LiveJournal creator leaves as Six Apart fails to spin

Word is that Brad Fitzpatrick, the founder of LiveJournal and chief architect of Six Apart, is leaving the troubled blog-software company. And the fact that you're hearing about from a gossip blog rather than the transparency-loving company is itself a sign of how deep the problems run. Fitzpatrick, who sold his company, Danga Interactive, to Six Apart two years ago, has vested his shares, declared his boredom with Six Apart, and after weighing offers from Google and Facebook, has chosen to head to Google, a source close to Fitzpatrick says. The only reason that Six Apart management hasn't announced it, the source adds, is that they can't figure out how to spin it. Here, let me help, guys! It's bad. And Fitzpatrick's departure is just the tip of Six Apart's reality-denying iceberg.

Six Apart is in two separate businesses — selling blog software and services to big companies, and managing social networks LiveJournal and Vox. The two don't mesh well, and it shows. CEO Barak Berkowitz's corporate-running-dog background has not prepared him at all for dealing with feisty online users, and his ineptness was on display in the recent fan-fiction censorship scandal.

Mena Trott, Six Apart's president and cofounder, is normally the company's most effective spokesperson. When she can be prevented from swearing, that is. But we haven't seen much from her recently.

And Andrew Anker is still listed as being in charge of the company's consumer business on its website. But I know that he's moved into a corporate-development role — which I think is Silicon Valley code for "trying to find someone to buy the company."

On top of that, there's last month's 365 Main outage, which knocked the company's sites offline — not Six Apart's fault, except in that it didn't bother to get a backup data center, as most high-traffic websites do. And the rushed release of Movable Type 4.0, the company's cash-cow blog software line.

Not that Six Apart's problems, copious as they are, and difficult as they are to fess up to, are much of a reason for Fitzpatrick to stay. Teaching Berkowitz how not to sound like a n00b when talking to LiveJournal members? Likely impossible. Fixing Movable Type's bugs? Booooring. Listening to Trott's swearing fits? Exciting, from a distance.

As Fitzpatrick put it himself in late June:

In the short term, I'm going to see what's possible here, but this boredom can't go on much longer before I snap. I need to be in a team of excited, fast-moving people stressing the fuck out (in a fun way) on challenging and important problems. I miss that.

The damning implication, of course, being that Six Apart lacks both excited, fast-moving people and challenging and important problems. No wonder Fitzpatrick is leaving.

Assuming his plan to join Google proceeds as planned, Fitzpatrick's likely to become both a respected engineer and an effective liaison to open-source developers. Google has, despite its efforts, a mixed reputation in the open-source world. Fitzpatrick, by contrast, is almost universally beloved by geeks for releasing the open-source components that make LiveJournal run. When he reveals that he wrote memcached, they squeal about as readily as 14-year-old girls do when they learn he's the creator of LiveJournal. Google has considerably more code for Fitzpatrick to play with — and a bigger stage for him to play on.

And for Six Apart? Expect more drama, nonstop, and less-than-transparent explanations of it from company management. Fitzpatrick did this favor for them, at least: Six Aparters can always whine about it to their friends on LiveJournal.