Show # 44 - [ profile] marta - In Depth Continued

Oct. 15th, 2008 02:14 am
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penpusher: oh, and for the record, this is my letter back in June 2007 to the 6A folks.
Marta: okay, back! bookmarked!

penpusher: And more chatting with [ profile] marta about the history of LJ generally and her experiences personally. You were about to tell the story of the SUP sale from your POV.

Marta: it was probably one of the most surreal events of my life so far

penpusher: I'm intrigued.

Marta: I'd just gotten hired, and my first assignment was to learn about and explain the Adult Flagging product which, initially, went against every sense of LJ-ness I had but I then got to see how it worked and what it did and understood why it was good for us

penpusher: This is the system where a user can flag a journal that user feels is "inappropriate" for whatever reason

Marta: Adult Explicit - that's the only one that another person can report. the rest is completely optional and up to whoever posts the stuff if they want it to be the other setting

penpusher: Oh, at the time, I thought it was something else.

Marta: it's two settings - a user can select "Adult Content" if they want, but only "Explicit" can be flagged by someone else.

penpusher: Ok. So you were learning about the system and trying to fit that into your concept of LJ.

Marta: yeah, it was my first time working with the people who develop and engineer features for LiveJournal, and a real educational experience! that feature came out on Thursday, November 29th and my first meeting at the 6A offices, my first time meeting my co-workers, etc. was the next morning.

Marta: so I flew into San Francisco, got into my hotel a little late, the post went up as soon as I was there, and I spent the next 6 hours reading and answering comments for the first time

penpusher: Baptism by fire.

Marta: yes. very much so!

penpusher: That's when I was feeling sorry for you!

Marta: it wasn't bad at all!

penpusher: It's like there was this firing squad of LJ users surrounding the 6A camp and they sent you out to deal.

Marta: Mostly because I knew that for years I'd been someone commenting, so I much preferred to be the one commenting back!

penpusher: Well that was genius on their part.

Marta: and, as nervous as I was to take the job, and to have that particular thing be my first "assignment," it was what I wanted to do.

penpusher: I think it's obvious that you are good at it and people know you really do care.

Marta: I do care, and really sometimes don't feel any different now that I'm an employee - I still have the same reaction to what happens to LJ, in features and policies and stuff like that

Marta: so the next morning, I got to go to the office for the first time. I got shown around, introduced to my co-workers, and we went into a meeting

penpusher: Sounds very civil.

Marta: in that meeting were my co-workers, the management I'd met, and a bald dude I didn't recognize at all. we thought we were going to be meeting about the policy on posting art, but instead they introduced the bald dude as Andrew Paulsen, CEO of SUP

penpusher: Wow. That's fast.

Marta: yes! SUP already had a contract to manage and work on the Cyrillic (Russian) segment of LiveJournal, which had grown pretty big they're a large company and own a lot of online "properties" so, as they explained to us, all of LiveJournal's assets were in a holding company called LiveJournal, Inc.

Marta: SUP purchased LiveJournal, Inc., and wanted to make us into our own, stand-alone company

Marta: With that purchase, they got seven of us - and we all signed our separation papers from 6A that day, and our employment papers with LiveJournal, Inc.. and we had the big announcement that Sunday

penpusher: Well, I think that users were kind of blindsided by the change, but it sounds like the staff was to a degree as well.

Marta: yeah, but it wasn't in a bad way. they came to us knowing about LiveJournal already, which was fantastic. they already knew the concerns that we had, and were ready to get to work right away.

Marta: When I left San Francisco after that trip, I really felt a great, positive energy - also, it helped that my co-workers turned out to be some very cool and awesome people

penpusher: The sense I got, and again correct me if I'm wrong or if you know better, was that 6A was out of their league in finding ways to create revenue from LJ, and was looking for a buyer to take it off their hands. SUP was exactly the opportunity for them to turn a profit and to get out of the LJ situation.

Marta: I don't know a lot about that, but I do know that LiveJournal and Six Apart weren’t a good fit in the long-term - and I think that it was the right choice.

Marta: Revenue is an issue, but also the scalability of the actual service, growth of the service, and culture

penpusher: It seems that SUP has a better handle on all of that.

Marta: One thing I'd like to point out that Six Apart really, really did is make the service really dependable.

penpusher: Ok - not to bash them too much!

Marta: I remember the days of constant outages, and days of downtime, and their knowledge and investment changed that right around.

Marta: And as LiveJournal, Inc. has grown, it's not so much that SUP needs to have a handle on things, it's that we are our own company now, with management dedicated just to us, instead of a portfolio of products.

penpusher: They have given you more free reign to do what needs to be done.

Marta: well, to really concentrate on, understand, and use that dedication to do things that are more keeping with the uniqueness of LJ

Marta: this year has been kind of like starting a startup company. things didn't change right away, there was a slow transition after that whirlwind weekend, we still reported to our same Six Apart departments, we just had a different name on our paycheck.

Marta: Through the first half of the year, we got management, our own office, etc. as new people came in, the Six Apart people showed them the ropes, and did a gradual handoff of responsibilities.

penpusher: It sounds very pleasant. Was it?

Marta: it was awesomely exciting.

penpusher: How?

Marta: for a while it was just the seven of us.

penpusher: ok.

Marta: then we'd hear that engineering got a new manager, and our single designer got someone who would be her boss and we got to know them, introduce them to LiveJournal, and then get a few more members of the team here and there

penpusher: it's a bit like how Brad started LiveJournal in the first place!

Marta: yeah, there are absolutely some parallels. When Matt, our GM, came on, I think that next month or two was when it really started to feel like a full, real company.

Marta: we have a pretty great team now, all LiveJournal, Inc. in engineering, product, design, operations, etc.

penpusher: I think the average Western LJ user doesn't know or understand SUP and the whole "Яussian" side of things. can you give a thumbnail sketch of what that is?

Marta: sure, a little!

Marta: LiveJournal is the biggest blogging platform in Russia I don't think Brad or anyone else ever planned it that way, it just grew!

penpusher: Now right there, that's a story unto itself.

Marta: Russian LJ is both exactly the same as us, and completely different.

Marta: we have a lot of the same concerns - when we compared what were the most-requested feature improvements, our teams had extremely similar lists! We really do want the same things from LJ.

Marta: but the use in Russia is much more high-profile. members of the government, popular figures, very famous people have LiveJournals.

penpusher: That's interesting

Marta: whereas here, a few hundred friends or a thousand or two can make someone into a very popular LiveJournal user, there, it's tens of thousands

Marta: it's also more tied to someone's real-life identity whereas here, we generally don't like someone to know who we are, with our journals being more private, it's not quite the same, in general, on the Russian side

penpusher: So the Russian Brad Pitt has an LJ and has thousands of friends.

Marta: yes! exactly! and people's LiveJournals are quoted in mainstream news stories a lot.

penpusher: That's fascinating.

Marta: "as so-and-so said on his LiveJournal yesterday...."

penpusher: LJ is the AP of Russia.

Marta: yes, or at least a much more watched place due to high-profile figures

penpusher: So, there are these two different LJs that are connected yet separate. the Western one and the Russian one. How do they merge, or do they?

Marta: they do merge, and it's fantastically interesting. as I said, we have so much in common even though we're so different.

Marta: they don't like ads either, for instance. and they want more tags and the ability to do more with their journals so although the fundamental culture of use may be different, we're all very invested in "our" LiveJournal, regardless of which "side" of the language barrier we're on

penpusher: Depeche Mode did say, "people are people!" Perhaps this also speaks to the personality types that are drawn to blogging generally and LJ specifically around the world.

Marta: I think it does.

penpusher: Maybe there's some common ground we haven't explored within that framework

Marta: I think it also speaks to the fact that LJ'ers are just different, with how we use our journals, and how we communicate or interact online - more like a home than a blog

penpusher: And maybe that helps explain the differences between these two LJs. In Europe, the tendency is to open your home to most, whereas in the US, you generally don't do that.

Marta: that's a very good analogy!

penpusher: So how do these two merge specifically?

Marta: I think that more and more, Russians (and others who use the Cyrillic-language side of LJ) who speak English and non-Russians who speak (or read) Russian are beginning to interact directly, and I see some of that going on

Marta: also, in the work that I do when I help out in the support areas, we're opening the same types of requests, having the same types of questions and problems.

Marta: I'm learning to use Google Translate or other programs a lot, and, if you take away the bad translation, the requests are almost identical. whether it's a lost password, or an argument between users, I just have to reiterate, we're concerned about the exact same things.

Marta: when I talk to [ profile] q_marik, who is a little like the counterpart for me on the Russian side, we have very, very similar experiences with what the users want, and where the sense of priority is

penpusher: I think this bodes well for anyone looking to promote world peace. They can point to LJ and say, see? we're really all the same.

Marta: haha, yes. we're feisty

penpusher: Is there a full staff of people on the Russian side that parallel those here?

Marta: kind of. we have two people in community/support, some product managers and engineers. those people are just LJ but we also have some resources at SUP who sometimes work with us. it's kind of like having two teams, but we all work more like one team.

Marta: their engineering department went to work early this year attacking some longtime bugs, which was fantastic! so if you like the changes to the calendar (not showing people entries on days when you've got a private post or a filtered post they cant see) or the expand feature for comments, they're the ones who did that

penpusher: It sounds like you are functioning well... have there been any problems? I imagine the language issue is the biggest.

Marta: no, all of the LJ team in Moscow speaks and writes English - I think the biggest thing we've had to get used to is timezone math. so if we want to have a conference call, or say what time something happens, we need to give San Francisco and Moscow time and then make sure it's a time when everyone is awake!

penpusher: Right. From SF to Moscow, that's about 12 hours or so?

Marta: it's 9 hours for me, here in Chicago

penpusher: oh so 11

Marta: yeah, and we have US remote employees in Eastern, Central, and Pacific time, too

Marta: see, I just keep a clock on my desktop now that's set to Moscow and one that's set to San Francisco

penpusher: That's handy What's next for LJ? Where are we going now?

Marta: I think we'll get ourselves set on some solid footing and start to really pay attention to what we're good at there have been some changes this year in philosophy

Marta: opt-in, not opt-out

penpusher: Explain that a bit.

Marta: well, when new features come around, particularly ones that are meant to enhance a community experience, the typical industry philosophy is that you automatically turn them on for everyone then let people turn them off if they don't like them - that's opt-out

Marta: one of the issues that has caused a wedge between users and management in the past is that we really, really, really don't want those things turned on by default so our current management and product team have investigated and listened

penpusher: I think people were shell-shocked during that 6A era when all those changes were taking place with no warning.

Marta: one of the changes you might have noticed is that in the past few months, big things are announced well ahead of time. I should add, before the features are complete, to allow time to change them, if needed, before it's live

penpusher: You have been making good use of the message board and the news journal

Marta: we'll continue to do that for things that will be affecting everyone, and now will be able to also give people a choice on a lot of new features - with a question "do you want this?" instead of doing the turn-on, opt-out thing

penpusher: People tend to like their journals the way they are, so that makes sense. Creatures of habit, and all that.

Marta: We'll be making several announcements and talking about our new server facility in the next two weeks. our operations team has been hard at work most of this year, so that we'll have faster and bigger servers so that will make a lot of things possible that weren't before

penpusher: That sounds promising...

Marta: and, also, I think that we'll be looking to use what we have learned between our US and Russian teams about bridging the gap globally

penpusher: How will that play out, do you think?

Marta: I don't know.

Marta: we already have users in a lot of countries, using LiveJournal in a lot of languages. We know that how someone uses LiveJournal may start with regional culture - like in Russia, where it was very big-name-blog type, and outspoken public figures but then we really all do use LiveJournal the same.

Marta: I think that once we start to branch out and see where that goes, management has a vision that we really invite more people worldwide to participate in saying what should come next

Marta: that's kind of more far-future, but we already are kind of there, too

penpusher: It's great that management is paying attention to, not just the responses but the feelings of the users.

Marta: In Russia, there are huge murals in the subways and billboards and ads in magazines advertising LiveJournal - I guess when they told us about that and then pictured it globally, it did make me feel like a future of LiveJournal I wanted to sign up with.

penpusher: wow. I'd love to see some of those ads.

penpusher: But the sense now is that LJ is going to be around a good while.

Marta: yes.

penpusher: I think a year ago, we may not have been so sure.

Marta: I'm looking for an ad to show you, too

penpusher: great!

penpusher: I think this is a good time to take our final break... and we'll wrap up with Marta... next.

Continue to Segment Four


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