Why Facebook won’t beat Russia’s Vkontakte?

Russia is on the priority list of countries which Facebook is planning to ехpand into  in the near future. According to an article in the  Financial Times Mark Zuckerberg is planning to make Facebook the leading social networking utility on Runet. The ultimate goal of Zucherberg is to reach 1 billion users by 2012. He admitted that organic growth is not enough to turn such an ambitious plan into reality. Currently the Facebook team are seeking different ways penetrating non- English language online audiences.

I am very curious to see what kind of strategies Facebook is going to implement to win the audience of the main Russian social networking players such as Vkontake and Odnoklassniki . Vkontakte is  the most popular social network utility in Russia. The number of Facebook users in Russia is  1, 244 ,280 while Vkontake has 75, 604 ,275  members . There are many online conversations on Runet about Facebook’s plans to invade Russian cyberspace. I’ve observed that the majority of Russian bloggers are quite sceptical about Facebook’s intention to conquer Russia.

As an active member of  both platforms, I can compare them from an ordinary user perspective. Vkontakte has a few drawbacks, and the most considerable one is an ongoing problem with the security of personal accounts. From personal experience, my account has been hacked  a couple of times and used for sending out spam and viruses. As far as I know, many users have become victims of viruses spread via Vkontakte. Facebook is much more robust in this regard and I haven’t got any viruses through this network. Also in my opinion,  Vkontakte has a less user-friendly interface than Facebook. For instance, you have to navigate from page to page if you want to chat online or check the news feed. Alerts about comments on my pictures are sent to my email only and not always on time. While Facebook sends a notification to your main page immediately when another uses comments on your status or pictures. Vkontakte doesn’t allow you to be logged in and appear offline, which is inconvenient if you don’t want to reply to messages instantly or to be noticed online. Finally, Vkontakte doesn’t have the Like button, allowing users to subscribe instantly to the content they find interesting. In general, Facebook is much more convenient to use, it offers a broader range of features and a more comprehensive security system.

Nevertheless, Vkontakte offers a special feature which attracts more new members daily and makes them spend a lot of time online. Members are able to view thousands of pirated copies of domestic and foreign movies dubbed into Russian. In addition, it’s possible to upload and download video and audio files via the VK Tracker application. This is the most significant advantage of Vkontakte over Facebook. It can be perceived that the majority of Vkontakte members will not be as easily persuaded to join Facebook and to give up their convenient online entertainment. Indeed, Facebook may offer a broader range of features and the possibility to interact with an international crowd. However, this may not be enough be for the ordinary user.  Yet, professionals and companies may favour Facebook’s features to use as a social networking utility for business purposes.

Obviously, some media holdings such as Amedia are very unhappy with Vkontakte, as they have already been accused of piracy several times, but criminal intent hasn’t yet been proven. In my opinion, the best strategy  for Facebook in Russia is to join forces with other frustrated companies and lobby the Russian parliament to reform copyrights laws on the Internet.  While the online piracy of movies and music in Vkontakte continues to exists, it will be extremely hard for Facebook to compete with the third most visited website in Russia. However, what kind of serious competition can there be between two companies which have the same investor? Interestingly enough, Mail.Ru Group (formerly Digital Sky Technologies),  the Russian Internet investment company which has a 32.5% stake in Vkotakte, last year paid £125 million for a 2 per cent stake in Facebook. So I believe that Facebook and Vkontakte will coexist successfully in Russia and hopefully members of both networks will only benefit from some  healthy competition.

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16 Responses to “Why Facebook won’t beat Russia’s Vkontakte?”

  1. As Facebook Reaches 150 Million Mobile Users, It Aims for More of Them in Russia Says:

    [...] why Facebook may still have a long march into the country, as UK-based Russia social media blogger Katya Trubilova [...]

  2. As Facebook Reaches 150 Million Mobile Users, It Aims for More of Them in Russia | Internet Marketing Guide Says:

    [...] why Facebook may still have a long march into the country, as UK-based Russia social media blogger Katya Trubilova [...]

  3. My first outing into Russia’s biggest social media playground, Vkontakte. « Social media lessons from Russia and the UK Says:

    [...] My first outing into Russia’s biggest social media playground, Vkontakte. By Katya Trubilova Right now I’m working on a social media project on Russia’s largest social networking website, Vkontakte, you may remember me mentioning it in previous posts. [...]

  4. Russia and Eastern Europe See New Facebook Growth in August 2010 Says:

    [...] these networks may be able to offer something Facebook can’t. Here’s a recent take from local social media expert Katya Trubilova: Vkontakte offers a special feature which attracts more new members daily and makes them spend a [...]

  5. Alex Says:

    > Vkontakte has a less user-friendly interface than Facebook.
    do not agree. Russian mentality is different from americans. after 10 years of living in canada I still can not get used to american websites, I do not understand their”friendly” logic&design, guess friendly for the adds and other commercial junk coming right up front, but not for you as a human. I tried using facebook and I gave up.
    > lobby the Russian parliament to reform copyrights laws on the Internet. :-) in YOUR favor isn’t it?

  6. My first outing into Russia’s biggest social media playground, Vkontakte. | SOCIAL RUSSIA Says:

    [...] Right now I’m working on a social media project on Russia’s largest social networking website, Vkontakte, you may remember me mentioning it in previous posts. [...]

  7. Russia and Eastern Europe See New Facebook Growth in August 2010 | SOCIAL RUSSIA Says:

    [...] to Facebook, these networks may be able to offer something Facebook can’t. Here’s a recent take from local social media expert Katya Trubilova: Vkontakte offers a special feature which attracts more new members daily and makes them spend a [...]

  8. vincos Says:

    Thank you for your precious insights. Your brief interview is available here http://www.vincos.it/2010/09/20/social-network-in-russia-facebook-vs-vkontakte/

  9. SOCIAL RUSSIA | Blog | As Facebook Reaches 150 Million Mobile Users, It Aims for More of Them in Russia Says:

    [...] why Facebook may still have a long march into the country, as UK-based Russia social media blogger Katya Trubilova [...]

  10. Why Facebook Would Have Won in China if it Were a Free Market Says:

    [...] there are unique factors that explain Facebook’s failure. One Russian social media blogger writes, “thousands of pirated copies of domestic and foreign movies translated into Russian… [...]

  11. dia a dia, bit a bit… por Silvio Meira » orkut: isolado no brasil Says:

    [...] orkut domina, rússia, onde quem manda é uma operação local tocada por acionistas de facebook, vKontakte, japão, domínio de mixi, e china, onde QZone é a rede social predominante. ah, sim: na síria é [...]

  12. Facebook Maps the World | The Rendon Group Says:

    [...] there. Russia is dark on the Facebook map because another social media platform, vKontakte, is dominant in the [...]

  13. Thiago Says:

    In Brazil, Orkut is like Vkontakte in Russia and stands firm in fight with Facebook.

  14. george Says:

    forgot my password

  15. sencer Says:

    The difference is so apparent. Facebook, for the differentiation concept, has added tons of applications, ads and options, where they totally forgot to be simple, hence vkontakte is very succesful at keeping it basic. Facebook isn’t fun anymore, while using it, you have a feeling that it’s necessary to use it. I agree that people commenting on “vkontakte is an analogue copy of facebook” but still I like it being simple to use. Moreover, cheap netbooks are low in performance while using facebook so it get harder to use since netbooks started to penetrate.

  16. Nika Says:

    I was reading comments and I have to agree with Alex and disagree with ” Vkontakte has a less user-friendly interface than Facebook.
    do not agree. ”
    I have lived in North America over ten years, and I find that Russian people do have a different mentality. All people I know like vkontakte and I, too, like it MUCH more than facebook. I find Facebook chaotic, filled with too many unnecessary apps, etc. Vkontakte has an easy to understand structure and navigation, it’s functions are basic, though it has added some apps, too. Vkontakte seems to be trying to copy some of the facebook apps, and I would think that this can actually put it at a disadvantage. Vkontakte needs to stay different from facebook. Again, the point it that people are different, and for many Russians, just as it is for me, Vkontakte is a great website, and Facebook the one we don’t use unless we have to.
    And the last point, I would have to agree on Alex with his second comment, too. “lobby the Russian parliament to reform copyrights laws on the Internet.” US has its interests Russia has its own. It is unreasonable to expect that another country has to reform its law to satisfy other country’s requests and its own expense.
    And another thing is that while you probably can view some copyrighted movies vkontakte, many of the videos are Russian movies or clips, and I have not heard from any of the Russian people I know that they video option is the reason they like vkontakte so much. Video is a nice extra, for the majority it is not the reason why they use or like vkontakte. In fact, video is something relatively new, and vkontakte was very popular even prior to availability of that option.

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