A month ago, on the 14th of August 2015, the online image manipulation service Blingee.com announced their sunset. Unlike similar situations — the closing of Geocities (2009) and Hyves (2013) when it was rather archivists, journalists and researchers who showed their concern, not the actual users — with Blingee we witness a very emotional response of the community, of people who were still on. Users were asking and begging not to close, offering money and suggesting financial models, users were thanking the service for the years of joy!
Five days later, the Blingee Team came to their senses: “We have heard you loud and clear. […] We are happy to announce that Blingee.com is here to stay.” I’m far from thinking that the owners changed their mind out of philanthropy, but still it is a great precedent. And I also think it is so important to listen to the users. “Talk to the user!” – I encouraged myself and approached one of the most popular Blingee makers, glitter master and vintage queen — Irina Vladimirovna Kuleshova, also known as kuleshova or ivk. The interview was conducted in Russian, via email, in between 5th and 10th of September 2015.
Irina, thank you for agreeing to answer my questions. I have many: personal, philosophical and purely technical. I will begin with the most simple one: I started to pay attention to your work in the very beginning of 2014, noticing that Blingee.com is filled with collages using your gold stamp. Can you say that it is your most popular one?
These are my most popular. Each was used more than 10,000 times. The site keeps statistics, and one can win badges for 100, 1000, 10,000 and 100,000 appearances. To get the 100k badge is still my dream, not that easy to achieve. Despite the signature and the copyright I clearly state, stamps are often stolen, copied and appear under another name. And then this person, not me, gets points. It hurts.
The day Blingee announced they were closing, you wrote in your profile: my relatives said “finally grandma will go back to family”. Can you please say some words about yourself and your life outside of Blingee
I will become 50 on the 20th of November this year. I live in Rostov-on-Don (Southern Russia). I finished school in 1982 (with Golden Medal!), then in 1987 I graduated from Medical University, then worked for 13 years in the municipal clinic as an orthodontist. Now I have my own small private practice. I have a 27 years old daughter, and live together with her and her 5 months old son… This is reality… and Blingee… Blingee is my land of dreams, my escape, my fairytale… magic, glitter. It is the best way to relax and true satisfaction if an animation worked and was uploaded successfully, and people liked it.
Congratulations on the birth of your first grandson! Can I ask you if this event became a sujet for a Blingee, or do you prefer not to mix up IRL and your fairy tale world?
Of course I did! I couldn’t keep this joy for myself. It is in the spirit of Blingee to share your happiness and your grief. Pictures of weddings, photos with children and grandchildren… obituaries are very common. This was my avatar for New Year’s Eve. Last summer when I came back from my holidays in Egypt, I immediately showed it to my friends.
Your Egypt picture is extremely interesting for me as a Digital Folklore researcher. It is a photo album, a virtual card and a story all in one. Instagram and Facebook, LiveJournal and GlitterGraphics — all in one Blingee! Powerful!
For me Blingee is rather a subject for research, I’m a guest there, an observer. At the same time, I should confess that for me it is also a fantasy world, a dream island. Here I can relief my longing for the web of the past, that was made of links, where you could surf from one page to another. In today’s web it is practically impossible, but on Blingee you can surf from one pic to another via the stamps, literally forever. Another hypnotic time passing is to look at the spotlight section how differently people reacted to the same event. Honestly I get to know that this or that celebrity married or died from Blingee’s spotlight. Can you relate to my experience? Did it ever happen to you? And what do you think were the loudest events (beside the sunsetting), that caused storms of reactions?
No, I get the world news from TV! Concerning most popular… I would say the marriage of prince William and Kate Middleton, and the Tsunami in Japan in 2011. Such events as wars in Ukraine, Abkhazia, Syria are not reflected. The site is very very far from politics. Maybe it is right like this. We are here to be friends, not to talk about politics. It’s all about holidays: Easter, Christmas, Independence Day, International Women’s Day. I have Ukrainians in my circle, but we never talk about what’s happening there right now, about the politics…
And! How could I forget — the 70 years anniversary of the Victory in The Second World War! With a great victory! is my contribution, but there were many made by different people, and they got attention. You can’t find all of them now, sometimes people change their account settings and the work doesn’t appear on the stamp page — then connection is lost, one can’t go from the stamp to the picture and vice versa. For example, I know that my stamp victory ivk was used 8 times, but now only 2 pictures are visible. Where are the others? Deleted? Set to private?
When Blingee announced their plan to delete the site, many users were upset and devastated. In forums and their profiles they expressed how important Blingee is for them, how it saved them in terrible moments of their lives: mobbing at school, loneliness, depression, the death of loved ones. Do you know a lot of stories like this? How did you come to the site?
My story is quite similar to many other stories there. After 23 years of marriage I went through a painful divorce. Blingee distracted me, rescued me. It is a wonderful place to spend sleepless nights. Many of my friends are in trouble in real life. Some have serious illnesses, others take care about ill relatives. Here we rest, share and support each other. When I get to know that someone is in the hospital, I make a blingee with my best wishes, I download it and send per MMS, because there are no computers in hospitals.
I made a gift for inita4, but I don’t know if she ever saw it. She died.
I wrote in my blog that to announce sunsetting in August and giving users only 10 days to rescue their files is the same as not to announce at all and just shut down, because so many are AFK, on holidays, sitting with grandchildren, etc. Do you agree with me? And what did you do after the announcement? Did you copy your pictures or did you already have them saved before?
I did save my works before. Not all of them of course, only those that I thought were great at that moment. Here they are. After the announcement, I made a screenshot of my profile with all my badges and trophies. I wanted to keep a memory of the site and my achievements. I have many reasons to be proud — not everyone won so many 1st places.
Indeed many of my friends missed the catastrophe and the panic. For them it is just a story they know from us, those who were online in August.
You are the author of 263,207 stamps. Looks like a full-time job to me! How much time a day do you spend on Blingee? What software do you use apart from the blingee maker itself?
No, there are much less — 4,559 (the number you have says how often my stamps were used overall). It doesn’t mean that they are all good. The opposite, most of them are trash, I wish I could delete many of them, but if a stamp was used at least once it is not possible. I started from zero, I had no idea how to use a computer. All was just trial and error. You can see my evolution in my stamps profile, how I developed from a greenhorn into a super greenhorn.
I’m a free woman now. My daughter is grown up, I married Blingee. All my free time I make blingees or I think about a new trick that would make my pictures more alive, or I see a new cool stamp and think how to make an even better one. Or I see that a new competition is announced and look for fitting PNGs on Yandex.ru, to make a picture that would win…
In the beginning I only used the default blingee tool, looked at the works of others and tried to repeat what they made. Then I started to make my own PNGs in Paint. One day I got Photoshop as a present. Not a licensed one, of course. I was downloading Photoshop tutorials and learned to make animations. Today I also use DP Animation Maker, Morph, Water Reflection, Particles.
I made a stamp out of my GIF that is quite popular on the web, but nobody uses it on Blingee. What’s wrong?
Nothing is wrong with the stamp, but you should take part in competitions. You need more promotion. Try to make a picture for the “Best Girl Blingee” challenge, or “Best Friends”, or “Best Anime”. I think this stamp is something for youngsters, and they hang out at those competitions. Without promoting your stamp you will have to wait until the International Sport and Health Day will be announced worldwide, and for some reason it will be bigger than Christmas, and then you will maybe be noticed :)))
If you want I can tell you how to win in Best Couple, Best Pet, and Best Boyfriend competitions.
Look at the timeline of these competitions, you will notice that not arty, but very simple pictures are at the top — common people on photos and very simple stamps from Blingee’s default set. When I got to know that Blingee would close, I decided to win something for the last time in Best Girl, and got the 3rd place with memory (not fantasy, though this picture I submitted as well). You don’t need a masterpiece to win there. So my advice — use your photo as the background, put “Best” and your hula-hoop girl over it, some stars, some glitter — and the first prize is yours, maybe not in the first week, but try two, three times and you will be noticed!
AND! TAGS! Add tags to your pic: woman, girl… Some people put whatever in the tags to promote their stamps. There are only five tags allowed. But if you write with underscore, it can be unlimited. Like black_ gadgets_ivk_rose_ gold_snow. Here is an example from Picmix: 26! tags for the SunshineMausi background.
In the beginning of our correspondence you said it hurts when your stamps are stolen. I also see that at the moment there is an angry note about stamp stealing on the top of your profile. How is it possible technically? And what other crimes exist on Blingee?
There are different cases. In this work it is obvious that my background was stolen. But I don’t care because it was used somewhere else, not on Blingee, so it was not in competition to ones that I uploaded myself.
Why do you consider it as being stolen, if one can see the stamp down there and the stamp has your copyright?
Svetlana made this picture out of only one stamp. It means that her next step could be to delete the Blingee logo and to sell it on some clipart service.
How did I learn to make animation? I made a Blingee with the stamp I wanted to get, I saved it and put it to private mode immediately, downloaded and deleted it from the site. Then I opened it in Photoshop and looked how it was made, how many layers were used, how the animation was scripted. Without making a Blingee, you can’t download a stamp.
Here is an example of serious fraud. If you go with the mouse over the stamps the picture is made of, you will see that these are the same stamps, but with different names. Mine are signed IVK, others have tulipe’s copyright. Thanks god, this personage is not on Blingee anymore.
Some really don’t know where stamps are coming from. They think that we just find them somewhere and put them on the site. They can’t imagine that Irina or Ksenia(FainaS) made them with their own hands. Sometimes it’s enough to explain it to the person, she would excuse and delete, but there are some, like Oxxxx, who would say: “We always copied what we wanted and we will continue to copy”. I tried to explain that this is stealing, but got an answer in French:
“désolé si c’est vos timbre sur picmix ils ne le sont pas sur blingée moi je vais sur picmix je récupère des timbres et les partages avec mes amis si vous ne voulez pas les partager vous n’avez qu’a les bloquer personne n’y aura accès sinon arrêter de pleurer et assumer sur ce bon dimanche”
Google couldn’t translate it completely, but what I understood was offensive. Then I was blocked by this person, put on the black list, and was reported to the Blingee abuse team. As if it was me who was an aggressor, and IT was just a victim. I say IT, because me and my friends couldn’t find out if it was a man or a women.
May be we, the authors, overreact, our animations are not masterpieces of art… but on the other hand I get messages like the one below more often:
“My dear Ira how I love your work and you too my wonderful friend. Thank you for the beautiful stamps you made for me what a talent you are. I would love to continue our friendship my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org I don’t give that out to only a few. If you would like to contact me. Love you sweet and dear friend Connie.”
I don’t have watermarks and don’t earn money with my stamps, for this I have my practice and my patients. I make my stamps to to make my beautiful images. There are enough doves on the site already, but I wanted to make my own. For this work, I dug through a lot of images. Just look at it!
Today I got informed that Oxxx again stole my stamps. Birds, Cat, Glitter Background. It is so upsetting. But maybe I don’t have the right to be angry? After all I didn’t draw the cat myself, and the birds I found (probably, one can also say: stole) on the Internet.
Thank you for showing me the originals of the cat and the birds! It reminds me of the story of my favorite GIF, that was not original at all. I also once interviewed the maker of a legendary under construction sign. He said “All the animations were mine. None of the graphics were“.
In case of the glitter background it is different. It is mine in its every pixel. I made it in Particles out of two AVI files. I was cutting out, looping, adding glitter and scripting the animation to make this one background! You probably think it is stupid that woman of my age is raging like a child because her stamp was stolen…
At the same time I don’t agree with those who get angry if their blingee is copied (imitated). About such things I don’t care. It is not possible to make two blingees exactly the same, even if you take exactly the same stamps!
Can you point me to one of your favorite creations and tell how much time it took you to make it?
Usually it is one or one and a half hours. Also if I didn’t prepare, collected all the stamps in advance. So the time including surfing and wandering around. But stamps are another story! I made snow for two years! It didn’t work, I was giving up and coming back to it after half a year. On my harddisk, in the folder “tinkering”, there is a stamp named snow_one_more_try. I tried so many different things, and then I would upload it, make an image with it, and it looked bad. You can’t delete a stamp, so I made it private and tried again. Here is the work where the snow is not really falling as it should, not laying, with a bad snow stamp that i had to mark as private. And here is the work with beautiful snow.
I like to make images that look natural, realistic: fish in the water, shadows of trees. This one I like as well. I don’t have the favorite. But what I can show to you is the most sad one. When I made it I really thought that the site would close and it was my last one. I made it as my gift to Blingee Team.
Do you use stamps made by users you like as a favour, in order to move the person up in ratings?
I love stamps made by my friends: FaINAS, soave, korolek1976 , DouceSophie, and not friends: Andzelina, moreno_ga. It happens very often that I make my creations with their stamps and not always in order to bring points to them, but rather as a gift. Gifts are very common on Blingee, you don’t have to look for a special occasion to make one.
One can see that you and others use machine translation a lot. Does it cause misunderstandings? Who are your friends, where are they from?
My circle is rather international. Often I have no idea about the age or gender of the person. Just Angel or Fairy. Not everybody wants to reveal their identity. I could also name myself Bluerain or Princess Night, but I went for my real family name.
Google translator is irreplaceable for our communication, but if English or Spanish speaking people translate something into Russian, you can’t understand anything! We try to write in very simple sentences: two to three words. Like this Google can understand us. But you can’t say everything in such primitive phrases. Of course it is more fun to communicate with Russian speaking friends, or people from Eastern Europe.
I spotted a man in your circle. He makes Blingees about his sweetheart, Russian and Soviet history, Orthodox and patriotic images. Is he an exception, or are there more men on Blingee than one thinks?
In my circle there are very few men. And I’m really not interested to look for one here. My professional life, plus Facebook, plus VK provides enough communication and contacts for me. In the evening I want to be alone with Blingee and to be creative.
What do you think about Couple dans Coeurs? On the surface we can see one couple. But if you scroll down to the stamps, you find 12 more people hidden in the image! Do you think the author was just lazy to delete not used ones, or is it some bigger plan? Sort of voodoo?
I would say like this the author made a shortcut to those stamps. It is a way to save them, to know exactly where they are next time she wants to use them.
Do you have your own secrets, or shortcuts? Is there anything in Blingee that is uncomfortable for you to use, but you found your way around?
Hmm, I don’t think I’m very original or inventive in this.
The real weak spot in Blingee is that you can’t make a dialogue. If you want to talk to somebody you should remember to go to this person’s profile and leave your comment there. Novices don’t understand it and write the comments to you on their own page. So I learned that if I expect an answer from somebody, but it is not arriving, I should go to her profile and find the message there.
Are there formal criteria for distinguishing a blingee master from an amateur? Something like the amount of layers? Coast to Coast A.M. Christmas Card is made using 32 stamps. Is it a lot? Is it important?
A lot of stamps? You don’t always need a lot. Many animated stamps coupled with a lot of layers and different timing can lead to some interesting, original effects, but more likely it will freeze the final product. Transparents — not animated PNGs on transparent background — you can use without limit.
Why do people make Christmas postcards in the beginning of September?
People want that their Christmas postcards appear on facebook, so they make them in advance, because moderation takes long. In December there will be too many Christmas cards, no one will dig through them.
In another New Year’s Eve work, It’s Nearly Time!, I again see your popular gold circle in the background. The creator, Universelover, looks like a professional, using Blingee to make cards for 123greetings.com. What’s your position about it?
I know about her, we were in correspondence. These cards make her living as far as I know. I’m not against it. Frankly speaking, I don’t know how it really works, how can it be really profitable? But maybe it is? May be I could leave my day job?
What do you think? Why Blingee has changed their minds and hasn’t closed the service?
I think the owners wanted to get rid of it because it was not bringing them what they wanted. But there was such a resonance, they had to retreat.
As I see it, they passed it to the Blingee Team, developers who support and administrate the site. It was a very good decision, because the team finally removed the Blingee Toolbar, this terrible piece of spyware. Now one can use Blingee Plus and Blingee Maker 2.0 without it! And it works so much faster and more stable now!
Irina, thank you so much for your time. Is there a special Blingee that I can put on the top of the interview as a portrait of you?
I have quite some with myself on them. Take fantasy. I dreamed about my own house, a tree in front of it… to have a good husband… but my life turned to be quite different. I like this image and the way I realized it.