[personal profile] uwaaaah
I've translated the interview from Russian, but I won't lie--my Russian isn't perfect. There are parts that I didn't understand and tried to make sense of the best I could with a little bit of occasional help from my dictionary.

Any one reading this who catches a mistake in my translation, feel free to comment and let me know where I've gone wrong, and I'll gladly change it! I am definitely not perfect in my translation, haha.

This is a translation of this interview:


LEADER OF LIVEJOURNAL RUSSIA, ILYA DRONOV, TALKS ABOUT HOW TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF "BROKEN BRAINS"--HOW TO MAKE LJ MORE UNDERSTANDABLE FOR USERS

(note from the website publishing the interview, irrelevant)

Maxim Spiridonov: Any business has its stages of growth, rise, and fall. Some companies, upon ascending to the top, roll with the punches, pressured by strong and energetic competitors. Others gain stronger footing for a long while and over the years show steady growth. Today we are discussing a project unique in many ways. One of the ways it is unique is that it is regularly "buried," but it just won't "die." Our guest with us is the leader of LiveJournal Russia, Ilya Dronov.

Do you agree that today in Russia LJ is first and foremost a banner and manifesto of a public and cultural phenomenon?


igrick: Yes, I agree with this. We have gathered a unique audience. LJ has found its appropriate use in Russia, although it was not planned to be this way from the start. Brad Fitzpatrick (starter of Livejournal) used LJ as a blog for himself and his friends, he used it, as an example, in order to not call everyone and not speak of the fact that he left on vacation. since then in america, Livejournal is used as its own closed area. 50% of journal entries, without taking into account communities, are "friends only" or "locked" to yourself, your friends, or groups of friends so that only they can read your words.

MS: So it is a social service?

igrick: Yes, it was envisioned as such at its start, but in Russia it has taken on a slightly different use. Russians use it as a playground where each person can have their own small news media.

MS: Surprising. So it turns out that in Russia the website was turned inside out?

igrick: Yes, in a manner of speaking.

MS: In the minds of many, LJ in the wired present, has very much fallen behind its competitors in terms of direct social media. This is visible in the interfaces, fuctionalness, quickness of the work. Many think that if there weren't any popular bloggers on LJ, then the service would have died long ago. What do you have to say on this belief?

igrick: From a technological point of view, the falling behind is true. LJ was coded from 1999 to 2001 in Perl and, since then, little has changed. Technologically it has resisted change, and this is one of the serious problems that is now before me. developing this platform is difficult, because it comes at an enormous cost. Multiplying the servers is no longer an option because each new added server doesn't give the amount of increased performance that is needed. LiveJournal has come close to its ceiling, from a technological point of view.

MS: A few years ago in a talk with Andrew Borisevich, who was then the director of SUP, we talked about much the same thing. Why was a solution not devised to overhaul the platform back then? Its functions are not that complicated. We as development people understand that this is a feasible problem for a small group of good programmers. They would have been able to rewrite everything in half a year.

igrick: Not for half a year, but a full year, because the cases that are holding up the service and the data, which have already accumulated, require hand-care. You need to take into account that we don't want to maintain 100% of the current functionality of LiveJournal, we want to take away some things and add others. We started the development of a new kernel for LJ in March of this year. Why did this not happen earlier? Because the company had that sort of strategy.

MS: So there was no political agenda and SUP didn't exactly know where to go with LJ?

igrick: I would say that different approaches have been tried. Right now we have come to a stable position, so now I have the power to right all of this.

MS: Does SUP nowadays treat LJ as a business or as a product?

igrick: a bit of both. This is a train from SUP's perspective, it can obtain the most coverage and the least promise, while at the same time bringing in money.

MS: Is LJ profitable?

igrick: That's a difficult question because we are not a public company. LiveJournal does not have its own legal department. There is a legal department that covers all of SUP. In order to determine whether it's profitable or not, you need to count the division of all the resources. The amount of money it brings in is not small.

MS: What is the main source of income? Advertising?

igrick: That depends on the region. If we are looking at America, then paid services bring in as much money as adveritsing there. If we are looking at Russia, then it is advertising, although we are slowly cancelling that now. We have just yesterday released a new comment system that cut nearly 30% of traffic where advertising is displayed.

MS: What is the reason for this? Advertising brings in the most money.

igrick: Yes, but I believe that tactically this is good money, but strategically this is bad money. There are other ways to earn money without alienating the audience. For example, not long ago we released the service Self promo. The point of it is that every user can put on the main page an advertisement of their journals which does not carry a commercial purpose. We earn a fair amount of money from this, because there is a small space alotted to this and it works via an auction system only in Russia. With the right approach, this method of making money can bring in more revenue than advertising, which bothers everyone.

MS: Will this only be in Russia, or all of Livejournal?

igrick: We're getting rid of advertisements in all of LJ, although it will be introduced in stages in different countries, starting with the countries part of the CIS (T/N: Commonwealth of Independent States, countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, including Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, etc.)

MS: Shed some light on the international business of LiveJournal. How much does the behavior of foreign users differ? What about their ways of doing business?

igrick: LiveJournal is different everywhere. In russia it's a playground where you can shout like a tribunal. Users want to end up in the ratings, they want to be number one. This is a comparative rating of journals (T/N: I should note that this is modern-day slang that took me a while to find the definition for. If you ask me, if it's not in the dictionary, it's too informal for an interview...), not to offend anyone involved. In America it is all closed, there is no popularity amongst users, there they have communities which can have membership up to 200,00 or 300,000 journals. If you look at Singapore and all of Southeast Asia, there LJ is used as a service to sell clothes on. For example, there is a person who maintains 20 blogs, selling clothes, and he earns around $50,000 per month from this. We even went to Singapore and established a relationship with these users, organized for them a different homepage that focuses on this section of LiveJournal.

MS: Give us some numbers about the audience. How many users are there in the Cyrillic segment and how many are there abroad?

igrick: In the Cyrillic segment, 5 million; abroad, around 26 million. The largest of these is the USA, with 12 million. But you need to understand that these are specific numbers. Livejournal in comparison to, for example, Facebook is an open playground. You can go to any entry, if the author allows you to. Even if you are an unregistered user, you can still easily read and comment on entries. Being a "registered user" has less mean to us than Facebook, which you cannot use until you have been registered.

MS: Reading is possible...

igrick: This is recent, because before this it was impossible to even read. The main traffic in America is from authorized users. But in Russia, in Ukraine, it is mainly from unauthorized users, because the content is found through Yandex (T/N: the equivalent of Russian Google), they send messages through Vkontakte (T/N: Russian Facebook), from Lente.Ru, and other websites.

MS: There is a belief that soon the entire non-Cyrillic audience will go away to Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

igrick: That depends on our stategy, as in the move away from advertising. The idea that all the users will be on Facebook is not worrisome because Facebook is a social network and a big address book, not a publishing house. We have a lot of users whose users on LJ are tied with their accounts on Facebook, and this doesn't bother any of us. In America it happened that Twitter, when it started, didn't have advertisements, now they have only just started to show up and are done very accurately. The same with Tumblr, which is growing well in America, it appears to be something in between Twitter and Livejournal, doesn't have advertisements, and the creators promise that there will never be because they have a different model of monetization. When you have an acient service which is full of advertising and there are no popular users who can keep the rest of the audience on the site, because they have long since gone to standalone, and the only remaining users are those who are part of communities, which stay there. (T/N: ...this sentence doesn't really make sense in Russian either.)

MS: Will there be so many revolutionary technological changes in the interfaces and logics of the functionality that you will be able to keep users who can choose to go to Facebook?

igrick: We will definitely destroy this trend. The question is how strong it will grow. I don't have the answer to this question. I'm flying to America for a month and a half and will work on learning how to answer this question. I will learn about the American audience and its uses of Livejournal as a media playground, not as a social network. We have already made a few steps for them to view us as media that will allow us to keep the American audience. For example, we have allowed users to register through Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, leave comments, write in communities. We don't think this affects the competition.

MS: There is a belief that blogging services are slowly fading into nonexistence as a once important branch of evolutionary development, but has now come to a standstill.

igrick: I don't agree. History is cyclical, particularly from the perspective of society. It's like what's in fashion--the yellow light always comes back in fashion. Right now the trend is towards social networking, and before that the trend was towards blogs, and before that forums. Essentially, nothing is changing, people stay the same, just their options seem to change a bit, and their number is growing. If you look at the Internet like a cloud in which there are dots which follow mathematical laws, then naturally, at different levels of saturation, their behavior changes a little bit. But nevertheless, social networking is the same branch of development and one day it will also evolve.

MS: That's arguable. We're having an interesting dialogue. It appears to me that social networking is thus dangerous to you since you can write short things in them. On Facebook you can add and look at photos, video, write to your heart's desire big texts. What can you offer against them in perspective? Now the new generation are happy turning to Vkontakte and Facebook.

igrick: That depends on the growth. If you talk about Vkontakte, then there is a young audience there, and thus they have different needs. They watch videos, listen to music, and talk as if on ICQ (T/N: a chat client, largely used by Russians). Facebook in Russia is for businessmen, and in Livejournal there is the middle audience, who have something to say, who have something to listen to, who are interested in the opinions of different people. All the "twitter" revolutions are unnecessary once they've shown that the applicability of the SMS model on the Internet can have serious effects. I don't think they're dangerous to us. For example, we are creating a fairly dense integration with Twitter that benefit us both. We don't pretend that users who write small comments according to their model of life should write them on our site, because our site is not made for that. We have a media service, we have only 4% of people who write full entries. That is more than enough for the service to grow in terms of what it covers.

MS: Tell me, please, a bit more about the new fucntionality and new interfaces which will be in the updated LJ. Is the studio of Artem Lebedev in fact working on this?

igrick: Yes. The studio not long ago posted a section on their site where you can see all the pages. Naturally, in the process of their implementation, their appearance will change a little bit. These will be fundamental, revolutionary changes from the functional point of view, and from the design point of view LJ will look as though it is 2007-2008 now. We want to keep the eprception of LiveJournal as being for a current audience, we want for them to not undergo shock. We don't want to become Facebook, and the most important question that we have heard about this event, which has gathered many blogers, where we explained the upcoming changes alogn with Anton Nosik and showed pictures of the new LJ design created by studio Lebedev was: "Is that how it was or how it became?" This question means that we solved our question. We changed the user interface, but not the perception of the actual service.

MS: You have made an attempt to organize a retro-interface upon telling users that you do not want to compete with Facebook and Twitter and that you do not need it.

igrick: I don't think that this stands on the surface of the question of competition. They are competing not in design, but in perception, demand, audience, and expendableness. The design is an acquired taste.

MS: The current interface that you are making--will it solve problems for the users? I didn't once hear something like "I tried to deal with LJ and broke my brain."

igrick: Yes, the new interface solves problems for the user, brains will not be broken. But as before, any person who comes into our system at first won't understand everything at first. When the system is a little complicated, you will need to sometimes look at instructions, but on the whole, the designs were made to solve the problem of the "broken brain." Facebook is going down a different road. Because of the provision of wider functionality for all users, they are becoming more and more complicated with each passing year.

MS: Are you rewriting the product from nothing? Programming-wise, is this a totally different product?

igrick: We are rewriting step by step, but on the whole, yes, it is from the ground up. The most important question that we are addressing in the rewritten code is that of the distribution of how data is submitted. Right now on LiveJournal the bad is not separated from the good. LiveJournal itself, maybe, will stay the same, but from the architectural point of view, the relationship with users, social graphs, the way in which entries and comments are saved, all of that will change, all of that will be rewritten from the ground up. The social graph is the most narrow area on LJ, it's visible by restriction. For example, you can't friend more than 1000 people if you are not a paying user and you can't add more than 2000 if you are paying. That is not because we want to make money, that is because if a paid user friends more than 2000 people, then their friends list will become extremely laggy and will freeze, it will take a long time for it to load. Such things were laid out in the original code for LJ, and it is from these things that we began rewriting the code. In early 2012 we will get rid of these limitations and based on that, release a whole other set of services.

MS: Okay. Are you keeping the servers in the USA and thus subjecting yourself to American law?

igrick: Yes. The company Livejournal Inc. is registered on US territory.

MS: Are you planning to move some of the servers to Europe to speed up traffic?

igrick: That is a mirror. We have a cached system that gives content faster, we want to move the mirror closer to Russia. When I arrive in San Francisco, LJ flies with me, because there is no transfer of traffic over the ocean. We would like it if it would work faster in Russia. We are part of the mirror that will not save data, but rather act as a proxy for requests and give data faster through Europe.

MS: What do you think, will the non-Cyrillic section still be active in 3-4 years and how will the Cyrillic segment be?

igrick: Without a doubt, it will live. I am counting on the fact that it will grow. This will depend on the strategy that we are using. It's very likely that we will try to bring over the history of the Cyrillic segment of LJ to the non-Cyrillic segment--that is, away from the service and more towards media. This is a view from above of the strategy. The Cyrillic segment will grow further because more and more often we are finding new stars who quickly rise to the top of the users and entries. There will be changes that allow users to monetize their blogs without our interference from our end, which will widen our audience.

Date: 2012-01-01 04:05 pm (UTC)
rhiannonhero: (Apple Girl Head (fever of fate))
From: [personal profile] rhiannonhero
I think, and I might be wrong, of course, that the real problem is that they have basically multiple possible businesses here, and they all require different needs to be met. They've got the Russian users who are using it as personal presses, they've got Singapore folks using it for business/selling purposes, like etsy or something, and they've got Americans who use it for communities, etc, and lock their posts. (It seems interesting to me that he seems to be a bit down on locked posts and limiting one's reading audience; or maybe that's just the spin I'm putting on this translation.) And to me it seems like they've chosen to focus on one business strategy for the company as a whole, which does make sense in a way since trying to meet everyone's needs seems difficult, and they've decided to go with what makes the most sense in their country. At the same time, I'm wondering if they wouldn't have been better off splintering off into different companies under one big header, and trying to meet each group's needs, instead of basically saying, "Americans use LJ wrong! We will show them how to use it right! Nay, we will FORCE them to use it right!" Interestingly, they seem willing to oblige the Singapore salespeople, but seem hell bent on pissing off Americans.

I mean, just conducting an interview like this in ENGLISH, discussing with the American cash cow of their operations what the plans are and why would go a long way toward appeasing people, or at least making it appear that they respect the people who comprise more than half of their user base and bring in as much money as advertising.

I read a psychological study a year ago that said that people were willing to pay more for worse service so long as they were constantly informed and updated or reassured as they waited for service to be restored. I'm not sure I phrased that well, but what I mean is that keeping people in the loop about what the plan is for the service they're paying for, patiently and respectfully explaining the whys and hows of various changes in service, and doing so well in advance is going to soothe a lot more outrage than taking the "do it and then half-assed explain it later" approach they've been taking at LJ. Since switching to DW, I've found their constant sharing of information re: service so refreshing, and while it's been lagging for me due to the imports, etc, I've not worried a bit about it because I know they are aware of it, they care, and they are working on it/there is an end to it in sight.

Sorry, uh, I got all blah blah blah in this reply. :D I just went off, I guess! :D

Date: 2012-01-01 07:57 pm (UTC)
brightblueink: Joshua from Chrono Crusade as a child, wearing a blue hat and suit. (Little boy blue)
From: [personal profile] brightblueink
That could be it, although it makes it seem like he didn't really think too much outside of his own box when it came to figuring out how to design the site, since I think part of the reason why LJ has lasted this long is that it does serve multiple different uses. Plus the Russian users aren't crazy about the changes either but he seems to be completely ignoring them. =\ Just...meh.

I definitely agree with what you said about DW. Honestly the comment changes didn't upset me THAT much, it was the way they were handled. I feel much more comfortable here when I know what's going on.

And no problem! I have a tendency to go on and on about things too when I'm really interested in them. XD

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