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Exclusive Interview With Yandex CTO Ilya Segalovich
Today I had the opportunity to meet the CTO of Russian search engine Yandex, Ilya Segalovich. Of the 100+ interviews I’ve conducted for CN, this was one of my favorites – mostly learning about the differences between the U.S. and Russia in views on technology. It’s hard to call Yandex a search engine anymore – they are a leader in many of the Web categories in Russia including mail, search, news, photo hosting, shopping, etc. Here are my notes from our discussion.
Yandex officially launched in 1997 as a way to sell their enterprise search solution. Advertising wasn’t a thought back then, their goal was to sell more search boxes into large companies in Russia. In late 1999, they received a round of funding and became profitable in 2002 and have been profitable since. The company has 1,000 employees, most are located in different cities in Russia and some are in Kiev in the Ukraine. We spoke about employee retention as the Russian Web scene heats up and he noted that they have very high retention rates and one of the reasons is because of their powerful and well respected brand.
Most of the revenue for Yandex comes via their shopping portal which is the number one shopping portal in Russia. In fact, Ilya notes that nearly 100% of all companies in Russia with sales online is working with Yandex. They have a good bit of natural language search inside the shopping portal to help find the right product. They established a country-wide data exchange format for sharing the data. The shopping portal is the area in which Yandex exerts the most effort.
Their news aggregator is also ranked 1st in the country and Ilya explained that the entire news system is run by computer – no human intervention. It’s a "smart" system – which means that while it aggregates the news like TechMeme, it goes a step further to pull out keywords and link them to other articles, includes maps where appropriate, photos, videos, etc.
They also have a maps and traffic system which is number one in the country. Ilya said that getting map data in Russia is nearly impossible and their system is very strong in this area with more data than anyone else, especially in the large cities.
Other services on Yandex include a mail app which is #2 behind leader mail.ru and a photo hosting site they opened last year.
Some tech stats about Yandex:
- 3.5 billion pages in the search index
- He couldn’t tell me the exact number of servers but it’s in the "several thousands"
- 35 million searches a day
- several data centers around Russia
- two-layer architecture
- the database is split in pieces and when a search is requested, it pulls the bits from the different database servers and brings it together for the user
- languages used – c++, perl, some java
- server software – freebsd
Revenue growth for the company (in US$):
- 2003 – 8 million
- 2004 – 18 million
- 2005 – 35 million
- 2006 – 72 million
- 2007 – not public yet
We concluded with a discussion about Google. He showed me a chart of the various engines in Russia and Google’s growth over the past two years has been the strongest of the major players. Google has also opened a bunch of offices in Russia.
Thanks to CN readers Todd and Mr. Crash for their question ideas!