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.