By Radha McClellan
Launched in 2002, Krishna.com—a website all about Krsnas become an indispensible spiritual resource for many people.
In 2001, if you had typed www.krishna.com into your web browser, you would have been taken to the website for Back to Godhead magazine. Back in the stone age of the Internet, Jayadvaita Swami, the BTG editor at the time, saw how important the web would be for offering Krishna consciousness to the world. He bought the domain name www.krishna.com and after a few years started using it to promote the magazine. After some time, the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, desiring a robust website to promote Srila Prabhupada’s books and teachings, teamed up with BTG to develop Krishna.com. The BBT committed funding, and BTG took responsibility for building the website.
Pranada Dasi and Tamraparni Dasa, both from BTG, and Manu and I, both ISKCON second generation, met in a small back room at BTG to plan the new site. We talked about technology, visitors, readers, books, pictures, and software. We got excited about what we could do with the project and made notes about our vision. We had a fantastic shared sense of the site’s potential, as if Krishna Himself was watching over us, waiting to see what we would make of the opportunity He was giving us.
Manu and I were to be the daily workers, and Pranada and Tamraparni came in for vision and planning meetings and to look at what we were building. We had to invent the website from the ground up. We decided we would make Krishna.com inclusive rather than exclusive. Anyone with a hint of interest in Krishna consciousness should feel welcome. We had to look at everything we did with a careful eye to make sure we were talking clearly to people who had never heard of Sanskrit. We had to explain the art we used with the “blue boy” in it. We had to design the site to look clean and open and neutral so spiritual seekers would feel comfortable to look around and ask questions.
Over the years, the appearance of the site has changed at least a dozen times. The logo, the home page, the navigation buttons, the menu options, the features and services, even the people working and volunteering for Krishna.com-all have changed. But the message has stayed the same. Srila Prabhupada’s teachings about Krishna consciousness are the core of Krishna.com’s identity.
Gaura Purnima 2002
After six months of agonizing over colors, fonts, logos, tag lines, software, articles, pictures, features, and a thousand other things, we were finally able to turn off the site dedicated to Back to Godhead magazine and turn on the site all about Krishna. We gathered in the office, and Manu launched the new Krishna.com. After an hour, he logged into the site’s traffic-counting program. We smile to think of it now, but we were excited then. Six people in only an hour! At that rate the site might get a few thousand visitors a month!
We knew we’d have to work twice as fast to put up more content, more articles, more pictures, more books, more ways for visitors to learn about Krishna. And now that we had a live website, we had to do it right away.
Gaura Purnima 2012
Some things haven’t changed on Krishna.com all that much. The gallery of Krishna conscious paintings is still one of the most popular parts of the site. People still download and read free PDFs of Srila Prabhupada’s books. Visitors still email us from around the world asking about Krishna, Krishna consciousness, how to find their local temple, when the next Ekadashi is, where to find a certain book.
With the rise of the Internet as the new social forum, Krishna.com has become a public reading room for Srila Prabhupada’s books; an art gallery of paintings of Krishna and His avatars and pastimes; a virtual temple for those who live far from temples or for other reasons can’t visit a temple regularly; a courtyard for people who have been practicing bhakti-yoga for decades to discuss philosophy and spiritual life with new visitors interested in Krishna; a place to pay homage to and read about Srila Prabhupada, the teacher and activist who brought Krishna consciousness to the Western world; a media complex for vintage, classic, and new video and audio of lectures, kirtanas, documentaries, and books.
Krishna.com has become so vast it’s sometimes hard to find one’s way around. So we’ve started making little planets within the universe. One of our newest planets is kirtan.krishna.com, a community for sharing bhajanas and kirtanas recorded live at events around the world. Food.krishna.com is our cooking community. And btg.krishna.com hosts Back to Godhead magazine, including bonus online-only features. Prabhupada.krishna.com is the place for everything about Srila Prabhupada’s life and teachings. Directory.krishna.com (ISKCON Temple Directory) and links.krishna.com (Links Community) help visitors find their way to related material off the Krishna.com website.
We’re bringing Krishna.com directly to the Internet streets wherever we can. We’re on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Tumblr. Our mailing list numbers thousands of people asking to receive newsletters and e-mailings on Krishna Meditations, daily e-book readings, updates on the site and store, information on BTG magazine, alerts for live shows or temple webcams, and more. In our Connect community, people create profiles and share with other Krishna conscious people. And for visitors with specific questions, volunteers man our Live Help system for live chat or in-depth email responses.
We’re adding interactive features throughout the site, inviting readers and visitors to rate and comment on just about everything. Krishna.com isn’t just what we publish to the site; it’s also about the people who visit and use the site.
Second-Gens Take Over
At the beginning of 2009, both of our senior managers, Tamraparni and Pranada, had to step away from managing Krishna.com. Manu and I, along with the head of our web department, Uddhava, took over running the project. This seemed like a natural development for us, but we realized that Krishna.com was the first major ISKCON project managed entirely by ISKCON’s second generation. We were under pressure to prove we could handle the task. Would Krishna.com maintain the integrity of spiritual wisdom Srila Prabhupada had taught and his disciples had sincerely continued? To ensure this, we always consulted a wide network of advisors, teachers, preachers, writers, scholars, and specialists. Our core goal has always been to offer Krishna consciousness as Srila Prabhupada taught it.
A lot of people visit Krishna.com today. We’ve been so busy these last ten years that we’ve hardly had a chance to look up and see the results of our labor. I see the numbers and the locations of our visitors. I read the emails. I look at the lists of people in our mailing software. I’m happy with the progress. And it becomes so much more real when someone visits us in person and tells us how her life was immeasurably altered because of our actions. We didn’t realize until recently that while we were busy working, people had started relying on Krishna.com for their spiritual life.
The Next Big Thing
We’re still working in offices of the BTG building, a doublewide mobile home in a back pasture of the ISKCON property in Alachua, Florida. The Krishna.com staff has grown over the years, and now we’re packed three or four to an office, bumping elbows and vying for electrical outlets. It’s a cheerful group, though, and when our horrible rural Internet connection flickers on and off all day, making our tasks nearly impossible, the team rolls with the punches. I’m grateful for that. But it’s time to move into town and find a more suitable building. That’s a challenge we face at the moment. And we have to balance that challenge with the ongoing work needed to rewrite our entire “About Krishna” section, create a version of the site suited to smart phones and other mobile devices, and keep up with the next round of Internet and software upgrades just around the corner.
At least forty people contribute daily to the site. More than half are volunteers who donate their time because they also see the value of Krishna.com. Fortunately, they live around the world and don’t need us to provide them office space.
The Krishna.com Store
Ten years ago the store at Krishna.com was a few pages in the printed and online editions of BTG magazine. Not a whole lot to it. You had to mail, email, or call in your order and payment information.
In the fall of 2002, we chose ecommerce software from a small start-up company and opened our first interactive online shop with four hundred items. Since then, that small software company has been bought by eBay and the software is being further developed to power eBay’s small-business markets. So we have the benefits of a larger company developing the software we use.
Our original product line has grown to about eight thousand items. What was once a list of books, cassettes, videos, and a miscellaneous assortment of japa beads, Tulasi neck beads, and Krishna-related toys, has grown to include devotional clothing of all kinds, deities and accessories for your home altar, a large selection of incense, and a whole lot more.
We started the store to create income for BTG and Krishna.com. Many of our long-time customers are pleasantly surprised when they find out that by shopping at the store, they are essentially making a donation.
Seeing the Benefits
Every once in a while I am rewarded with a reminder about why we’re all doing this.
A man from Texas called, asking if we’d ever heard of this book with a blue guy on the cover, and possibly horses, by an old swami from India. Apparently, the caller’s brother had received a copy of Bhagavad-gita As It Is in the ’70s after returning from Vietnam. Depressed and sometimes considering suicide, he had read the Gita from cover to cover whenever he felt fragile. Now he had passed away, the book had been lost in the shuffle, and his brother was having a hard time and wanted his own copy of the Gita to read.
One woman had lived as a Hare Krishna in the very early days but, disheartened in the ’80s, had walked away from Krishna consciousness. Now, with her first grandchild on the way, she was once again drawn to the big questions about life and God. On a whim she searched online for an old friend of hers from back when she was a devotee, and she somehow found Krishna.com. She peeked into the art gallery, tentatively checked out the temple webcams, and listened to a lecture by Srila Prabhupada. Everything came flooding back to her, as if the spiritual journey of her youth had only temporarily been put on hold.
As I write this, I’m about to leave my peaceful home office and head into the BTG/Krishna.com offices. It’s Monday, so I’ll be especially busy. I’m sure I’ll get to only a few items on my to-do list. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks that still need to be done. But I take on one project, then another, and another, and suddenly four months have zoomed by and we’re launching another section of Krishna.com. It is never-ending, after all. A website all about Krishna? That could take three hundred years and a staff of thousands.