The non-US and non-English Web segments have been boosted by a growing trend towards PC penetration and cheaper Internet access in the last couple of years. The US share of the global population online, once above ninety percent, is now under a quarter, while the number of Internet users who do not speak English at all continues to grow.
The Asia-Pacific region remains a key contributor to the increase in the number of non-English speakers on the Web, but the Russian Internet, aka Runet, demonstrates the accelerated pace of development as well.
The Russian language on the Web was represented by 2.7 percent in March 2003, said Global Reach (http://www.global-reach.biz/globstats/index.php3), a consultancy that tracks non-English online populations. The share is quite minor, compared to English with its 35.2 percent. However, the growth rate of Runet is far more exciting; the Russian Internet audience has tripled over the last two years, registering a 40 percent increase annually. The February 2003 Report by SpyLOG (http://gs.spylog.ru/interesting.phtml?id=51%20) indicates that the total users who surf the Russian portion of the Internet have reached about 15 million, 60 percent of whom live in Russia and seven percent in Ukraine. Moscow and St.-Petersburg account for 53 percent of the total Internet users in Russia. Similarly, the Ukrainian Internet surveys reveal that the vast majority (70 percent) of Ukrainian users live in Kiev, Odessa, Dnepropetrovsk, Kharkov and Donetsk, according to freenet.kiev.ua and mct.kiev.ua as quoted in Kyiv Post Business March 20, 2003.
The Ukrainian user base grows as fast as its Russian counterpart. The total Internet users in Ukraine reached 2.5 million by year-end 2002, a 150 percent increase in a year, said the head of the Ukrainian State Committee for Communications and Information Technologies (http://mignews.com.ua/events/ukraine/73927.html). Independent marketers confirm the recent trends on the Ukrainian Internet, or Uanet for short. For example, eRus.ru (http://www.e-rus.ru/news/2003/03/251511_3939.shtml) quoted GfK-USM, a marketing company, as stating that the regular Internet users in Ukraine accounted for 6.4 percent of the total population (3.1 million of 48.4 million) in February 2003, and the number of the users who purchased products or services through the Internet was doubled when compared to February 2002.
Internet Access and Prices
Dial-up connection is the most common way of accessing the Internet in both Russia and Ukraine. The Ukrainian dial-up users, for example, pay $0.1 to $2.0 an hour for Internet access, depending on an ISP, time of day and availability of callback services. The monthly charge for unmetered access in Kiev currently ranges from about $4 (midnight to 9.00 a.m. with no callback support) to about $40 (24-hour access via callback service). The callback service in Kiev will save you about $0.4/hour, an additional fee charged by Ukrtelecom for connection to the local telephone line.
The broadband access is rather expensive, ranging from $40/month (IDSN, 64 K/s, 1 GB monthly data transfer) to $300/month (dedicated line, 64-128 K/s, unlimited transfer) with a set-up fee of $200 to 300, plus some hidden charges that are quite common for the local providers. Thus, only corporate clients can enjoy the privilege of broadband subscription.
What Users are Searching for?
Like Internet users worldwide, the majority of Russian and Ukrainian surfers search the Web for information. A Yandex poll (http://www.yandex.ru/polling/9.html) shows that about 24 percent searchers use the Web for easy reference and over 15 percent use it as a research tool. A further 12 percent of those polled said the Internet was a news source for them while only 14 percent preferred online entertainment services. An increase in personal consumption in Russia and Ukraine has made a positive impact on the regional Internet. Russians and Ukrainian are increasingly relying on the Internet in order to evaluate products or services before they make their final decision to buy, whether online or offline. Currently, about 1200 online shops are listed in Magazin.ru, the largest Russian e-commerce catalogue, while CNews.ru (http://www.cnews.ru/reviews/online/) reported last year that the total number of operational online shops in Runet was 500 at the beginning of 2002. The most e-shops are online outlets of bricks-and-mortar businesses, but some "pure" online stores have opened their virtual doors as well. Most notable are bookstores such as Ozon, Biblio Globus and Books in Russia, and Bookshop, AzBooKa and Bambook in Ukraine. Despite a certain lack of high-quality online offerings in Runet and Uanet, surprisingly few Western sites offer the products and services that need no customs clearance. For example, web hosting fees in Ukraine are about two to eight times higher than those somewhere in the United States, but the service providers abroad seem to be in no hurry to enter the local market. This is also true for e-books, especially on programming and computing.
Spam and Spamdexing
Despite spam is still flourishing on the Russian Web, unsolicited email messages in Runet are far less aggressive than the email marketing campaigns in the US, when a news subscriber may receive bundles of advert mailings that are vaguely associated with his/her initial subscription.
The more pressing issue for both users and search engines is spamdexing, i.e. unfair tricks aimed at attaining high rankings in search engines. Searching Runet for a particular key phrase can give you dozens of mirrors and doorways. Some successful SE optimizers in Russia and Ukraine openly advertise that their promotion techniques are solely based on building doorways or cloaking, which currently seems unwise on the global Internet.
The top Russian search engines fight against spam in much as the most popular search engines do worldwide. For example, Yandex and Rambler penalize websites for using unfair tricks and encourage Runet users to report search engine spam. Many professional programmers and webmasters also voice their concerns about spamdexing. Articles by A. Shkondin at ClubPro.spb.ru (http://clubpro.spb.ru/) provide some classic examples of how spammers play games with the Russian search engines and Internet surfers.
About The Author
Vyacheslav Melnik is the founder and owner of AzureL10n (http://azurel10n.com/), a website specializing in web localization, copywriting and search engine optimization for Runet and Uanet, the Russian and Ukrainian portions of the Internet.