Yandex Blog

Bringing the Classroom Home with Yandex.School

With schools closed and millions of children home during the COVID-19 outbreak, communities everywhere are faced with the challenge of ensuring that their children can continue learning.  Yandex has over thirty educational programs spanning from early education to graduate-level courses.  We are excited to apply our thirteen years of expertise in this field to help families navigate the challenges of homeschooling. Together with the Center for Pedagogical Excellence in Moscow, we created a free online education platform, Yandex.School, to help students, teachers, and parents follow the school curriculum from their desktops and smartphones at home.  

Yandex.School provides free access to online lessons for grades 5-11 and tools for recording and sharing classes for first through fourth graders.  Yandex.School is available in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus.  Our online school is in session during regular school hours and adheres to the state curriculum, providing a sense of normalcy during the pandemic.

We invited educators from some of the most respected schools in Moscow to help us create and deliver online lessons. Many of the teachers have authored textbooks and are seen as the foremost experts in their field. We are very grateful to the more than one hundred of them for their quick response, collaboration, and commitment to ensuring that learning remains a priority during the pandemic.

“Even in these difficult times, it is important for children to have an opportunity to learn,” says Elena Bunina, General Director of Yandex in Russia. “Even if they can’t attend school in person, they should still be able to learn at home. In order to bring a complete learning environment home for millions of children, we created the Yandex.School. Thanks to our cooperation with the Center for Pedagogical Excellence (CPE) in Moscow, we managed to launch our online school in record time. Yandex provided the necessary infrastructure and educational services to our partners at CPE to create the first lessons. While there’s currently a great demand for services like Yandex.School, we also look forward to supporting traditional education with this platform once the children can to go back to school.”

During the first month of Yandex.School, we were thrilled to see that students viewed our lessons over three million times and that peak usage was over 40,000 students participating simultaneously in online lessons. In addition, over 20,000 new teachers  joined our education platform in the first week since the shelter-in-place order was issued. We look forward to welcoming even more students and teachers in the months to come!  

Learning at Home for Grades 5-11 with Yandex.School 

We designed Yandex.School to provide continuity for millions of Russian students now learning from home.  During the regular school hours of 9:00 am-2:00 pm across all of Russia’s eleven time zones, we stream live lessons on more than a dozen different subjects.  The lessons follow the national school curriculum and range from algebra and geometry to social studies and physics.  Beyond the regular curriculum, we also designed state exam prep lessons for 9th and 11th graders.  

Our video lessons are organized by grade so that the students can follow the same material that they would be learning in school. At the end of every school day, lessons are uploaded to Yandex.School. If students miss a live lesson or want to revisit a class, they can access all the video courses on-demand. For students who wish to prepare for the week ahead, we upload weekly lesson plans just before the school week starts.  

The flexibility of Yandex.School allows teachers to use the program in whatever way best suits the progress of their students. Teachers can use Yandex.School as a single resource or incorporate it into other remote learning programs. Schools and teachers conducting remote lessons using other platforms can selectively add certain Yandex.School lessons into their lesson plan or utilise the interactive homework assignments. Yandex.School can also serve as a temporary remote learning platform while schools move their classes online. 

Yandex Resources for Teaching Younger Students in Grades 1-4 

For primary school-age children, we introduced broadcasting tools on Yandex.School. The tools allow teachers of grades 1-4 to plan and record their lessons, which children can then watch online. Teachers can use these tools to continue teaching their curriculum by moving their lesson plans onto our platform. Yandex.School also offers live, interactive text chats to allow teachers to engage with students in real-time. Students and teachers can share images and videos via the chat function to supplement the lessons with additional visuals and explanations. Yandex.School also offers over 50,000 entertaining and informative assignments that students can work on remotely. Parents also can use these activities separately from the teachers.  

Supporting Families in the Months to Come

Yandex.School is a great tool to help students and teachers adapt, while also aiming to give families a sense of normalcy during these challenging times.  In addition to assisting children in sticking to a routine, this platform provides easy and intuitive ways for parents to monitor and manage their children’s studies. 

We are very appreciative of our academic partners and the teachers who helped create Yandex.School.  We wish all of our students and teachers happy and fruitful learning in their new online classrooms!  

Check out Yandex.School (in Russian) to learn more.  

Fighting Price Gouging and Meeting Ecommerce Demand During COVID-19

As COVID-19 spreads, the uncertain situation has led many people to rush out and stock up on essential goods.  Since this results in shortages and empty shelves, people are increasingly having trouble finding staple goods. With additional stay home orders in place, online shopping has become an even more critical service for users.

As a major eCommerce provider in Russia, we have a responsibility to do what we can to ensure that everyone who needs essential goods can find them.  Between our two platforms, Yandex.Market and Beru, we serve a daily audience of more than five million people.    

To help fairly spread resources to these people, we have implemented new policies to limit shortages and prevent price gouging by third-party sellers.  Since our two platforms run independently, we have introduced different policies on each platform. 

Yandex.Market Updates for COVID-19

Yandex.Market, our eCommerce marketplace platform, is more carefully monitoring prices and the assortment of goods in specific product categories.  Sanitizers, medical masks, cereal, canned goods, and hygiene products are in especially high-demand right now and have been for some weeks.  

Within these categories, the Yandex.Market algorithm monitors the price charts and can detect any dramatic price increase (twice or more).  We will temporarily disable a merchant if we find at least one product with an inflated price. Over the past week, we deactivated 300 stores that sold products at inflated prices.  After deleting the entire assortment of goods with inflated prices, a store can reinstate its operation on our platform. 

At the same time, we appreciate there is a lot of pressure on stores right now, so we have adapted our quality control measures to keep the products moving efficiently. Among other changes, we have suspended our regular shopping cart checks and only check in some instances, such as when we receive a signal that the store is not operational. 

To increase safety for customers and couriers, we are also promoting certain measures to minimize the spread of the virus when receiving online orders. In Russia, cash on delivery (COD) to the courier and other in-person exchanges at pickup centers are typical eCommerce practices. We are encouraging users to pay for their items via contactless payment methods and choose other shipping options.  We also suggest customers carefully wash their hands after handling their packages.  

Beru Updates for COVID-19

With Beru, our end-to-end marketplace that we run with Sberbank, our team is also committed to ensuring a steady supply of staple goods at fair prices.  The Beru team set a maximum price for certain product categories and will only display products that are priced accordingly. Categories such as groceries, canned goods, hygiene products, and household cleaners will remain at fixed prices for the foreseeable future.

On top of our efforts to keep Beru products at reasonable prices, we are doing everything possible to deliver goods to our users’ homes on time and have strengthened our delivery capacity. To reduce the likelihood of physical contact, we also added the option for users to have couriers leave prepaid orders at their door. 

We have also taken a number of additional steps to help our partner stores on Beru.  We improved the process for integrating new merchants onto the platform so that we can more quickly respond to high demand.  We limited our merchant suspension policies only to cover extreme violations such as counterfeiting and price gouging. We are also enabling more flexible shipment time (from two days to three) for our partner retailers who operate through drop shipping.  

While the majority of our office team members are working from home, we are committed to helping people and are working around the clock to support our community.  Special thanks to our team members in logistics centers, as well as couriers who continue to bravely navigate cities during the COVID-19 outbreak!  

Take care of yourself and your loved ones!

How Yandex is Responding to Help During COVID-19

The outbreak of COVID-19 is upending the lives of billions of people around the world. This situation has called on individuals and organizations across the globe to do their part to help communities everywhere. Now more than ever, people are turning to connected, intelligent services to help them overcome this uncertain time. Here at Yandex, we’re working to adapt our tools that help consumers and businesses navigate the online and offline world for the current reality. Even as our community of over 10,000 team members transitions to working from home, we’re diligently working on finding solutions that will help people during these challenging times. 

Yandex Information and Tools on COVID-19

Access to accurate and reliable information is key to how people tackle the COVID-19 outbreak. As one of the top global search engines, Yandex is committed to ensuring we can help provide users with useful and accurate information. 

We’ve created a simple, easy to understand platform for all things related to the coronavirus. When searching for “coronavirus” or related keywords on Yandex.ru, our search page presents users with a panel summarizing all information on the virus in one place. The coronavirus dashboard includes symptoms, how to protect one’s self and others, statistics on the outbreak, the latest news, and more. 

We’ve included a series of recommendations from the World Health Organization, and we also present expert responses to commonly asked questions via our Yandex.Q community question-and-answer service. The blue concentric circles are an easy way for users to identify the information we’ve verified with health experts, including the WHO, Russia’s Ministry of Health, doctors, and more.  

Our mapping team introduced a map for Russian speakers that will help them better track the COVID-19 outbreak globally. The map includes statistics within cities and regions to help users remain informed of the cases in their local communities, as well as cases in other countries. We source information for the map from a variety of sources, including the WHO, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, China’s National Health Commission, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and more. 

We are also working on integrating our coronavirus search portal within Alice, our intelligent assistant.

Online Education Tools

Beginning on March 30th, we are adding remote learning tools to Yandex.Textbook, our free online education platform currently used by 22,000 primary schools across Russia. Teachers can hold live sessions, post homework assignments, and receive feedback from students. Students and teachers will be able to communicate with one another via chat and voice messages.  

In collaboration with the Center for Pedagogical Excellence, we will also launch a fully online, freely available school for students in grades 5-11. Teachers will conduct lessons via our streaming services and Yandex.Tutor, an online task management service for courses. Some of Moscow's leading teachers will teach the classes using curriculums based on national standardized exams. To best replicate families' typical school-year schedules, we will host the lessons during normal school hours.

Our new distance education options join existing remote learning initiatives, such as our Coursera specialisations in machine learning. We encourage everyone to continue to rely on online learning tools throughout this period.   

Yandex Mobility Services Safety and Updates

Beyond providing trusted information, we've also taken steps across our mobility products and services to better serve people impacted by COVID-19 and prevent the spread of the virus. As day-to-day life adapts to the new realities imposed by the coronavirus outbreak, there's been an increase in demand for courier-delivered goods. Yandex is proud to provide these services and retool them for higher demand, but we're also taking steps to ensure the safety of our couriers and users. Some of the actions we're taking to adjust our services to the current environment include:

 Sanitizing

  • Yandex.Taxi is taking steps to minimize the spread of contagions, like encouraging the use of cashless payments only, establishing stricter cleaning guidelines for drivers, and setting up central cleaning locations for vehicles in certain cities.
  • Cleaning staff for our car-sharing service, Yandex.Drive, are more thoroughly cleaning vehicles with extra strength, antiseptic disinfectant. 
  • We are supplying Yandex.Drive vehicles with antiseptic wipes. 
  • Within Yandex Self-Driving, we're using disinfectant to clean our autonomous vehicles.

 Safety for Drivers and Couriers

  • We've established a fund to support drivers and couriers affected by COVID-19 across Yandex.Taxi, Yandex.Eats, and Yandex.Lavka, our grocery delivery service. The fund will support those who contract COVID-19 and drivers who are in contact with an infected person and must self-quarantine. 
  • Guidance on the safe delivery of food and driving for couriers and drivers, along with quizzes and regular updates as the situation evolves.
  • Couriers can access cleaning materials in support offices.
  • We’ve set up locations in Moscow where drivers can undergo a medical check before beginning their shift, including measuring temperature, blood pressure, and a telemedicine chat with a doctor.

Delivery Service Updates

  • Yandex.Taxi will soon begin delivering over-the-counter medications from pharmacies with the recent introduction of legislation to enable this.
  • Yandex.Eats has simplified the procedure for restaurants to join the service.

Yandex Online Entertainment to Pass the Time During COVID-19

Besides the above changes, we’re happy to continue offering free services that can help people find ways to enjoy their time at home more.  Our streaming service provides series, movies, live TV, and cartoons in addition to sports and cultural programs. Users can also listen to a free version of Yandex.Music and interact with Alice to get the latest news, play games, and have some friendly conversation at home.

We understand this is a challenging time for people everywhere, not just among our users and the Yandex community.  We will continue finding ways to adapt our services to best assist people during the coronavirus pandemic, and we are happy to help people through this crisis in whatever ways we can.

Celebrating the Women Driving Change

For International Women’s Day, we recognize the outstanding achievements of women everywhere. Today more than ever, women are creating change. And at Yandex, we want to extend an extra appreciation to our female community members creating change.

As part of our reflection for International Women’s Day 2020, we are sharing insights from just a small portion of our expansive community of outstanding women – women who drive for Yandex.Taxi.

As our ecosystem of intelligent products and services has grown, we have come to operate services that not only help users navigate their daily routines but have created new job opportunities as well.  Our ride-hailing service Yandex.Taxi, which works with third-party transportation carriers, has expanded to hundreds of thousands of drivers, and tens of thousands of those drivers are women.

In some countries where we operate Yandex.Taxi and our international brand, Yango, such as Finland, it may not surprise a passenger to get picked up by a woman. Still, in places like Russia, Armenia, or Uzbekistan the industry is heavily dominated by male drivers, and it’s been very rare for women to take up such an occupation – until recently.

Times are changing in the transportation industry with the introduction of on-demand services and other innovations. Flexible dynamics have encouraged more women into new roles and opportunities to work for themselves. Working as taxi drivers doesn’t come without challenges, but in talking to some of the female drivers, we learned more about their stories creating change in their lives and the taxi industry.  We’re thrilled to share their experiences in honor of all women who are committed to advancing their professions, harnessing their independence, and improving the world around them.

Olga in Yekaterinburg, Russia, decided to start driving a taxi after finding her age was a barrier to employment elsewhere.  

“I have a higher education teaching degree. At first, I worked as a physical education teacher and then as a business trader for 15 years but eventually I was ready to move on.  I wanted to find a salaried job, so at age 51 I entered the labor market. The first time I interviewed for a position I was rejected because of my age. They said I was too old.  I thought it was a mistake but when it happened the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth time, I realized that there was a pattern. I told employers that I had the required experience, but I was often told, ‘no, we don’t need you,’ or they offered me an alternative job with a low salary.”

“One day, after yet another interview, I called a taxi to take me home.  I told the driver about my difficulty finding a job, and he asked, ‘Can you drive a car?’ I told him, ‘Yes, I can.’ He suggested that I try working as a taxi driver. So I decided I would.  It was challenging at first and I reassured myself that this was a temporary job but as time went on, I became a better navigator. For over three years now, I’ve been working as a taxi driver.”

For Noribic of Almaty, Kazakhstan, driving for Yandex.Taxi offers her the flexibility to work when she wants while still having time to raise her children.

“For more than five years, I was an economist, but I couldn’t adhere to a strict workday schedule. I have three children, and in the morning they need to be taken to study club, then to school at lunchtime, and in the evening they must be taken home.  During the downtime from their schedules, I now work as a taxi driver; it's my hobby. I enjoy being independent."

Irina in Moscow found that being a taxi driver is an excellent way for her to have extra income by working at off-hours, all while having the opportunity to show the men in her family that a woman can work in a male-dominated field.

“This job is not the only source of income for me; I also rent an apartment. I'm a night owl, so I begin driving in the evening, around 5:00 pm. I love working at night when there are no traffic jams — I sometimes work until 2:00 am or 4:00 am and drive 12-15 trips per shift.  Passengers are often surprised that their driver is a woman.”

“My family still hasn't entirely accepted my job. My husband is a very ambitious man, and he thinks I got a job to spite him. ‘The wife is the driver!’  He asks me not to advertise it too much and tells his friends I’m writing a book. My three sons were also shy about it at first. But I’m not offended, and I’m trying to convince them - I really like my work.”

We’re proud that Yandex.Taxi is in a position to help empower women with a job that offers a unique level of flexibility.  Not only that, but we love that our female drivers are helping change perceptions of who a taxi driver can be, and what a woman can do, in many of the countries served by Yandex.Taxi.  To all female trailblazers everywhere, thank you for your inspiration, commitment, and change. Congratulations on all you are achieving big and small! Happy International Women’s Day 2020!

Yandex Launches SoundsEasy Skill for Alice to Help Children with Speech Disorders

Yandex has always taken a particular interest in cultivating positive environments that aid in children’s development.  Our late co-founder Ilya Segalovich brought his passion for youth development to Yandex through initiatives such as Yandex’s outreach programs at Russian orphanages, including Maria’s Children, founded by his wife.  We’ve carried on the spirit of Ilya’s compassion for children through our education programs and tools designed to create positive learning environments, such as Yandex.Textbook.  

As we continuously create innovations, we’re exploring more ways our intelligent ecosystem can also provide tools for children and their parents. Our intelligent assistant, Alice, has been central to this effort, offering educational and developmental support through skills such as “guess the animal” and math games that promote cognitive learning. Last year, our in-house creative team set out to create a skill for Alice that would specifically address an important childhood development issue in Russia using our AI.  Today, after a year developing and testing interactive songs with a team of speech therapists, we are proud to introduce parents, children, and teachers to SoundsEasy, a skill for Alice designed to help children with speech disorders and other early speech impediments.

According to Russia’s former Minister of Education, nearly 60% of school children struggle with speech problems (in Russian).  We learned that speech disorders are particularly challenging to tackle in Russia due to a lack of qualified speech therapists, and many parents are unaware of the issues and their impact.  In many cases, early speech problems can lead to other developmental concerns that lead to consequences later in life, such as speech impediments. Our creative team started researching how we could help improve this with our technologies.  While correcting speech needs to be managed by professionals, a skill for Alice could help children practice sounds and form better habits through repetition.

SoundsEasy offers a selection of catchy and fun songs for forming proper speech habits through interactive recitation with fun characters led by our AI.  Each SoundsEasy training exercise has three parts – the warm-up, syllable practice, and repeating lines from the songs. Using our speech recognition, Alice carefully listens to the speaker and then compares what it hears with the correct pronunciation of the lyrics.  Alice then kindly suggests the child repeat the phrase if it doesn’t match what the assistant is expecting to hear. The characters within SoundsEasy rely on our speech synthesis technologies to naturally interact with children on the content, providing stories, feedback, and encouragement.  

Together with a team of speech pathologists, poets, local pop stars, and psychologists, we created SoundsEasy to help improve the current and future lives of children with speech disorders.  Speech pathologists provided their expertise to design songs for practicing different sounds, ensuring songs don’t mix difficult sounds that would be overly challenging for listeners.  Using the guidelines for writing the songs, poets advised on the lyrics and pop artists recorded catchy songs that are similar to modern pop hits.  

We then developed characters with a unique personality for each pop star called Soundies. We designed the Soundies to combat issues such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, or stage fright that are often a result of speech problems.  For instance, Soundies explain why performing on stage is fun and not scary.  We also integrated new lyrics into familiar songs from the popular Fixiki cartoon.  Fixies characters, which millions of children across Russia already know and love, introduce listeners to exciting technologies and futuristic professions such as “Drone Racer,” and they’ll now be able to help children practice their speech.

Psychologists provided feedback for adjustments, such as adding more encouragement. The characters now offer more praise, and we introduced other motivational features. Children get a coloring exercise upon completing songs, which serves to also stimulate motor skills.  SoundsEasy also aims to promote other essential learning values, such as reading and writing.

Children were also some of the most important collaborators.  Through user experience testing, their feedback helped us refine the skill; for example, through our testing, we observed how antsy and excited children tend to be, which is why we added interactive activities to occupy them through the speaking exercises. More importantly, though, the testing period allowed us to see firsthand how much value this new tool will bring to their lives.  Several of the children who tested the skill returned home to continue trying it out with their families on their own Alice-enabled devices.

We are so grateful for all the teamwork and expertise of everyone who contributed to the development of SoundsEasy. Not only will millions of children and parents benefit from using this interactive Alice skill at home or on the go, kindergartens and other early childhood education centers’  in Moscow will begin using SoundsEasy as part of their curriculum. Speech therapists will also be able to utilize SoundsEasy for Alice by assigning certain songs for children to practice at home, and we hope to soon incorporate SoundsEasy in teaching curriculums at schools across Russia.

While this is an excellent use of our AI, SoundsEasy also reflects the values of Yandex as a company. We hope SoundsEasy raises more awareness of children’s development issues and speech disorders specifically.  We’re excited for all the ways SoundsEasy and future AI innovations will help advance childhood development.

Advancing Data Science Education in Israel with More Students and Opportunities in 2020

Last week, the newest class of students at Y-DATA, the hub of our education initiatives in Israel, completed their first semester of the one-year data science program.  By summer, this cohort of roughly 90 students will become the second alumni class of Y-DATA, enhancing both the Israeli tech and global research communities.

We initially launched the program on the campus of Tel Aviv University in 2018 as a new branch of our Yandex School of Data Analysis (YSDA), an intensive, master’s-level program in data science.  We designed Y-DATA to bridge the gap between online courses and a full-time masters program in computer science.  Our primary goal of the program is to equip students with the skills and experience to start a career in data science.  The Y-DATA curriculum develops particular skill requirements that are beneficial to Israeli employers, meaning our graduates are well-prepared to enter (or reenter) the local workforce.  

Y-DATA starts 2020 with double the enrolled students, a new, second branch on the campus of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva, and an improved curriculum taught by a faculty with several new exciting members.  Over the past year, we've improved the Y-DATA curriculum to provide our students with a more comprehensive data science learning experience.  We’ve also welcomed several new outstanding faculty members to our program who bring their expertise from BGU and other prestigious academic institutions.

Among other changes, we now cover Deep Learning later in the program, when students have a more solid base of classic ML techniques.  Program faculty expanded this section from four to six hours per week to provide students with a more in-depth understanding.  We’ve also added a new mini-course on autonomous vehicles that a Yandex expert from our self-driving division teaches.  In addition, the final six weeks of Y-DATA will now include three parallel specialisations on different advanced topics in data science: Reinforcement learning, Adversarial learning and NLP.  We can’t wait to kick that off later in the spring and see how these changes better prepare our students for success!

Together with the local tech community in Israel, we have delivered a hands-on learning opportunity in which students master the basics of machine learning and then apply their skills through industry projects with local companies.  Our first class of Y-DATA students contributed to over a dozen impactful industry projects that ranged from detecting early stages of cancer using medical imagery to improving road safety by classifying driving behavior and predicting dangerous situations.

Our principles for sharing knowledge and continued education have led to our alumni advancing AI applications around the world.  We awarded a sponsorship to the top project team from our 2019 Y-DATA Demo Day to attend the ACDL summer school in Tuscany, Italy.  This team went on to win best poster at ACDL for their work detecting pulmonary nodules in 3D scan images, which targets a highly challenging aspect of early-stage cancer detection.  This team is now working on publishing a paper based on their work.

Though Y-DATA is less than two years old, several of our alumni have  already applied their newly learned skills to reach exciting and lucrative positions with their employers.  Many graduates have also successfully transitioned to the new careers that led them to Y-DATA, and all have enhanced various businesses with their machine learning expertise.  Along with their career success, the fledgling Y-DATA alumni community actively participates in opportunities for collaboration and further education.  For instance, our alumni can participate in unique advanced workshops that teach subjects like Hyperparameter Optimization and they can serve as Teaching Assistants for the current academic year. 

In addition to the Y-DATA community of students and alumni, we also host regular tech meetups that focus on different topics in data science from ML in cybersecurity to creative AI.  Each meetup brings together industry experts and tech professionals, who are ultimately making Y-DATA a hub for the Israeli tech industry.

We couldn’t be prouder of our first alumni class in all that they have achieved within such a short time and, for many, without any prior experience in data science.  We are thrilled to be entering the second semester with our 2019/2020 cohort with even more opportunities that we introduced to improve the program.  If you’re interested in applying to Y-DATA, applications for 2020/2021 open in April.  You can find more information on the program website.

Our latest intelligent search update, Vega

Since we started our search engine in 1997, we’ve sought to connect people with the information most relevant to them.  Over the years, we’ve updated Yandex Search with smart features and more informative results, making it as easy as possible for our users to navigate the mass of information that is the internet.  Today, we’re excited to announce the latest advancements for Russia’s largest search engine. The Vega update brings 1,500 improvements to Yandex Search that help our 50 million daily search users in Russia find the best solutions to their queries.  The most significant improvements from Vega pair machine learning with human knowledge and double our search index to deliver users better quality results at lightning speed, and we're excited to share more on the major updates with today's announcement.

With Vega, our search team has also introduced a uniquely human element to our users' search experience. We've updated the ranking algorithm with neural networks trained on data provided by real experts in several fields, providing users with even higher quality solutions to their searches. We're also connecting people with answers to their searches from qualified experts, through our new question-and-answer service, Yandex.Q.

The Vega updates not only make Yandex Search smarter, but also enable it to search across more of the web. Our search index is now twice as large thanks to a clever method for grouping similar web pages into “clusters.”  We’re also now presenting these smarter results with as few clicks as possible thanks to improvements that will help bring users information faster, such as pre-rendering technology for mobile users.

"Our new search update combines our latest technologies with human knowledge,” says Andrey Styskin, Head of Yandex Search.  “At Yandex, it's our goal to help consumers and businesses better navigate the online and offline world.  With this new search update, users across the RuNet are helping us do just that.  By contributing their knowledge, experts are enhancing our algorithms and helping our Search users, who continue to grow; over the past year, Yandex’s search share on Android in Russia rose 4.8% to 54.7% in early December.”

Machine learning with a personal touch

We’ve used machine learning in our search engine for a decade now, with this year marking our tenth year since adding our MatrixNet algorithm to Yandex Search. Machine learning remains a critical part of our search engine, but having the human element is vital, too; after all, who better than ourselves to understand what we’re looking for on the internet?  People, or “assessors,” have long helped train our machine learning platforms through our crowdsourcing platform, Yandex.Toloka. Using our search result evaluation guidelines, the assessors in Yandex.Toloka complete tasks that help us find the most relevant results for specific queries.

With Vega, we've updated our ranking algorithm with a system where specialists in their respective fields now evaluate the work of these assessors.  The professionals appraising the assessors range from IT administrators for data queries to hydrologists for searches relating to rivers. The expert assessors use over a hundred criteria to evaluate the work of the assessors, and our deep learning neural networks then receive these expert evaluations.  By training our machine learning algorithms with expert assessments, our search engine learns to rank relevant information higher in results thanks to the work of a highly qualified group of individuals.

In addition to improving the quality of our search results with expert crowdsourcing, we’re also integrating answers to queries from real experts right within our results page.  Yandex.Q is a service that combines our Yandex.Experts tool, introduced in last year’s Andromeda update, with content from the popular Russian Q&A service TheQuestion, which we acquired earlier this year.  After a seven-month testing period, we’re now rolling Yandex.Q out to all of our search users. Yandex.Q features over a million answers from experts across many fields. Users can ask their questions in the Yandex.ru search field, and expert responses will appear at the top of the results page.  For example, someone looking for information on Alexander Pushkin can see answers from a literary critic, or a search on the behaviors of seals will result in a response from the head of the National Arctic and Antarctic Museum.

Questions on Coca-Cola, Socrates, and the Italian Renaissance are answered by experts in these fields.

Improving our search index with clusters

Each of our updates provides our search engine with smart tools for understanding complex queries and finding relevant results.  With our 2016 Palekh update, Yandex Search began using neural networks to better process long-tail keywords, which are highly specific, multi-word searches.  Our Korolyov update added the ability to search entire web pages rather than just titles, and could better understand the intent of queries. Last year’s update, Andromeda, enhanced the results page with tools to gauge the quality of a result and “quick answers,” which presents answers from experts on various topics.

Vega builds on our previous updates with intelligent improvements in how our search engine processes queries.  Our algorithms use neural networks to now group pages into clusters based on their similarity. When a user enters a query, it's searched among the most relevant cluster of pages, rather than our entire index.  Since using the clusters frees up more computing power for our search engine, we've doubled the size of our index without slowing the speed of searches. We can also better connect users with results for infrequent queries, as our search algorithms find rare web pages for the clusters along with highly visited sites.

Based on our search quality metric, which considers, among other factors, document relevance and source reliability, Vega's performance is three times better than Korolyov and six times better than Palekh.

Smarter results at lightning speed

The updates in Vega not only process search queries faster, but we’re also delivering people information quicker, with as few clicks as possible.  Since March, Yandex mobile users on Android have been searching with pre-rendering technology, which predicts the user’s query and selects relevant results as the user is typing.  

Thanks to this feature, now millions of users can instantly find the information they’re looking for on their mobile devices.  The number of queries with an instant result has grown over 20% over the last year, and we’re planning to rollout pre-rending to more of our mobile users soon.

We’ve also made our Turbo technology universally accessible so that content providers can create fast-loading versions of their sites. Turbo-powered websites are light versions of full websites, which load about 15 times faster than regular websites.  Turbo sites help us connect people with information regardless of how they access the web, as the quick-loading sites are especially useful for slow connections and mobile sites. As content providers expand Turbo to more of our search results, our users see relevant solutions for their queries quicker than ever.  Users are now loading 75% of the lightweight Turbo sites in less than a second.

Turbo pages load significantly faster than standard mobile sites, and updates made in 2019 mean Turbo sites are even quicker

Our Vega update continues to make Yandex Search the smartest and quickest way for Russian internet users to connect with the most relevant information on the web. By pairing our machine learning expertise with the knowledge of real experts, our search engine brings together the best of artificial and human intelligence to connect people with the most relevant information. Give some of our best search features a try today at Yandex.ru!

Yandex’s KinoPoisk HD to exclusively stream Doctor Who and other BBC content in Russia and the CIS

Ready to “exterminate” your boredom this winter and find out what happens in the upcoming season of Doctor Who? We have great news! The TARDIS has officially landed in Russia and the CIS! Following a new deal between our streaming platform, KinoPoisk HD, and BBC Studios, we will become the exclusive video on-demand (VOD) home for all existing series of Doctor Who in Russia, plus the upcoming 12th season of the show. 

Today, together with BBC Studios, we announced a new agreement for KinoPoisk HD to exclusively host over 100 hours per year of brand new BBC premium dramas, comedies, and children’s titles, plus content from a range of British producers in the BBC Studios’ 2020 catalogue.  The new partnership includes a commitment from Yandex to develop BBC Studios scripted formats and AVOD rights to over 150 episodes of BBC Studios’ children’s brands. 

Back in 2013, Yandex acquired KinoPoisk, a popular database for movie information in Russia, with the goal of providing viewers with a central hub for intelligent streaming. As a first step, we added streaming capabilities to KinoPoisk in 2015, and have continued to enhance the service by adding smarter, personalized features for viewers. We also committed to expanding the KinoPoisk catalog,  creating opportunities for viewers to watch entertaining media from various networks and studios. KinoPoisk HD now offers over 9000 films and series to our viewers! In addition to a vast collection of domestic content, we have a catalogue of international series’ from studios such as CBS and ABC Studios, plus licensed content from Warner Bros., NBCUniversal, Disney, and Sony Pictures, among others. 

Scripted content produced by BBC Studios, which we started showing in 2018, have been a huge hit on our platform. The most popular BBC series’ on KinoPoisk HD include Doctor Who, Luther, Life on Mars, Misfits, Torchwood, The Durrells, Call the Midwife, War & Peace, and Les Misérables. In fact, the Doctor Who series ranked among the top-15 most-watched programmes on KinoPoisk HD in 2019. We’re thrilled to provide our viewers with even more exclusive content from the BBC Studios with this new licensing partnership.

Aside from the Doctor Who fandom, Russian viewers have an enormous appetite for British drama, including Sherlock and Les Misérables. According to Mediascope*, Sherlock was one of the most-watched international scripted titles on Russian TV over the past three years, topping the list in 2017 and taking the number two slot in 2018 and first quarter of 2019. Les Misérables proved to be the most-watched series during the first quarter of 2019, and it's no surprise why.  Les Misérables brings a blend of 19th-century French upheaval, stellar acting, and, of course, those memorable music numbers, starring Dominic West, David Oyelowo, and Lily Collins. 

Viewers won’t need a “sonic screwdriver” to tune in. KinoPoisk HD subscribers will soon have access to these series on-demand through desktop, smart TVs, and the mobile app. We will release season 12 of Doctor Who in Russia the day after it is broadcast in the UK on January 2, 2020.  These new viewing opportunities will further enhance the experience for millions of viewers on KinoPoisk and those subscribed to Yandex.Plus.  Our Yandex.Plus subscription service provides users a high-value, bundled offering of multiple Yandex services, including unlimited music streaming, ad-free movies, discounts for taxi and car-sharing rides, and other benefits.  Yandex.Plus subscribers receive access to the majority of the KinoPoisk HD catalogue.   

We’re excited about all the great programmes we have lined up for our viewers and the continued high-quality streaming experiences ahead. After all, "we're all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?"

*Mediascope data, ITVR, Russia, 100+ audience, target 4+ all, Date Range: 01/01/2017 - 12/31/2017, 01/01/2018-12/31/2018, 01/01/2019-05/26/2019, 00:00-30:00, category: scripted series, origin: all excluding Russia, Ukraine and post-USSR countries, duration 5+ minutes, all federal channels excluding Carousel.

Reducing Electronic Waste, One Speaker at a Time

The rapid progress of technology means that the devices we use to power our daily lives are becoming ever more advanced.  While users benefit from smarter, improved gadgets, and companies like Yandex produce new devices and create new applications for them, the “upgrade cycles” for consumer tech raises an important question - what about older hardware  that gets left behind, becoming electronic waste? According to the United Nations, the world creates 50 million tonnes of e-waste every year, and just 20% of this is recycled.  At Yandex, we appreciate the environmental hazards posed by the globe’s growing e-waste, and as we roll out new devices, we’re taking steps to try and reduce it. 

As a technology company that started providing consumer devices over the last few years, we're committed to sustainability initiatives that reduce the amount of e-waste created.  In October, on the first day of sales of our Yandex.Station Mini smart speaker, we encouraged people to bring their older speakers to our official store to exchange them for a free Yandex.Station Mini. 

For the speakers we received, we’ve partnered with a local recycling company in Russia who will disassemble the devices and recycle their components.  Through this process, speakers that were mainly collecting dust in storage will go on to serve new uses. Their plastic will be used in the construction of windows, while the metal from the speakers will be sent to scrap metal recyclers.  Copper smelters will receive part of the wires, while refineries will extract precious metals from the metallic elements that can’t be recycled. What can’t be reused or recovered from the speakers will be disposed of responsibly.

In response to our call for older speakers, over two thousand people lined up at our store with a variety of devices.  The first thousand who arrived received Yandex.Station Minis, while we gave the rest credit towards the purchase of one of our smart speakers.  We awarded our larger smart speakers, Yandex.Stations, to those who exchanged the most extraordinary speakers, such as gramophones, radiograms, and custom built speakers.  These unique items will be displayed in the Yandex museum in Moscow, allowing visitors to take a journey through auditory history.

As one of the companies bringing smart speakers to people’s homes, we also want to be a leader in helping people give new life to their older speakers. We want to thank everyone who helped us keep these speakers from piling up in landfills by bringing them to the Yandex Store, as well as our recycling partner for disposing of the speakers in an environmentally friendly manner. 

We hope that, through this exchange program, people will continue to consider ways they can ensure their old electronics are recycled or reused.  We encourage other users to explore electronic recycling options in their area so that they, too, can help create a more sustainable world.

Yandex Helps Establish Online English MS in Data Science from HSE University

We’re always looking for new ways to provide people with the tools they need for learning the most in-demand data science skills.  Collaborating with leading academic institutions to create online learning opportunities is an excellent way for us to impact as many learners as possible.  Today, we’re proud to announce another channel for online learners - we’ve partnered with Moscow’s Higher School of Economics (HSE) University and Coursera to help launch Russia’s first online English master’s program in data science.

Students of the Master of Data Science will benefit from the combined expertise of one of Russia’s top universities, the country’s largest tech company, and the world’s leading online learning provider.  By hosting the courses on Coursera and teaching the curriculum entirely in English, the new program will be more accessible to learners around the world and help prepare students for more global opportunities.

As an industry partner for the program, we will lend our background in end-user products to suggest today’s most critical data science skills.  Experts from Yandex helped create some of the courses for the online program, and Yandex representatives will take part in reviewing final project presentations.

“Yandex and the Higher School of Economics are both renowned experts in data science and leaders in online learning,” says Elena Bunina, Director of HR and Educational Programs for Yandex.  “Working with academic partners to create online learning opportunities is a key part of our education initiatives.  We believe that online education is crucial for satisfying the growing demand for data scientists.  Thanks to a combination of practical training, complex mathematics, and a research training track, future Master of Data Science graduates will be prepared to pursue opportunities in either tech or scientific research.”

The new Master of Data Science program is just the latest in our academic collaborations with both HSE and Coursera.  We also co-founded the Faculty of Computer Science at HSE, which now has nearly 2,200 students across ten degree programs.  There are several specializations on Coursera jointly designed by FCS and Yandex experts, one of which Coursera recognized with the Outstanding Educator Award for Innovation earlier this year.  We also offer several data science courses on Coursera, in both Russian and English.

Prospective students can learn more about the Master of Data Science on the HSE website, as well as on Coursera, where they can apply to enroll in the program.  Applications are due on December 6th.  Good luck and happy learning!