SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - LiveJournal, the personal Web publishing service that jump-started blogging in Russia, has been sold by its U.S. owner to a Russian business partner, which will operate it independently, the companies said on Sunday.
Six Apart Ltd said it sold the blog community site for undisclosed terms to SUP, a Russian-focused Internet media company led by an American and British duo that has expanded LiveJournal’s Russian business over the past year.
The free, ad-supported blog site encourages users to keep online diaries they share and discuss with friends. It counts 14.3 million blog accounts and roughly 20 million visitors a month. Its writers publish more than 150,000 new posts a day.
“The deal will allow LiveJournal to get the attention, and frankly, the investment, to allow it to flourish,” Andrew Paulson, SUP’s chief executive, said in a phone interview.
Six Apart CEO Chris Alden said his company will focus on three properties it has created in-house: the widely used MovableType blog software, the TypePad blog hosting service and Vox, a blogging service aimed at less-technical users.
SUP (www.sup.com/en/) said it is forming a new San Francisco-based company, LiveJournal Inc, to operate the service globally.
Alden said Six Apart will continue to partner with LiveJournal Inc, by supplying advertising and other services.
San Francisco-based Six Apart acquired LiveJournal in 2005 from its founder, Brad Fitzpatrick, who created the software in 1999 while a student at the University of Washington as a way for his friends to stay up-to-date on his latest Web postings.
Terms of that deal were never disclosed. Fitzpatrick left Six Apart this year and now works at Google Inc.
Market research firm Hitwise ranks LiveJournal as the fourth most popular personal blogging site among U.S. users, behind MySpace, Google Blogger, Yahoo 360 and ahead of Microsoft’s “Live Spaces,” Xanga and WordPress.
Behind LiveJournal’s success is a history of technical innovations that have spread far beyond LiveJournal itself.
Its freely licensed software helps speed up database-driven sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Wikipedia. OpenID is a single sign-on system that does away with passwords once a user signs on to any one OpenID-based Web site. AOL and Microsoft support OpenID and Google recently began testing the service.
SUP is backed by Russian financier Alexander Mamut, who had close ties to Boris Yeltsin, the former Russian president who died earlier this year. The year-old company’s partners in Russia include Yahoo Inc and Last.fm.
Under a 2006 agreement, Six Apart licensed SUP to operate the Cyrillic-language version of LiveJournal. SUP has introduced a range of improvements to the Russian site, including search features.
“We are very happy that LiveJournal is a large healthy growing business in the United Sates. We hope to improve on that,” said Paulson, an American who has worked in Russia since 1993.
Paulson released a 100-day plan of improvements he intends to make to the speed and functioning of LiveJournal. He also described various communications improvements that could make LiveJournal more like other community social networking sites.
On LiveJournal (LJ), a 30-year-old Fremont, California user who goes by the name “wintersweet” responded to Paulson’s plan: “Some of these ideas sound good, but others sound like someone is hoping to make LJ more like Facebook. I hope it will remain more of a combined forum+blog site, and not become a sprawling mess like Facebook ... It’s wait-and-see mode for me!”
In the United States, where two-thirds of users are female, teenage girls (15-20) are known as stalwart users. By contrast, in Russia, LiveJournal’s second-largest market, the site attracted intellectuals early on and functions now as an alternative forum for many of the country’s best-known authors amid the government’s crackdown on independent media.
“Historically, it is a group of people with very, very strong opinions,” Paulson said.
Fifty-eight percent of Russian LiveJournal users are male, according to research from local Internet firm Yandex. The site is also popular in Russian-speaking Ukraine and in Israel.
Editing by Ian Geoghegan