Russia has World’s Most Engaged Social Networking Audience

By Karina Alexanyan

According to a recent report by ComScore, based on data from its World Metrix audience measurement service, Russians are the world’s most engaged social networkers. ComScore’s report is based on data collected over May 2009. According to the report, 1.1 billion people aged 15 or older went on line during that month, and 65% of those – or 734.2 million people – visited at least one social networking site.

According to ComScore’s measurements, Russians use social networking sites at a rate that far exceeds the global average – spending 6.6 hours per month on social networking sites (rather than the average 3.7), and viewing 1307 pages, rather than than the usual 525.

Russia was topped the list of 40 countries that Comscore measured. Brazil ranked close behind at 6.3 hours, followed by Canada (5.6 hours), Puerto Rico (5.3 hours) and Spain (5.3 hours). The U.S is at number 9, with 4.2 hours.

Top 20 Highest Engagement Social Networking Country Audiences

Country Average Hours per Visitor Average Pages per Visitor

World-Wide 3.7 525

Russia 6.6 1,307
Brazil 6.3 1,220
Canada 5.6 649
Puerto Rico 5.3 587
Spain 5.3 968
Finland 4.7 919
United Kingdom 4.6 487
Germany 4.5 793
United States 4.2 477
Colombia 4.1 473
Mexico 4.0 488
Chile 4.0 418
Ireland 3.8 462
Turkey 3.7 427
Venezuela 3.7 454
France 3.6 526
Australia 3.4 374
New Zealand 3.4 386
Switzerland 3.2 430
Italy 3.2 39

Source: Comscore

According to Comscore, 59% of Russia’s monthly internet audience (about 19 million) visited at least one social networking site in May, 2009. It is worth noting that this percentage is based on numbers that are slightly lower than FOM’s measurements for the same time period. Where Comscore reports a monthly internet audience of 15 and older in Russia of about 32 million people –FOM measures Russia’s monthly internet audience of adults 18 and older at 35 million.

Judging from their data, three Russian based sites clearly dominate online social networking – Vkontakte.ru (similar to Facebook) with 45% of the total internet audience, followed by Odnoklassniki.ru, (similar to Classmates) with almost 25%, and “My World” on Mail.ru, with 20% of the audience. The remaining sites have under 5% each.

*Out of the 38 individual countries currently reported on by comScore around the world.
**Excludes traffic from public computers such as Internet cafes or access from mobile phones or PDAs.

Vkontakte.ru is Russia’s Largest Social Networking Site

Of the 31.9 million people who accessed the Internet in Russia in April, 18.9 million visited at least one social networking site, representing a reach of 59 percent of the total online population. The most popular of these sites was Russian-based Vkontakte.ru with 14.3 million visitors, followed by Odnoklassniki.ru (7.8 million visitors), Mail.ru – My World (6.3 million visitors) and Fotostrana.ru (1.6 million visitors). Facebook.com attracted 616,000 Russian visitors, up 277 percent versus year ago.

A Selection of Leading Social Networking Sites in Russia

Property Total Unique Visitors (000) % Reach of Total Online Population
Total Russian Internet Audience 31,907 100%
Social Networking 18,877 59%
Vkontakte.ru 14,310 45%
Odnoklassniki.ru 7,750 24%
Mail.Ru – My World 6,321 20%
Fotostrana.ru 1,624 5%
Privet.ru 942 3%
Moikrug.ru 839 3%
 Facebook.com 616 2%
 Steamcommunity.com 433 1%
MySpace Sites 371 1%
Vkrugudruzei.ru 214 1%

Source: Comscore

It is interesting to note that this data does not consider LiveJournal as a social networking site. LiveJournal is Russia’s most popular blog hosting service, but it is more of a blog/social networking hybrid, as it has many social networking features such as a “friends” lists, communities etc. Including LJ data in this measurement would cause the numbers to skyrocket even further.

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More on Obama’s visit to Russia: What does the Russian public think?

We have already seen that Russian mainstream media have mostly neglected the meeting between Obama, Putin, and Medvedev, and the blogosphere was more interested in beer than in the US-Russia relationships. While the mainstream media can be viewed as the voice of the government and the bloggers as online elite, one can still wonder what did ordinary Russians think about this visit.

There is limited public opinion data about that. In June, the Analytical Center Levada ran two relevant surveys prior to Barak Obama’s visit. In the first, they asked about the Russians’ attitudes towards the US and in the second specifically towards Obama. It seems that the Russian attitude towards the US is cooling down. In May, only 36% of the respondents expressed a generally positive attitude, compared to 50% who expressed a generally negative attitude. Interestingly, however, when asked about their attitudes towards “Americans”, 68% expressed positive attitudes compared to only 22% who expressed negative attitudes. In the graph below you can see an index of Russian attitudes towards the US (not sure how it is calculated, but the general trend is consistent with the rest of the data).

Index of attitudes towards USA

Russian Attitudes towrds US

(Source: Levada Center)

Similar trends can be found in a survey conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM). There, prior to the visit, 62% of the respondents viewed the global role of the US as negative, and only 12% viewed is as positive. Also, 64% of the respondents viewed the US as an unfriendly to Russia country and only 18% viewed it as friendly.

Consistent with the attitudes towards the US, Levada data suggests that most Russians (65%) view the US-Russian relations as normal or “cool”. Majority (57%) of the respondents did not think that Obama replacing George W. Bush as the president of the US changed anything in the US-Russia relations, but 28% believed it would have a positive meeting. Also, 42% of the respondents expressed optimism that the meeting between Putin and Medvedev will have a positive impact on the US-Russia relations, while 39% thought it would make no difference. At the same time, according to FOM survey 24% of the respondents reported a positive attitude towards Obama, as opposed to 9% who reported a negative attitude (54% did not have any opinion).

How will the relationships between Russia and USA change following the June meeting between the two presidents.

Russian Opinion about the prospects of the meeting

(Source: Eurasian Home)

Some post-visit data provided by FOM suggests that Obama’s visit actually had positive impact on the Russian attitudes towards the US. To start with, 40% of the respondents viewed the results of the meeting as important (as opposed to 18% who thought the results were insignificant). Prior to the visit, only 18% of Russians viewed the US as a friendly to Russia, after the visit this percentage went up to 31%. Also, the percentage of those who view the global role of the US as positive went from 12% to 23%.

It is really interesting to see that despite the very limited media attention, Obama’s visit was the main media event of the week for the Russian people. 19% of the respondents viewed Obama’s visit as the most important event covered in the media during that week, placing it in the first place. This is almost twice as much as the percentage of people who expressed the same opinion about the G8 summit in Italy (10%) and Michael Jackson’s death (6%) – the other leading topics of that week. For comparison, during the previous week, Michael Jackson’s death was the leading media event, but with only 8% of the respondents indicating it as such. Yet, we should take these numbers in context, as 53% could not identify a leading media event of the week at all.

“During the last week, what event reported in the media drew most of your attention or was the most interesting?” (open question)

Russian Public Opinion July15

(Source: FOM)

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Iran Moves to Enforce New Cyber Law

Al Jazeera is reporting that disputed President Ahmadinejad is moving to enforce a new Internet law that would force ISPs in the country to retain information created by their users for up to three months. According to government-backed Press TV, the law requiring capture of user content will make users “more safe.” However, given the role of the Internet in sharing information about formal and informal protests of the unresolved election results, it is hard to see how this law is anything but another way for the government to limit speech within the country. Our own Rob Faris is quoted on this count:

Rob Faris, a research director at the Harvard University’s Berkman Centre, told Al Jazeera that the new law could serve as an additional tool for the authorities to keep an eye on cyberspace.

‘For blogs that include restricted content, this legislation could give authorities one more way to go after them, though this doesn’t seem needed. The government has not been constrained in the past by a lack of legal instruments.’

Not everyone in the country appears overly concerned, since Iranian users have grown adept at getting around existing censorship and filtering efforts by the government. As Iranian blogger Potkin Azarmehr told Al Jazeera:

Given how internet savvy the young Iranians are and the help they are getting from Iranian expats, whatever law Ahmadinejad passes, there will be a way round it.

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Zittrain Questions the Cloud

Always looking ahead to the future of the Internet, Berkman co-founder Jonathan Zittrain has a great op-ed in the New York Times today that questions the wisdom of moving our data from our PCs, which requires a hacker to break into your computer or network to steal your data, versus cloud computing (personal data stored and retrieved on the Internet–think Google Calender, Google docs, etc.) While storing data in the cloud might seem like a great idea, since you don’t have to worry about losing your data when you accidentally drop your laptop in the pool, Zittrain reminds us there are some real dangers, especially for those living in restrictive speech environments:

If you entrust your data to others, they can let you down or outright betray you….The cloud can be even more dangerous abroad, as it makes it much easier for authoritarian regimes to spy on their citizens. The Chinese government has used the Chinese version of Skype instant messaging software to monitor text conversations and block undesirable words and phrases. It and other authoritarian regimes routinely monitor all Internet traffic — which, except for e-commerce and banking transactions, is rarely encrypted against prying eyes.

Check it out.

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Big 3 on the Information Superhighway

With the resignation of Obama Car Czar Steven Rattner, the Big 3 –Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler– are reeling, and attention has again focused on automotive management of Federal bailout money.  E.M. Forster’s Internet “screens with a view,” could provide insights on strategic, regional brand and inventory decisions.

Regional Search Query Interest in Hybrid Cars.

Regional Google Search Query Interest in Hybrid Cars.

Within the Big 3, brand management and differentiation remains challenging.  However, Google Insights for Search indicates relative strengths, direction and amplitude of trending, and geographic hotbeds.  At Ford Motor Company, Lincoln has more than double the search volume as Mercury, and three times that of Volvo.  But while Mercury has interest in Kansas, Oregon, and California, Volvo is predominately popular in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.  In fact, seven of the top ten “Volvo” query states are in New England.

Regional Internet Interest in Pickup Trucks.

Regional Google Search Query Interest in Pickup Trucks.

Comparing common models such as Sedan, SUV, Hatchback, Hybrid, and Pickup, managers would discover relative consumer preferences, and see that online interest –arguably a leading indicator of consumer engagement– is highly regional.  Over the past 90-days, American Google search volume on “Hybrid” cars is 265 percent greater than “Sedan,” and 900 percent greater than search on “Hatchback” vehicles.  But automotive managers would also realize that consumers in the Northeast are are increasingly interested in Hybrid vehicles, while Hatchbacks have strong popularity in Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest.  Despite rising oil prices, online queries about Sport Utility Vehicles (SUV) remain highly popular across the Southern United States, from Texas to Florida.

Regional Google Search Query Interest in Hatchback Cars.

Regional Google Search Query Interest in Hatchback Cars.

With SUV online popularity strong in Southern states, Ford executives might compare search volumes across their line of relevant vehicles, namely the Expedition, Explorer, Escape, and Edge.  While the Ford Expedition and Edge have comparable interest, there is 60 percent greater search volume on the Escape, and 140 percent on Ford Explorer.  However, the Ford Expedition’s limited Internet traffic comes from the region with the strongest ties to Sport Utility Vehicles.  Despite the Explorer’s popularity in Alaska, the Escape’s popularity in Michigan, and the Edge’s popularity in Iowa, the Expedition’s most interested consumers hail from Louisiana, Texas, and Florida.  By understanding regional interests in vehicle type, Ford could better target appropriate vehicles regionally.

Regional Google Search Query Interest in SUVs.

Regional Google Search Query Interest in SUVs.

As Steven Rattner makes a return to Cerberus Capital –on the shores of the Hudson, if not the River Styx– his replacement would be apt to consult Internet search as a leading indicator of consumer behavior. The Big 3 may yet become reliant on Gore’s Information Superhighway as much as they have on Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway.

Internet Newspapers Blossom in Iran

internet-newspapers-iran

Hamid Tehrani has an excellent post on the emergence of underground, online newspapers that have sprung up since the disputed Iranian election. He argues that these newspaper allow Iranians to communicate in the face of increased repression. Hamid writes:

Dozens of journalists and bloggers have been imprisoned, pro-reformist websites have been filtered and a few not-yet-banned reformist journals such as Etemad Meli are under intensified surveillance. Under such difficult circumstances for the media, we are witnessing a new phenomenon inside Iran: the emergence of “underground” Internet newspapers.

At the end of June, at least two such newspapers were launched: Khyaboon (”Street”) and Kalam Sabz (”Green Word”) where the word “green” is a reference to Mir Hussein Mousavi’s campaign colors. So far, Khyaboon has published 13 issues and Kalam Sabz has published 10. Khyaboon is available only by email and the paper has no website or blog. Kalam Sabz also uses email, but has a website. Both journals are distributed in PDF file format.

Both Khyaboon and Kalam Sabz are firmly against Ahmadinejad and Khamenei’s decision to accept the election results, as well as suppression of the protest movement. This is demonstrated in recent headlines from the two papers:

“What is going on in the silence of Evin prison;”
“Stop forcing confessions;”
“Khatami: It was a velvet Coup against people.”

Hamid’s analysis of political trends in the two papers shows that Kalam Sabz “largely reflects the opinions and statements of reformist leaders and parties” while Khayaboon is more of a “radical-left journal, which criticizes even Mousavi for his inaction.”

Check out the full story on Global Voices; it’s well worth the read.

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Russian Human Rights Activist Found Dead

natayia_estemirova_1443908c
Photo: AP

The Telegraph is reporting that Natalia Estemirova, a human rights activist with the famous Russian human rights group Memorial, was found dead on Wednesday after suffering a ‘violent death.’ She was found in Ingushetia after being kidnapped earlier in Chechnya. Estemirova had covered abuses in Chechnya and openly criticized the Moscow installed leader, Ramzan Kadirov. The war in general is a topic that is largely off limits for Russian mainstream media.

The group she worked for, Memorial, is highly regarded in rights circles and was formed in the last days of the Soviet Union to investigate political repression under Stalin. Last year, the government raided their offices and confiscated the archives the group had compiled for decades about atrocities carried out under Stalin.

Estemirova was a close friend and colleague of Anna Politovskaya, the Novaya Gazeta journalist who was killed, most believe, for her critical coverage of the Chechen war. Estemirova traveled frequently with Politovskaya in Chechnya and won an award named after Politovskaya for investigative journalism.

Blogger Robert Amsterdam’s early reaction:

Her sudden kidnapping and murder is a most vile act, one that is almost unspeakable in its hideous brutality. Yet it is also a murder that we should not consider in isolation. There is a long history of tolerated attacks against journalists and human rights activists, and a climate for impunity and rule of law that holds no one accountable for this kind of crime. The message is clear and not undesirable for some elements of the government: those of courage who challenge the status quo may find themselves paying a high price.

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Google: Tomorrow’s Silicon (not Crystal) Ball

The Silicon Valley has yet to create true forecasting technology, but certain online tools are providing voyeurs with the ability to interpret political events in terms of observable changes over time. In some cases, comparing relative change over time with against an expected baseline of activity can indicate predictive deviations. Explosive growth in use of the term “SBY” across Internet platforms corroborated what polling said off-line: Incumbent President Yudhoyono was re-election bound. And Google Trends data stood in contrast to polling expectations that Jusuf Kalla would lead Megawati in second place.  Google, and not polling data, corroborated actual electoral ordering.

Last Wednesday, on July 8th, Indonesia swiftly completed the second direct democratic presidential election in the country’s history. According to a national polling group, Lembaga Survei Indonesia (LSI), incumbent Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (popularly referred to as “SBY”) won 60.82 percent of the vote, with the opposing Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) candidate Megawati winning 26.57 percent, and the Golkar party candidate Jusuf Kalla taking 12.61 percent. Despite tepid claims that 5.9 million fictitious names had been included among the eligible voters (made by Megawati’s billionaire financial contributor, Hashim Djojohadikusumo), the election took place without incident.

LSI Regional Presidential Election Data.

LSI Regional Presidential Election Data.

Observation of relative trends over time has been used in many contexts. For example, Raymond Fisman, co-author of Economic Gangsters, observed corruption by monitoring stock prices and news. Under the Indonesian Suharto regime, insider-information as to Suharto’s health moved the then-Jakarta Stock Exchange before news became public. In this case, insider information, driven by concealed concern over political change, facilitated opportunistic buying and selling of stock that, in moving the market price, helped reveal corrupt practices.

Today, Internet users reveal themselves publicly in a variety of ways that collaboratively paint a picture of preferences and concerns that, if not generally applicable to the populous, are immediately reflective of the online demographic in the region. In Internet ecosystems such as the Netherlands, where 90 percent of the population is online, or in the United States, where 72 percent of Americans have access, Internet trends can be more widely extrapolated to indicate the public ethos. In Indonesia, despite its low Internet penetration of roughly 5 percent, the Internet is still a useful tool to observe opinion on important issues as well as regional strongholds of support.

Over the course of 90 days leading up to the election, top Google queries across Indonesia almost exclusively included references to popular networking sites such as Facebook and Friendster. As such, among connected Indonesians, use of social networking platforms is important. “Facebook Lexicon,” a tool that allows one to observe trends of terms or topics used in “wall posts” between friends, becomes relevant in indicating shifting ethos. Within the Indonesian Facebook demographic — admittedly a small and likely young group– Facebook Lexicon reveals that over the last year there has been significant change in topics of on-site political discussion.

While Facebook is a networking and discussion platform and its use typically involves conversation, active use of Google search engine indicates explicit interest. And over the same period, data from Google Insights for Search queries confirms a swelling Internet interest in incumbent candidate SBY. Since January 1, 2009, Google queries across Indonesia on “SBY” grew by 625 percent, compared with 40 percent on “Mega.” While relative search on “Jusuf Kalla” increased by 1100 percent, his absolute search volume was roughly 90 percent lower than SBY.

Telephone polling without regard for demographics.

Telephone polling without regard for demographics.

Retrospective analysis is always problematic. One must be wary of ex-ante conditions observed ex-post, and the ease of false attribution. And as was seen in the telephone polls of American voters prior to the 1948 presidential election, the misinterpretation of niche trends for alterations in public opinion can yield headlines such as “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN,” perhaps the greatest Chicago Daily Tribune gaffe. But as Google.org and the CDC have shown, aggregated search engine query data can, by observing online health-seeking activity, “accurately estimate the current level of weekly influenza activity in each region of the United States.” In politics, if the frequency of Internet user queries about candidates correlates with the percentage of votes cast, then perhaps this information could also be applied to pre-election statistics, which could augment offline polling data on connected demographics.

Pre-election polling by LSI and other Indonesian polling groups showed SBY leading followed by Jusuf Kalla.  Putative belief was that Megawati was entirely out of the running. Pre-election Google search query data pointed to an online reality that Megawati was still garnering much attention.  In fact, nationally, the results for actual votes cast more closely followed the numbers of Internet search query data –not domestic polling numbers. Perhaps such observation is mere coincidence. Perhaps Internet Search Analytics is an increasingly important data point to cohere with off-line demographic polling.  Today the online information-seeking behavior of a geographically diverse sample of connected Indonesians is perhaps illustrative of broader pre-electoral interests. It’s not perfect, and its scope is limited to Internet penetration, but I’m betting that tomorrow’s crystal ball could be made of silicon.

Azerbaijan Defends the Honor of Their Donkeys, Silences Critics

Apparently, Azerbaijan’s leaders don’t have much of a sense of humor. Azeri bloggers created this satirical video to poke fun at the government for reportedly paying nearly $180,000 for, well, donkeys, including $18,500 for just one of the beasts. But, corruption is corruption, whether your talking about Boeing KC-767 refueling tankers or pack animals, and the government was not pleased. According to Global Voices, the two were arrested and charged with ‘hooliganism’ after they were attacked in a local restaurant and reported the incident to the police.

Unfortunately, Azerbaijan is one of those countries in the former Soviet region that doesn’t get much attention unless there’s a spat over pipelines for shipping gas and oil to Europe, and that is probably useful for the government in cases like this. Let’s hope enough bad press convinces the Azeri government to lighten up.

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Russia Labeled “Partly Free” in 2009 “Freedom on the Net” Report

By Karina Alexanyan

Freedom House recently released a report examining emerging tactics of government control of digital media, with a focus on 15 countries around the world, including Russia. The report, “Freedom on the Net”, concludes that increasing digital media access and use worldwide is accompanied by more systematic and sophisticated methods of control.

The countries examined were Russia, China, Iran, Brazil, Cuba, Egypt, Estonia, Georgia, India, Kenya, Malaysia, South Africa, Tunisia, Turkey and the UK.

statuschart
All Images: Freedom On the Net

The key positive findings of the report suggest that poverty is not necessarily a barrier to new media freedom, that civic activism is growing around the world and that, in many cases, internet freedom exceeds press freedom. On a negative note, there is a continued lack of transparency and accountability, growing legal threats and technical attacks, and an increase in forms of censorship.

The report is organized around a Freedom on the Net index, which scores each country on a scale of 1-100, based on three main categories – Obstacles to Access (governmental, legal, infrastructural & economic), Limits to Content (various forms of censorship and content manipulation, diversity of online news media, and usage of digital media for activism) and Violations of User Rights (legal protections and restrictions, privacy violations and various legal and physical repercussions for online activity).

Based on these parameters, Russia is labeled “Partly Free” with a total score of 51. Specifically, Russia’s scores are:
Obstacles to Access – 11 out of 25
Limits to Content – 17 out of 35
Violations of User Rights – 23 out of 40

score-breakoutpdf-page-24-of-126

The Russia section of the report begins by positioning the internet in Russia against the elimination of independent television channels in 2000-01 and the tightening of press regulations, labeling it “the last relatively uncensored platform for public debate and the expression of political opinions”.

digital-v-traditionalpdf-page-29-of-126
First bar: Internet; Second Bar: Traditional Media
Yellow=Partly Free; Purple=Not Free

At the same time, the report points out that “many Russians view the internet as a proper sphere for governmental control.” According to a Levada-Center poll taken in December 2006, almost half the population would either “absolutely agree” or “rather agree” with the statement “It’s time to bring order to the internet.”

The report concludes that, while there is little overt technical blocking or filtering in Russia, the legal environment has become more threatening, and there are increasing cases of sophisticated “soft censorship” (described in more detail below) and a rising number of attacks or threats to internet activists and bloggers. Russia joins other “Partly Free” countries like Egypt and Malaysia as a case where “government encouraged improvements in access to ICTs and relatively little censorship are offset by harsh legal environments, state monitoring and a rise in criminal prosecutions.”

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