I was shocked to find that Russia has the fourth largest social networking market and the fastest growing internet population in Europe (internet users grew 27% year over year in June 2008). It’s wonderful that this large country is becoming connected in the online world in such a fast paced manner. Quick to jump on the social networking band-wagon, the top ranked Russian social networking sites, in particular Odnoklassniki, does not yet understand the basic rules and principles that we’ve come to learn the hard way.
The “walled-garden” of the AOL days in the 90’s are a distant memory but taught us all a great deal about the internet. Suzanne Choney said it perfectly when she described it as “the internet on training wheels.” In the mid-1990’s, we were all content with our knowledge and use of the AOL internet as we knew it (moderated chat rooms, pre-spam, “You’ve Got Mail,” and all), but only because we had no idea of what it could be. In just the past 10-15 years, we come very far in both what the internet can do for us and our scope of what the internet will hold for us in the future. Now we have Social Media tools that have allowed us to grow and learn immensely like Blogs (i.e. WordPress and LiveJournal), Social Networking (i.e. Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn), Micro-blogs (i.e. Twitter and Jaiku), Wikis (i.e. Wikipedia, wetpaint), Social Tagging (i.e. delicious), Collaborative Social News (i.e. digg), Collaborative Opinions (Yelp, Epinions), Photo Sharing (i.e. Flickr), Video Sharing (YouTube), and Virtual Worlds (i.e. Second Life), to name a few. Things only kids dreamed of in the ’90s…
With all of this, came a progressive sort of learning. We learned what worked. We learned what didn’t work. It was a hit or miss. Trial by error.
Russia has advanced so rapidly in its population’s online activity that the users are simply unaware of the “olden days” of the internet. For them, the internet IS social media, and it’s never been anything different.
So the question is, do they fully understand what makes the internet, as we know it now, work? I’m not so sure.
The entire notion of breaking the “walled-garden” allows users to converse, interact, and exchange freely and openly, not matter what. When I read a post by Russian blog guru Svetlana Gladkova, I was not too surprised to hear Svetlana’s reports that popular social networking site (similar to Facebook) called Odnoklassniki restricts members from sending messages with any text containing its largest competitor’s name (Vkontakte.ru). Further, it also restricts specific images and logos that users post in order to display to their friends that they’ve ‘moved on’ from the Odnoklassniki site to Vkontakte. Sounds to me like Odnoklassniki is doomed to fail. The minute users feel like they are being unfairly restricted, surely they will jump over to the more free (and popular) option. But, how could they know any better? They didn’t get to see the movie…
There are probably even more examples of this happening in Russia, but alas, I do not read Russian, and not many have been translated into English (scroll to bottom).
Facebook, on the other hand, does know better. Facebook does not censor its competition from user’s messages and images. On the contrary, Svetlana even reported that it advertised for Odnoklassniki on its new Russian language Facebook site. With these types of thoughts and ideals, Facebook is sure to remain #1 for quite some time (and grow to be #1 in countries where it has just started up).