Two weeks of vacation this summer and where am I headed? London and Paris. Last summer, I trekked to Denmark. My list of past travels continues: Belize, Philippines, Mexico, Greece, and more.
As I’ve grown older, my idea of paradise is a new country, new culture, new museums, new sites, and new stores (shopping must always be on the schedule)! But send me to a website beyond the Anglosphere, a term coined by author Neal Stephenson, and I scurry back inside my cave, reverting to a sheltered online existence. I don’t know what to do or where to look. My sense of adventure simply evaporates.
It is this same thinking that encourages Internet-savvy entrepreneurs outside of the Anglosphere to set up their own blogs and social networking sites in their own language. They have seen first-hand the mistakes many English-speaking companies have made trying to pitch their products without regard to the culture. Is this just my English fixation speaking to me as suggested by reporter Virginia Heffernan?
For Russia–the fourth largest social networking market in Europe–the top two social networking sites, Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki, are not known anywhere beyond Russia and Russian-speaking ex-pats. Popular American sites Facebook and MySpace have very little penetration in the market. And why should any Russians switch? Vkontakte looks like a dead-on replica of Facebook.
Despite these challenges, I found Russians Twittering, blogging, and connecting in English. Again, why would they make that choice? It really boils down to choice. Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki only connect Russians with Russians. You won’t find an Italian or an African. No one will be there from Sweden. The same goes for Australia.
If you want to connect to the world, English is the universal language for business. It is also the language of a majority of the online world–for good or for bad.
Yes, my thinking is Anglocentric and may ruffle feathers, but the Internet is supposed to break down language barriers, not build them. I may not be able to truly explore Russia by joining the country’s top social networks, but thanks to English speakers in Russia, I can still cross the virtual ocean to meet.