Here in the States we tend to forget that to the rest of the world the Internet looks a little different. In Russia, for example, the most dominant browser is Opera, LiveJournal is the most popular blogging platform, and Yandex owns more than 60 percent of the search market, though that edge is slowly being eroded by Google.
As TechCrunch reports, Yandex is launching its own desktop browser and app store in an attempt to keep its Google comrades on the defensive.
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It turns out Yandex has already provided mapping data for the Russian bits of Apple's hilariously inept Maps app. (I understand the app automatically detects whether you are attempting to invade Moscow from the west and reroutes you through Krasnoyarsk.)
I was curious about the new browser, so I downloaded it.
Built on the Chromium open source code, it bears more than a passing resemblance to Google Chrome. Yandex itself looks like a Google clone, if you can ignore (or translate) the Cyrillic characters. And both the browser and the search engine are as fast as anything Google has churned out.
As soon as I launched it, a Skype "special offers" page popped up, and Yandex immediately offered to translate it to Russian. It was somehow less annoying in Cyrillic. Every so often, I got a page full of search results in Russian, until I learned to home page to Yandex.com and choose the option to "Never translate English." Even then, some parts of Yandex, like its maps, news, music, and market sections, are only available in Russian.
Also: In case you were wondering, every search term you use is automatically emailed to Vladimir Putin's inbox. So if you decide to go on a Pussy Riot MP3 download binge, don't say I didn't warn you.
Meanwhile in Facebookland, the same process appears to be happening in reverse. Mark Zuckerberg donned a suit and tie (really) to meet with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in Moscow. In Russia, Facebook is a lot like Google; with less than 7 million users, it's getting totally dusted by VK (VKontakte), which boasts more than 130 million members, and Odnoklassniki (essentially the Russian equivalent of Classmates.com, but hopefully less spammy) with more than 40 million.
I wasn't briefed on the substance of the meeting, but I understand Medvedev was hoping Zuckerberg would a) invest in a research center based in Russia instead of trying to lure away the country's top geek talent, and b) arrange a meeting for Medvedev with Kourtney Kardashian. I might be mistaken about one of those, I'm not sure.
Someday we may be using Russian browsers, search engines, and social networks -- if the Chinese don't beat them to it. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. But it would be a grave mistake to think that the Internet looks the same the world over, or to take the U.S. lead in social media and search for granted. Things change too damned quickly.
What would it take for you to switch your browser allegiance, comrade? Post your thoughts below or email me: email@example.com.
This article, "From Russia with love: A new browser," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.