newbies? Writing in reference to them? Traffic burst got you down? Not yet, anyway.
Now comes the news comes that AOL is blocking referrers from LiveJournal. Referral logs are the root of all conversation between weblogs. The garden might be walled.
The innocent theory is this is a mistake, the sinister one is that this is not. But it is what it is. At least its worth analyzing. And if there was a simple response that this was a mistake, it would have swam like goldfish into blogspace by now.
The wall has already been torn down. With major publishers syndicating in RSS and the popular understanding of what a blog is giving credence to personal publishers, the supply side is open. AOL Journals supports RSS and will support Atom, allowing their users to publish and communicate with anyone.
Blocking referrers means that AOL Journalers will not know if someone else is reading and writing about what they wrote. Its a barrier to potential relationships. Just at the time when new AOL Journalers need encouragement. When you first blog its to a void and the most amazing experience is when you connect with someone far removed from you.
AOL Members are not going to bolt for other blogging platforms. They will appreciate the simple usability of the tool they have created, find ways to bring other Members into a new community paradigm that fulfills personal needs and take advantage of the integrated resources only AOLTW can provide.
Perhaps its because LiveJournal's demographics are the most similar of all the blogging platforms to AOL, if indeed motives are evil. But I don't think they are. I have met a few of the builders at AOL, good people, and they have demonstrated publicly how clueful they are.
The leverage a major player like AOL gains from offering a blogging platform is two-fold: fingers (not eyeballs), space (ads) and distribution (Atomized). None of these work with a closed system. There is no such thing as a closed system.
Expect blogspace to reject this techno-isolationism, true or not. Expect AOL to realize this is sheer stupidity and change course. Expect this thread to raise the bar of openness. You can't corner the market on conversation.