Brad Fitzpatrick, LiveJournal Creator and Anton Nosik, Chief Blogging Officer, SUP, President and CEO, Rambler Internet search engine 2001-2004
Replay of 03.01.07 edition
1999 - Founder, LiveJournal website
2002 - Graduates, University of Washington, Seattle
2005 - Sells LiveJournal and parent company Danga Interactive to Six Apart
2005 - Chief Architect, Six Apart
1989 - Graduates, School of Dental Medicine, Moscow State University
1996 - Presenter, Evening Internet weblog
1998 - Founder, Gazeta.ru news website
1999 - Editor-in-Chief, Lenta.ru information agency
1999 - Co-founder, Netoscope
1999 - Founder, Vesti.ru Internet newspaper
2000 - Founder, NEWSru.com
2001 - President and CEO, Rambler Internet search engine
2003 - Founder, MosNews.com, English language information agency
2003 - Founder, Cursor information agency, Israeli news
2005 - Founder, Pomogi.org charity
2006 - Chief Blogging Officer, SUP
Al Gurnov: This is your first visit to Moscow, are you having fun here?
Brad Fitzpatrick: I’m being put to work by Nosik and the rest of SUP.
Anton Nosik: We have a deal with SUP that has to be implemented. Brad is the key player in the deal. We are partners and we have some projects. Brad created and was supporting it now for 7 and a half years and I hope will be supporting for as long as we live.
A.G.: Does it have to do with LiveJournal?
A.N.: It is LiveJournal!
A.G.: Is there a Russian version of it?
B.F.: There is a Russian version but it’s just the translation.
A.G.: So, you’re taking over the Russian version of LiveJournal?
A.N.: LiveJournal itself will be sitting under Brad’s wing somewhere in warm California. And we will be providing service to users to the Russian segment because it proved to be different from the American one in its demands, in its requirements and ways of consumption of weblog information. Therefore we have to develop the services for which the American users are not actively asking.
A.G.: What’s the difference between blogging and having a page in the internet? I opened the internet personal page of famous ballerina Anastasia Volochkova. Here she has everything about herself, her pictures, her diary, her communications with her friends and etc. What is the difference between it and actually blogging?
B.F.: I wouldn’t say that there is a precise definition of what exactly a blog is. Over time people keep changing the meaning of blogging, changing the definition of blogging. They say hosting video files and putting music up is blogging too. Basically it’s reverse chronological list of things you want to write about. It’s syndication method. One person from over here can read hundreds of blogs easily.
A.G.: They call you the person who invented blogging. So you invented just a name?
B.F. Actually, LiveJournal predates the term “blogging”. We thought the term “blogging” was a fad and will go away, so we didn’t use it for a while. Then once it was apparent that the term was sticking around and we thought “OK, people understand “blogging” now. I guess we’ll use the term”.
A.G. When you started LiveJournal was your idea of this technology to make what it is today or was it any different idea?
B.F. I can’t say I planned for everything. But the basic idea of having a bunch of friends, a bunch of news, and all that stuff aggregated in the one location where you can easily read it all. I’m happy with the success.
A.G. So, over the years it has been growing more or less into what you meant to be from the beginning?
A.G. Anton, can you explain us what was unique about the idea of LiveJournal since you’ve been watching it from Russia. What was so special about it that made the word “Blog” the Word of the Year?
A.N. As a matter of fact it was just there before other platforms emerged, so this was the blogosphere for many people who are early adopters. And then here comes an answer to your question about Ms Volochkova or yourself for the purpose. If you suddenly realise you want a website, what you have to do? You have to find someone who knows how to make websites, you’ll have him design, programme, pay for it … if you want a blog, you go to Brad’s registration page, you register and next minute you are blogging.
A.G. And it’s Pret-a-Porte.
A.N. And this is why when there was that switch from websites to blogs, millions of people who prevented from setting up their our websites by lack of knowledge of programming language or lack of money or lack of time to coordinated the effort of website…
B.F. For me it was time. I had the knowledge to build a website. I was just too lazy. It took too much time to add say what I did during the day. It was like 10-20 steps to put something new on it.
A.N. This is that consequence of all this effort which Ms Volochkova cannot make. Since she cannot make the effort when you go to her website you are positive that there are dozens of people between you and her working on this site. You are not knowing which part of that is of her writing is her or of her personnel. And in webblog you hear her voice, you response to her thoughts and she responses to your comments, and you are 100% assured that it’s her. And if it’s a press service, you see it’s a press service.
A.G. So Brad has just proved the old saying that lazy people really make the world go round! Progress is made by people too lazy to do something.
A.N. He is one and I’m another!
A.G. Where did you get an idea to make this little goat the mask of LiveJournal?
B.F. I don’t think there was a real reason behind it. We were sitting around, bored, putting off doing homework in college, we were making big slogans for the site, and we needed a tagline. And after saying “LiveJournal …because you have nothing else to do”, and then we came up with “LiveJournal … because goats are cool”. It didn’t make any sense at that time and it still doesn’t make any sense, but we found the image of a goat, the company’s tagline. His name is Frank and I don’t think there is a reason. The community has written stories about him. You can read the story of his life.
A.N. Yesterday we had a living goat during the LiveJournal party in Moscow. Somebody brought it as a gift to us, it’s now a part of the Moscow’s Zoo - the Frank, the goat of LiveJournal.
A.G. Why do you think LiveJournal became so popular? Is it because as you have said “there is nothing else to do” and lots of people have nothing else to do or is there something special in this form of communication?
A.N. There is that amount of water called the Atlantic Ocean and reality is different on the two sides of it, a part that United States are concerned it’s a communication tool for people to interact with their friends.
A.G. Are you talking about real friends or friends that were made in the Internet?
A.N. Real friends, it starts with real friends and it then could spread. The average of American type of usage of LiveJournal and MySpace and many other platforms is social networking, interacting with people personally. In the case of Russia, it’s more about mass-media and mass-communication. For instance, Brad, how many English language bloggers with thousands readers?
B.F. I don’t know exactly but the percentage is a lot less than here.
A.N. In Russia there are over 350 bloggers who have over 1 thousand subscribers.
A.G. So they are internet-personalities already?
A.N. Yes, according to Russian law you can call them a “mass-media”, since the criteria are 1,000 subscribers for printing word.
A.G. I’d like to ask you about blogging, chatting as a phenomenon. Many people say it’s addictive. It’s becoming an addiction, especially to young people, to kids, like kids go to sleep at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning because they spent time blogging or chatting with someone. Do you think it’s bad? Doctors say that any addiction is bad. Would you say that this is the kind of addiction that is not bad?
B.F. Yes, on the plane ride over here I was on my laptop trying to have some work done, enjoying the lack of internet-connectivity. As I was programming I just kept instinctively hitting the key and hitting my friend’s pages and LiveJournal pages to see how friends are doing. It is just muscle memory. I need to see my friend’s pages every five minutes. So, I had it myself.
A.G. Is it bad, what do you think? You make money, it’s your professions, it’s what you do, but for kids, is it good or bad?
B.F. If it distracts someone from doing other things which are more important, I would probably say it would be bad.
A.N. I think that here is the clear example of someone who has this addiction. And this addiction makes millions of people happy every month, so the question is to what extent you let this addiction govern you and ruin your life.
A.G. Do you think internet can make people happier?
A.N. I think that you don’t need my opinion, you can go out and conduct the survey which is conducted every other day. People are telling how much internet helps them to change any part of their live, including communication, including job opportunities, commercial choice.
A.G. As for information – yes, communication – yes, but really things like making friends and getting an impression at friends? People keep saying that somebody was dating a girl in the internet for a couple of years and at the end the girl turned out to be a 55-year old homosexual. Doesn’t that happen to your friends that you make through blogging? Do you really consider them as friends? Or you just want to think that they are your friends and that they are the people that they seem in the chats?
B.F. Generally you don’t just randomly pick someone on LiveJournal and decide to be a friend with them; generally there is a referral network. You have trusted friends you have met in your life that introduce you. You read them long enough if you find them interesting, and maybe you meet them. I have actually gone to lots of cities and lots of countries and find people that I had known for years in LiveJournal. I had read them and had heard they were good people from people I did know. And now I do know them in person.
A.G. Is blogging an alternative for lonely people?
B.F. There’s always been a person who writes poetry, who has to get an idea out and that helps them if they are depressed. So now they have another medium to do that and they have more people to read their work. That can actually help them by getting feedback from other people.
A.N. There are plenty of examples we know of people who coped with mental problems, with physical disorders, or one of the first uses of internet communities by the American government, when it stopped being military, was that people in families with Alzeimers who were bound to the homes to the patient they were attending to, and they were getting de-socialised by the fact that they had to stay put. So, the social services provided them with internet access tied them in groups where they could discuss everything.
A.G. It’s true, but if you really start spending more time blogging than actually communicating with people in life, doesn’t that make you lonely? You get an impression that people need your poetry, want to see your pictures, that people want to talk to you, but are you sure that you are yourself in your blog, or you are the one you want to seam?
B.F. I guess everyone has a different approach to how they manage the journal, maybe for some people it is therapeutic to pretend they are somebody else. In my case, I don’t try to hide my persona; I try to act like myself.
A.N. There are people who are creating alternative versions of themselves. You have your LiveJournal which is associated with you and nearby you have another LiveJournal where you write pretending to be a girl or pretending to be a man of altogether different views and principals. It happens every other day and I know many people who have 3, 4 and more LiveJournals.
A.G. It is like living three lives?
A.N. It could be enrichment of your life when you can see it from many different sides.
A.G. Brad, some people consider serious problems that come together with blogging. I know you had a couple of lawsuits? Apple even tried to sue you?
B.F. No, they sued some blogger in particular. He wasn’t even having a LiveJournal.
A.G. I see. Are there any criminal aspects in blogging?
B.F. There’re criminal aspects of using a pan. If you wrote something about the government, using a pan… Did you just commit a crime in Russia, should we ban all pens?
A.G. So, it’s like a knife
B.F. Well something will supplant blogging at some point.
A.G. Anton, do you think that in Russia Internet is special? Can it really rival the mass media? Some fans of blogging say, we learn news twice as fast as than others because we’re bloggers.
A.N. We learn facts but, on the other hand, it’s noise. You cannot evaluate [to what degree] some blogger is trustworthy. So there’s not that much competition with Reuters or Associated Press. But there is competition for ad budgets, for classified ad budgets, and there’s competition for attention of the audience. I don’t expect on-line text to ever kill or supplant printed matters, such as books, magazines or newspapers. But there is a shift in the advertising budgets and a shift in information consumption.
A.G. Speaking about budgets, I know you have a paid version of the LiveJournal and a free version. The free version lives on advertising, right?
B.F. No, it’s sponsored. Originally, there’re two options, you can choose not to pay – it’s one side of the spectrum, and you get only the basic features. Or you can pay, and get everything. That was actually an unusual business model: other sites of Internet were free, but you had bad advertising on your Journal. It was only within the last year that LiveJournal had added that option. Now we have three levels. You can choose between not paying; not paying, but having ads and having more stuff; or paying, having no ads and having all the features. You can choose and switch between the levels any time.
A.G. It’s become big business. Where do you get most money from – subscription or advertising?
B.F. Most of it from subscription.
A.G. So, people are ready to pay for their blogs and their LiveJournal?
A.G. And what is the situation in Russia?
A.N. Russia is backward in electronic payments, but in the particular case of Brad his instruments were declining payments from Russia by IP because it’s the normal way with American commercial web-sites. They see Russia IP, they immediately suspect it as credit card fraud and decline even if it’s a legally-owned company. Despite that, in that segment of Cyrillic-users which SUP will now be servicing, there are 5,500 paying users. And the day we allow people to pay for the service using such instruments as Yandex money or other Russian payment systems, the number could grow anywhere. As of yesterday’s estimate of Russia’s leading on-line adds agencies, the potential of the Cyrillic pages of LiveJournal is $US 5 MLN a year. This is the first offer that we’ve got for monetising this tract.
A.G. Brad, what do you think about censuring the Internet? Like protecting LiveJournal from things like fascist or nationalist influence? That kids should be protected against some things that could appear on LJ?
B.F. I’m not quite a fan of censorship. I think kids, in particular, should be exposed from a certain age, and should be made aware that the world in not necessarily always a happy place. And they should learn from an early age that there’re angry ideas out of there, and take their choice.