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Brad Fitzpatrick

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LiveJournal, SUP, Russia links [Nov. 1st, 2006|02:29 pm]
Brad Fitzpatrick
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Good links to understand why people are concerned about the LJ/SUP deal, and to understand blogging in Russia in general:

http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/10/25/opinion/edmorozov.php
(found via this post, also good)

I wish I could calm people down, but I realize the political fears/implications of this are way too big for me to make much of a difference.

But I'm a sucker for pain, so....

Let me present another point-of-view, based entirely on my own views/observations, that's a little less of a conspiracy theory:
  • The Russian Internet boom is overdue. There's a lot of money to be made.
  • Andrew Paulson is a businessman. He likes to make money. He recognizes the above.
  • Andrew Paulson sees LiveJournal is really popular in Russia, and LJ could be used to bootstrap a bunch of other Internet services (do you smell "portal"?). Imagine: LJ accounts are also XXXX accounts. Or LJ usage is a "service of SUP", so when SUP does something different, you now know/trust SUP ... "oh yeah, SUP, the LiveJournal people, they're cool! I'll try out this other SUP thing...." etc. But needs money to do it. Talks to Mamut...
  • Mamut, more than anything, likes to make money. He owns a bunch of stuff. Him investing in SUP is probably chump change. Why not do it? Sure, he's politically connected, so you can make the argument that investing in blogs is just a way to shut them down, but then how does he make money? Lay on the conspiracy theories, but I don't care... it doesn't make any sense. I believe Mamut at the end of the day wants to make money, not shut down blogging as a favor to the Kremlin. Because shutting down blogging is futile and he'd realize that.
  • SixApart recognizes how popular LJ is in Russia, but we can't make any money from it, nor can we make it much better. The service is still so slow, hosted entirely in the US. (latency of 260 ms * 20-30 requests in series.... not fast!). Even if we hosted the public images and css/js in Russia and kept the private data/databases in the US and served the private data from the US, the performance would go up a ton. It'd be one 260 ms request and 19-29 30 ms requests.... do the math. We could then compete better with Russian-hosted services which would feel faster to Russians. Also, we can't do SMS or voiceposting in Russia. And we've never successfully dealt with a credit card processor in Russia. Or Yandex Money, which only has docs in Russian. Or Russian advertising for Plus users. Working with a Russian company for this makes total sense for us. They promote LJ in Russia and sign up users for us, deal with payments, SMS/voicepost/etc ... everybody wins. We get happier users that can actually pay if they want, and they get promotion for SUP, which later will be something bigger than just LJ.
  • ...
etc.

A lot less interesting than the KGB doing a crack-down on bloggers, sure, but you can follow the money at least:

LJ promotes SUP, so SUP can be popular and make money later.
SUP promotes LJ, so LJ's both better in Russia and can also make money there.

Do I expect this post to calm people down? No. Not entirely. But I'll post more later. And the more you know, the less interesting it'll all seem.
LinkReply

Comments:
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[User Picture]From: dimrub
2006-11-01 10:43 pm (UTC)
You are probably correct on all counts, but it hardly matters. Many people couldn't care less which one of the aspiring businessmen will be investing in LJ in Russia, and which one of the Runet celebrities will act as a figurehead. What they are afraid of most is being hosted in Russia, period. Because (what they think is, whether it is true or not) is that once FSB asks for those private posts - the company that hosts them in Russia will have two alternatives: either yield them voluntarily, or get beaten up - and then yield them voluntarily. And as for "why would FSB go for their silly little journals" - well, maybe it won't, but maybe it will. Russia is not the only place in the world, where authorities are doing their best to control people's access to the Internet (China and the Google controversy spring to mind).

And if you want to speed up not just the static content, but the dynamic one as well, you will have to do some sort of hosting in Russia, right? Well, that's what they're afraid of. Yep, myself included.

Another thing is the way in which SUP handled the initial surge in people's interest (including negative reactions, which, truth must be told, abounded). It was tasteless and patronizing, not to mention the obscene remarks directed at the people who objected the idea.

But hey, I'm sure you know all this already.
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[User Picture]From: brad
2006-11-01 10:52 pm (UTC)
I said "do the math", but you didn't, so I'll do it for you... :-)

My friends page requires 37 HTTP requests to build. If those are 260 milliseconds each, that 9.62 seconds. Now, divide that in two, since browsers tend to do about two things in parallel.... so 4.81 seconds if it's hosted entirely in the US.

But only the 1st request of those 37 had any private data.... so what if we make the 36 requests that follow (js, css, userpics) in Moscow, but keep the 1st private one in the US?

Then it's 260 ms + (36 * 30ms / 2) = 0.8 seconds.

See how much better that gets?

It's now 0.8 seconds instead of 4.8 seconds. Putting that extra one HTML page is Moscow only helps maybe 130 milliseconds... Or a 2% improvement over the original speed. Politically, not worth it. The big savings were from putting all those tiny little files in Moscow, which are public anyway.

And yes, I know SUP didn't handle things perfectly. I guess their attitude towards customers wasn't unlike other Russian companies, from what I hear from others. The refreshing thing is they seem to be learning, and that's what important.... everybody makes mistakes, but not everybody learns from them.
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(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand
[User Picture]From: scsi
2006-11-01 10:53 pm (UTC)
... how does he [Mamut] make money?
Uh, bribes, payoffs, kickbacks, and other stuff as an 'exchange' for 'favors' for his political allies.
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[User Picture]From: brad
2006-11-01 10:58 pm (UTC)

omg i'm sold

Great, except he didn't stop blogging... he'd just have moved it to Blogger or Vox or whatever.

So it was all a waste of time/money, and I think the politicians realize this and would be reluctant to waste their money paying him off to do something ineffectual.
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[User Picture]From: brad
2006-11-01 11:33 pm (UTC)

Re: Ok, lets do the math (russian way)

Ads served by russian company means that ads will be more annoying.

I'll have to confirm this is true, but I imagine we're not giving SUP the right in the contracts to change SixApart's ad guidelines. That is, no sound/video playing by default, no pop-ups, etc. They'll just be ads for Russian things.

Payment processing by russian company means that lj ids can be linked to real people in bulk.

Then don't pay. Or pay using PayPal or some US method. No options are being REMOVED here... only new options for Russian users.

Local abuse team, used as a weapon.

SUP as a company, as well as SUP's abuse team, will NOT have access to suspend users at will. They'll still have to abide by the US LiveJournal's rules, and go through LJ-US-controlled tools/review/etc to do any suspends. More than anything, they'll just be assisting the US abuse team with translation.
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[User Picture]From: dimrub
2006-11-01 11:25 pm (UTC)
A more personal question, if I may (and hey, you can always leave it screened! :)). Judging by the stories and the photos people posted of your visit to Moscow, you had quite a busy time: goats, parties, clubs (some 20 of those, according to Nossik), the works. Was it to your liking - or would you have preferred a more relaxed trip, maybe with a bit less of the night life and a bit more of Moscow to see?
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[User Picture]From: brad
2006-11-01 11:34 pm (UTC)
I think 20 clubs is an exaggeration. :)

It was definitely busy, but it was good. Next time I'd do more of Moscow, less press interviews, and the same amount of nightlife. :)
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From: jamesd
2006-11-01 11:30 pm (UTC)

EU seems to make sense, but Russia? Only if you don't look more than one deal ahead.

Latency is a very valid technical argument but Poland and other former Soviet-dominated states are very close to Russia in latency, even closer to other states than Russian host would be. And the EU hosting location gets EU data protection laws so all benefit from that protection, EU, other former Soviet and Russian. That would probably make it fine to host slaves of the US-based user clusters and a memcached pool including private data there to get almost the full benefit of a European host location, limited only by not having writeable user clusters there.

A trusted location in the EU would make hosting user clusters for local users viable, I think. At which point the technical benefit is close to 100%, since writes are local as well. Russia pretty much sucks for this because it just isn't trustworthy enough to serve the whole of Europe with local user clusters. Has to be in the EU for that to work. I don't see any reason to want multiple user cluster sets in different parts of Europe, but that seems to be what's required to get write benefit if there are some in Russia. And that limits the potential for user clusters to Russia only (unless you're crazy enough to believe that the EU population would go for Russian hosting - an you'd have to be _way_ crazy to believe that!).

So it seems short-sighted to put servers in Russia if that's planned. It's very clear that it doesn't really work well beyond this one deal and that there are more deals to be made in the rest of the continent.

Amsterdam might be a better connected spot if helping the whole of Europe is desired; it works well for Wikipedia, but it's a bit far from Russia. Last time I looked it was closer in latency to the middle east and Africa than Russia, so that region could benefit.

100% agreement on the business motives for SUP. Makes perfect sense for them to want to do it.

But once SUP gets access, it gets to do what AT&T did and what the UK government requires UK providers to do, just because it's in Russia and has to follow Russian law. Data collection and use by state agencies happens, just because that's how the world works; no conspiracy theories required. Just is.

That's not a good thing to those in the EU and about to be in the EU who happen to use the Cyrillic character set because they only recently escaped Russian domination. What about the Russians who went with LJ because it wasn't Russian? What about the non-Russians who went with it because it wasn't Russian and immediately are insulted by even being asked to have Russians hosting things when they had to struggle to get out of Russian domination? Not the most politically savvy of moves. :)

An EU server farm also seems to make sense for the rest of the Six Apart production systems that can handle the split.
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[User Picture]From: brad
2006-11-01 11:38 pm (UTC)

Re: EU seems to make sense, but Russia? Only if you don't look more than one deal ahead.

Moscow's connectivity to the EU isn't as great as you might think. Even Google has been bitching lately that they can't get decent connectivity in Russia.

So userpics/js/css in Moscow definitely makes sense.

That said, putting private data caches of user data in the EU, and not in Moscow, hasn't escaped our imagination. I'll leave it at that.

(I think a lot of people don't realize we're probably more paranoid than they are.... we just have more information about the details, which is keeping us calmer.)
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[User Picture]From: forgers
2006-11-01 11:50 pm (UTC)

Fire SUP, do tender fo r.ru

A major question is preserving the Russian LJ, ЖЖ. While franchising with ethnic subcommunities certainly makes sense, not every candidate company can become a good franchisee, and specifically not the first which walked in off the street and the only one which hatched its plans in secret and does business by partying and showing off an expensive penthouse office.

I'd personally fire any such aspiring businessmen if they start like SUP started -- renting the most expensive penthouse office to post pictures from it. Do they post improved latency graphs? Plans to self-govern and gather and collect feedback? No, they post views of Moscow traffic from their windows.

BTW, the goat is nowhere to be found. This is typical of irresponsible people they are -- got a goat for fun, put it though pain, and discarded it. Is it eaten by wolves in the zoo? :) Did anybody think an hour in advance of what'll happen to the poor goat? If they can't take care of a single goat, can they take care of thousands of users? :)
In Russia, this is called the "avos" (~whatever/perhaps) mentality. Thus any innuendo by anti-Semites is false -- SUP operates in a wholly Russian avos way, nobody cares or knows what'll happen tomorrow. Apres Moi, Le Deluge.

Perhaps a tender is a better way to do it. These people are just self-appointed braggarts, and have caused tremendous annoyance and fractures in ЖЖ. In the US, we'd cut the losses at this point, rethink the strategy, and establish a process to hire better people in a way satisfactory to the constituents.
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[User Picture]From: brad
2006-11-02 12:04 am (UTC)

Re: Fire SUP, do tender fo r.ru

If they can't take care of a single goat, can they take care of thousands of users? :)

What are you talking about? It wasn't SUP that brought the goat to the party.
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From: (Anonymous)
2006-11-01 11:57 pm (UTC)
Hi, Brad
Welcome to Russia!
the author of this article, Evgeny Morozov is well-known to be a a political activist. And as far as I understand from his profile (just search the internet), he is a member of a different party than Mamuth.
It is pretty funny to see how people from Russia try to use Western media for their fights.
As a Russian user I do not see anything besides commercial interests in LJ + SUP deal. While some other people, see "KGB buys internet", "The Jew tries to control Russians" and all the stupid stuff paranoid mind can invent.
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[User Picture]From: forgers
2006-11-02 12:16 am (UTC)

Focus on Tasks at Hand

This should not be about politics, this is about freedom of speech and the role of the blogs. Not every anti-SUP sentiment is political -- in fact, the majority of it is based on three concerns:

-- freedom of speech/fairness of the Abuse Team

-- privacy of the participants

-- meritocracy/Open Source spirit and fair self-governance

This is what we all should focus on.
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[User Picture]From: juliy
2006-11-02 12:17 am (UTC)
all hail LJ and SUP, don't panic! Nosik said truth about little cwowd of people, who're crazy on nazism and nationalism, and they don't love Kremlin

as you can see, almost noone reads main part of these freaks, and, as you understand, Kremlin and KGB do not worry about cheerless shit in their journals
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[User Picture]From: edanya
2006-11-02 12:29 am (UTC)
makes sense. cept for SUP. what the fuck is SUP? :oP
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[User Picture]From: forgers
2006-11-02 12:29 am (UTC)

On Latency

BTW, I worked with a guy who helped NATO with the 'net. He told me the best place to put the hub was in the US next to Mae East! There, all the transatlantic cables come into the US, and it's faster than criss-crossing Europe along their crappy little cables. :)

There're a few places in .ru with direct uplinks, so this can be solved in different ways. Definitely not from a penthouse in Moscow, though. :)
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[User Picture]From: brad
2006-11-02 01:52 am (UTC)

Re: On Latency

They're not hosting LiveJournal from their "penthouse" .... that's crazy. They're on a crappy microwave radio link there. That's not where you host a datacenter.
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From: evan
2006-11-02 12:37 am (UTC)
As I told my friend who was down because of the negative press regarding his recently-launched project: "Don't feel bad. Being around LiveJournal for so long has made me understand that no matter what you do, everyone will hate you for it -- even if what you choose is inaction."
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[User Picture]From: way2tired
2006-11-02 01:39 am (UTC)
Really, you can replace LiveJournal with X.

Don't feel bad. Being around X for so long has made me understand that no matter what you do, everyone will hate you for it -- even if what you choose is inaction

Because that holds true for any "visible" company. Banks, Microsoft, Red Hat, Google, Newspapers. There's always a vocal group willing to ding you. However, in LJ's case, almost 100% of your customers are vocal folks, vs the .5% that you get everywhere else.

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[User Picture]From: alec_milkin
2006-11-02 12:46 am (UTC)
All would be good if Nossik did not speak about cyrillic users and "has care" only about Russians. Two thirds of scandal in fact about it.
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[User Picture]From: irene221b
2006-11-02 12:47 am (UTC)
Brad, numbers maybe make sense for russian users - that is, the users who are physically in Russia. But SUP talks about Cyrillic users, including America, Israel, Germany and even silly old me in the UK. What good reason can you give for transferring these people to SUP?
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[User Picture]From: leprechaun
2006-11-02 07:27 am (UTC)
I join this question. Brad please kindly answer.

Thanks in advance.
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[User Picture]From: k48
2006-11-02 01:07 am (UTC)
OK I don't care who will probably be banned from LJ for their political views - but!

My only question is WHEN will all this stuff by SUP be available? I'm especially concerned about payments. I really want a paid account. When will I be able to buy it and how much will it cost? Will the price be the same, or lower/higher? Remember the Russians' (not Muscovites', which is almost another nation) average income is much lower than in US.

I think I can afford $10/yr without hesitation, $15 - very probably, but $25 is already too much...
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From: ppk_ptichkin
2006-11-02 01:39 am (UTC)
Brad -

Thanks for trying :-)

From where I've been sitting for the last 15 years (a very nice Philly suburb), this does not look good on two counts.

- I don't like being singled out based on the language I choose to use in my blog. I've been a US citizen for about 10 years, and that's the only way I'd like to be classified, thank you very much. I'm here by choice, not because I've been born here. This choice ought to be respected.

- I want to define my relationship with Mother Russia on my own terms (which basically are "fsck off"). Making my name available to a Russian company based on cyrillic in my lj will make me very unhappy indeed. Would you let a Havana-based company handle lj accounts of Florida Cubans?

I realise these aren't exactly rational reasons, but then we humans aren't exactly rational.

What you do in Russia isn't really any of my business. I'm pretty sure this whole thing will fail miserably, but your MBAs are welcome to find that out the proper - hard - way. I'm primarily concerned about US residents of xUSSR origin like myself.

As a way to move on - could you clarify the criteria for marking up an lj user for that exciting SUP offer? Or even simpler than that - how do I make sure I have absolutely positively definitely nothing to do with this? You know, no opt-out, no opt-in, just nothing.

Thanks,

NS
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[User Picture]From: brad
2006-11-02 01:56 am (UTC)

Re: On Latency

I understand your point of view 100%, and it's my point of view too.

Let me get back to you with a good answer, and one that I'm allowed to give.
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