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assive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), Internet education programs, are a boon for businesses, students and universities. The revenues from individually paced e-learning courses will grow about 9 percent from 2010 to 2015 and reach almost $50 billion, according to a document from the 2011 Comprehensive Report of the Ambient Insight, a market research firm that identifies revenue opportunities for global learning technology suppliers. E-learning — which means education using the Internet and multimedia tools — is becoming more widespread, not only in the United States (which accounts for more than 50 percent of the worldwide e-learning market), but around the world. Ambient Insight predicts that India will see market growth of almost 60 percent from 2010 to 2015, followed by other Asian countries such as China (some 50 percent), Malaysia (about 40 percent) and Indonesia (about 25 percent). Among the top-10 countries that will experience considerable five-year growth are such Eastern European countries as Romania (38 percent), Poland (28 percent), and Ukraine (20 percent). Meanwhile, Russia seems to be falling behind in applying e-learning techniques in education, as indicated by the 2012 report of the SeeMedia e-learning service agency, which conducts Webinars and online training. Business education has spurred e-learning in Russia, but Russia has still failed to keep up with other countries. Educational experts say Russia may be lagging five to seven years behind the rest of the world.
CONTINUED ON PAGE 3
THE RUSSIAN INTERNET COMES OF AGE In 2014, the Russian segment of the Internet, popularly known as the Runet, celebrated its 20th anniversary. The date April 7, 1994, when the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) allocated the domain extension .ru to Russia, is considered the birthday of the Runet. This milestone should have been an occasion to take stock of the accomplishments the Runet has made during its short life, such as the number of Russian Web companies that have been established, the number of Russian programs and programmers recognized internationally and the revenue generated by Russians doing business online. But this spring, the only thing Russian Internet analysts were discussing was the state’s ongoing attempts to extend control over the Runet. Sergei Plugotarenko, the director of the Russian Association of Electronic Communications, notes that this trend toward increased regulation began two years ago.“The era in which the state began to show an interest in controlling individual segments of Runet and the network as a whole started in 2012,” he said. Since September 2012, at least 10 laws have been passed affecting the operation of the Internet in Russia. The first wave of bills were aimed at protecting children from harmful content on the net. Sites were required to clearly indicate the appropriate age level for their content using the same symbols as television programs and movies. Additionally, a special depart-
For many years, the Internet in Russia went practically unregulated by the state. Today, the Web’s rising influence means more oversight. ment in the Ministry of Communications, called Roskomnadzor, was given the power to block sites that display information considered damaging to children. Such harmful material includes information about drug use, suicide and child pornography. Then, in 2013, the state began a campaign to crackdown on pirated media online. The original bill drafted by the Ministry of Culture stated that users as well as owners of illegal content would be punishable by law. After strong protests by the public, the law was softened slightly. However it still allows sites that distribute copyrighted material for free to be shut down without a court order. It’s not only the content of these laws that the members of the Russian Internet community find questionable; they are also concerned about the way the laws were passed. With few exceptions, the legislation was drafted without consulting the community of digital experts. This trend towards increased regulation has continued in 2014. Already this year a law has been passed that allows sites to be blocked for“inciting illegal actions,” as well as a law that requires blogs with more than 3,000
visitors per month to be registered with Roskomnadzor and to follow many of the same regulations required by mass media outlets. A third law bans anonymous electronic payments. For the Runet, this situation is a new phenomenon. For the majority of its history, the Russian segment of the Internet was shaped by private business, and existed in almost complete isolation from the state. Moreover, in comparison with traditional forms of media in Russia like newspapers and television, which are primarily state-controlled, the Internet has long been considered a place for a free discussion of ideas and for transparent business transactions.
How it all began Of course Russians did not begin to go online in 1994. The Soviet Union was given the domain extension .su in 1990. As in other countries at the time, the only people who used the Internet were staff at scientific institutions. After it left the confines of the academic community, the Runet was for many years the preserve of enthusiasts and experimentalists, including Maxim Moshkov, the founder of the first online library in Russia; Anton
Nosik, the author of the first Russianlanguage blog; and Artemiya Lebedeva, the founder of the first Russian web design studio. “The Internet only worked as a business for the communications companies,” said Nosik. “The reason for this was that whatever the cost of dial-up access to the Internet was, this price would nevertheless be paid. If users are paying this price it is in your interests to reach more users.” The heads of many of Russia’s largest Internet companies cite the financial crisis of 1998 as one of the events that facilitated the spread of the Internet in Russia. Search engine firm Yandex, founded in 1997; online media company RosBusinessConsulting, founded in 1995; and Runet’s first Internet shop Ozon.ru, established in 1998; exploded after the crisis due to the low costs of labor and the need for up-to-date information. The Runet audience remained small through the early 2000s. The popular view is that this relatively low number of users helped the Internet avoid the gaze of the Russian authorities for so long. By 2011, however, the Runet audience had reached 51 million users and
the Internet was an integral part of the daily and professional lives of millions of Russians. They learned how to purchase goods online, use Wikipedia and check email, mostly using the Russian email service Mail.ru. In 2013, Mail.ru group issued an I.P.O. on the London stock exchange. Under these circumstances, it was no longer possible for the Runet to remain under the radar.
Big Business In 2008, Dmitry Medvedev was elected president of Russia. He often underlined the need for modern and innovative technology for the country’s development. Medvedev set up an account on Twitter and made it known that the Internet was his main source of news. Additionally, Internet firms began making big money. German Klimenko, general director and owner of the web firm Liveinternet said: “Money was invested into the Internet, and from a small community, as Yandex put it ‘everything blossomed’, and it became big business with everyone making their mark.” Today, the Runet is set to become one the key sectors in the Russian economy. In a meeting with the leaders of Russian Internet companies in June, President Vladimir Putin announced that the annual turnover for the Internet market in Russia in 2013 had exceeded 1 billion rubles ($88 million) and had reached 1.7 percent of the country’s GDP.
“The indigenous Internet sector is growing across all key parameters,” said Sergei Plugotarenko.“The Runet is growing at several percent per year across all these parameters. Therefore in Russia the Internet is not simply a dynamically developing segment, it is overtaking almost all other forms of media, economics, and the environment.” Plugotarenko noted, however, that growth has npw slowed to 20-30 percent per year, down from 30-50 percent three years ago. He thinks that this slowdown is not directly linked to increased state control, but rather that the sector has matured and the decrease is part of a natural economic cycle. “Taking into consideration that laws are debated, passed and come into force every 6-12 months on average, if one was to ignore those quickfire initiatives, which were passed in a very short timeframe, it would be too early to talk about any significant impact the new laws have had on the Internet,” Plugotarenko said. In his opinion, it will not be possible to assess how the latest legislative initiatives have impacted Runet before 2015. ■KONSTANTIN BENYUMOV Konstantin Benyumov is a Moscowbased journalist who has covered the Russian media landscape for various local publications. He is also editor-inchief of the publication TheRunet.
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RUSSIA’S ZUCKERBERG LOSES HIS FACEBOOK the F.S.B. not because of any political convictions, but because he was anxious for VK to remain competitive. In spring 2013,VK became the subject of several unflattering reports in the media, prompting some to suspect a deliberate attack on the company. Its culmination came with reports that Durov had allegedly run over a traffic policeman. There was no evidence to substantiate the accusations, and charges were later dropped, but the damage was done to Durov’s reputation and to that of the company. Following the negative publicity
YEVGENY TRIFONOV EXPERT
fter a series of conflicts between management and shareholders, Russia’s most popular social network,VKontakte (VK), lost its charismatic founder and C.E.O., Pavel Durov, in April. Three months later, Durov has yet to be replaced and the controversy over his departure continues. Was Durov a victim of politics, or was the decision based purely on business interests? Durov founded VKontakte in 2006 when he was a student at St. Petersburg State University. Facebook was already available in the United States at that time, but it was practically unknown in Russia. Durov, one of the few Russians to have seen it, was inspired by it, and his new project was clearly based on the American social network. Very quickly, VK became the most popular social network in Russia. Its similarity to Facebook gradually decreased as the creative team introduced new ideas and platforms suited to the Russian market. One of these was a service that allowed users to download audio files for free, which caused the site’s popularity to explode even as copyright holders criticized the policy. With this service, Durov created one of the world’s largest libraries of pirated recordings. Although individual tracks could be removed from the site at the request of copyright holders, the number of pirated tracks on the site continued to grow. For Durov, maintaining the library was not just a way of making VK more attractive
Durov’s controversial decisions led observers to note that he seemed to be modeling his management style on Steve Jobs.
for users — it was a matter of principle. Maintaining free access to media content was not the only Durov principle that generated controversy. Durov also rejected aggressive monetization and was reluctant to block access to pornography. Additionally, he was committed to running his site with a small staff. Over time, Durov developed a reputation as a maverick who made bold decisions but controlled all the project’s development. To outside observers, Durov seemed to be modeling his management style on Apple co-
a bid to acquire all of VK, to which Durov’s responded with an Instagram photo of a middle finger with the caption:“Official reply to the Mail.Ru trash holding company’s attempts to take over VK.” In late 2011, this explosive mix was further complicated by a political component. Durov refused a request from the Federal Security Service (F.S.B.) to block opposition groups’ accounts that were used to organize antigovernment protests in Russia. Durov became a hero for the opposition, but only until he explained he said no to
founder and former C.E.O., Steve Jobs. Since Durov did not hold a majority share in VK, to carry out some of his boldest decisions he needed the support of the other co-owners, Vyacheslav Mirilashvili and Lev Leviev. At one point, relations between the three turned so sour that Durov deleted Mirilashvili’s and Leviev’sVK accounts. As the site grew,VK needed new investment for development. Eventually, one of Russia’s Internet giants, Mail. Ru Group, purchased 39.99 percent of the social network. The company made
NEW SEARCH ENGINE GOES FOR SIMPLE YURI SINODOV ANALYST
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estate, and purchasing train and airline tickets. A widget in the search results lists the nearest government agencies to the user, such as the nearest medical clinic or police station. When Sputnik’s creators talk about their audience, they are not referring to Moscow hipsters who check in on Facebook and update their Instagram accounts. They are not interested in reaching those who live their lives online, but in those who are interested in using the Internet to simplify their lives. According to Alexei Basov, Sputnik is aimed at those who have only recently gained access to the Internet, or who use it very rarely. Older people may not want to send their friends pictures of their dacha gardens on Snapchat, but they may be interested in using the Web to learn more about growing techniques, what kind of plants are best for the local climate or getting weather predictions.They might also welcome the ability to use the Internet to pay their electricity bills or register their vehicles. Because of Sputnik’s association with the government, users who want to take advantage of
he search engine Sputnik (sputnik.ru), which was officially launched in a Beta version at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in May, is the third public search engine that Russian programmers have created. Developed by KM Media, a subsidiary of state-controlled telecommunications company Rostelekom, the site will prioritize official pages and facilitate interaction with government institutions. Its developers say that Sputnik hopes to become one of the top-10 sites in terms of traffic on the Russianlanguage segment of the Internet. According to research company TNS, the top-10 sites currently include the search engines Google andYandex;YouTube; social networking sites Facebook, VKontakte and Odnoklassniki; Wikipedia; blogging platform LiveJournal; and Avito, which is similar to Craigslist. Sputnik has been called an attempt to create a state-controlled search engine to compete with Yandex, whose influence on the Russian media landscape has been monitored by the government since 2008. Yandex, which dominates search on the Internet’s Russian segment, sees itself as a Web company competing with Google and not a media holding. It has argued that it should not be subject to government monitoring since only its homepage,Yandex.ru, has any media influence and that the stories that link from the page are only news stories, not analytical or opinion texts. Given the influence that Russian government officials believe that companies such asYandex have over Russian citizens, it is no surprise that the government wants control over a search engine. The developers of Sputnik,
however, say that their search engine has a completely different concept. Alexei Basov, a vice president at Rostelekom and one of the creators of Sputnik, told journalists that Sputnik wants to ensure that official sources of information take priority in search query results, particularly for queries linked to how citizens interact with social institutions. Rostelekom’s position is that users do not need comprehensive search results, but reliable ones. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who is known for his Internet-savvy and use of Twitter, first advocated a national search engine during his presidency. Medvedev considered the creation of a search engine a point of pride for the government and a sign that it was interested in developing IT in Russia and getting more Russians online. Today the creators of Sputnik are trying to distance themselves from the state, but they emphasize that an important part of their project is to help citizens interact with government institutions as well as private businesses in taking care of such matters as receiving government documents, paying utilities, registering cars and real
these services can be assured that the site is up-to-date on the latest regulations and all the instructions are in accordance with the most recent legislation. These potential users do not need to be attracted with the latest technology available. They are not looking for a search engine with a “wow effect.” They use the Internet not to pass the time, but to conduct business more efficiently than can be done offline. Strange as it may seem to people who get most of their news from their Twitter feeds, there are those — and not only seniors — who use the Internet simply as a tool, and not a world they need to explore. Sputnik is for them. The search engine emphasizes security, and users can choose the level of security that works for them. It is impossible to turn off the “safe search” function completely. The search engine also has options that make it accessible for people with disabilities — particularly those with visual impairments. Making the Internet more accessible was a priority for Sputnik’s creators because the state has an obligation to improve life for Russians with disabilities. At the moment, Sputnik is not accessible to users outside of Russia, but its developers say that eventually the site will be available to users from every corner of the globe. And although the site does intend to earn money from advertising, while it remains in Beta, no ads will appear on Sputnik. According to Basov, Sputnik will initially rely on investment and would be supported by Rostelekom’s role as both an infrastructure company and a national telecom provider. Most Internet companies focus on what they can add to their platforms or services to attract new users. It is becoming more and more clear, however, that there is a market for online services that are simple and efficient as well as for those that do not save user preferences or personal information for security concerns. Sputnik is part of this new trend. In Russia, Yandex’s slogan is “You’ll find everything.” But it seems that there is also a market for a search engine whose catchphrase could be“You’ll find only what you need.”
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Yuri Sinodov is a Russian journalist and the creator of the site Roem.ru, which monitors events related to Internet business in Russia.
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campaign, it was announced that Mirilashvili and Leviev were selling their 48 percent in the company to the United Capital Partners (U.C.P.) investment fund. U.C.P. had not previously invested in online projects, and reports later emerged indirectly linking U.C.P. to Igor Sechin, the chairman of Russian oil major Rosneft and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin. The reports prompted many to see the Kremlin’s hand in the deal, and allegations were made that the media attack on VK had in fact been orchestrated by the fund. U.C.P. President Ilya Shcherbovich denied both charges, however, responding that the fund was governed purely by business interests and that the share purchase had been completed before the negative press. In August 2013, Durov launched a
messaging service called Telegram and some VKontakte developers moved there. The move angered U.C.P., which said that since Telegram had used VK assets, it should belong to the fund. U.C.P. wanted Durov removed as chief executive officer. Mail.Ru, however, wanted Durov to stay. In January, Durov had sold his share in the company to Mail.Ru Group, and on March 21, he resigned. He announced his decision on April Fool’s Day, which led many to believe that it was a joke. Speculation about Durov’s true intentions grew after he withdrew his resignation two days later. Durov didn’t have time to clarify his position, however. On April 21, the company’s coowners officially fired him. In response, Durov said that he sold his share in the company under pressure from the F.S.B. after it demanded that he disclose the details of the owners of VK pages supporting the EuroMaidan (Ukraine’s pro-European Movement). At the end of April, Durov left Russia. Although the story ofVK fits in with the overall picture of a growing state regulation of the Russian segment of the Internet, there is no certainty that the underlying reasons were indeed political.The actions of U.C.P. and Mail. Ru could just as easily be explained as business decisions. Although no new C.E.O. has been named, VK’s future will likely include a more traditional manager who will smooth over some of the controversies generated by the enfant terrible Durov. The new chief executive will likely try to establish a constructive dialogue with copyright holders, advertisers and the authorities. Yevgeny Trifonov is an IT journalist who has been following the VK story since 2011.
AIMING TO SECURE THE CYBER FUTURE ELENA ZINOVIEVA PROFESSOR
uring a recent forum entitled Internet Business in Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russian programmers are the best in the world and urged participants to work hard to maintain the country’s high level of IT training. Putin noted in particular the importance of high-quality Russian mathematical education in preparing future programmers. Thanks to this strong training in math, Russia’s Kaspersky Lab has become one of the world’s leaders in cybersecurity. But while Kaspersky Lab is recognized as a global leader in fighting cyberattacks, Russian programmers are also known as talented hackers responsible for a high number of cybersecurity threats. Despite Russia’s impressive potential in cyberspace, the number of cyberthreats emanating from the country is not the result of state policy. States mostly engage in cyberespionage rather than cybercrime and the associated types of hacking. According to Andrei Krutskikh, the president’s special representative for international cooperation in the field of cybersecurity, Russia is committed to fighting cyberthreats, and the country’s primary goal is to create rules for the international legal regulation of cyberspace. Russia was the first to initiate discussion about international cooperation on information security, introducing a draft resolution at the United Nations in 1998. Of note is that Russia, unlike Western countries, prefers to use the term“information security” over “cybersecurity,” because in the opinion of Russian analysts, information security incorporates a wider set of sociopolitical and ideological questions about the use of cyberspace in addition to technical ones. Many in-
ternational documents use the term “secure use of information and communications technologies” in order to avoid taking sides in the debate. According to the Russian Foreign Policy Concept of 2013, Russia intends to “work for the elaboration of rules of conduct in the field of international information security” within the framework of the United Nations. Russia’s overall goal is to ensure the demilitarization of cyberinformation. Russian authorities see a greater danger in information warfare — the use of information and communication technologies, or ICT, for political purposes — than in cyberattacks. The use of information and disinformation became a priority for Moscow after the Arab Spring demonstrated the mobilization potential of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. A resolution on the development of rules, principles and norms of responsible behavior in the information field was adopted by consensus during the last session of the U.N. General Assembly. Despite this resolution, however, the United States does not agree with the Russian approach to information security or its perception of global cyberwarfare. Because of these disagreements, Russia has recently been working to promote its view of information security through regional organizations, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. International security in the field of ICT is possible only on the basis of cooperation between states. The origins of cyberattacks should not detract from the larger issue of working together, since the absence of cooperation could lead to even greater dangers. The origins of cyberattacks are often unclear, and there is the potential for a state subjected to a cyberattack to react with conventional weapons, creating an armed conflict. A greater role for the U.N. in negotiating agreements seems to be the best way forward to prevent the militarization of the online environment. Elena Zinovieva is a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO).
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REGULATING THE WEB? SURE, GO AHEAD AND TRY ALEXANDER PLYUSHCHEV BLOGGER
new law, which comes into effect Aug. 1, will effectively subject Russia’s most popular bloggers to the same laws that apply to the mass media. Under the new regulations, Russian bloggers whose blogs receive more than 3,000 visits per day will be required to register with the government and disclose their full names and email addresses on their blog pages. Additionally, the bloggers will be required to verify information before publishing it and will be banned from disclosing state secrets as well as spreading potentially libelous information. The law is alarming Russia-watchers because blogging in Russia has been one of the primary ways opposition political figures have disseminated their views to the general public. This is not the first time, however, that the government has passed laws threatening Russia’s vibrant blogging and social networking scene only to have little, if any, effect.
SEX, SPIES AND POLITICS: RUSSIA’S ONLINE SECRETS TONYA SAMSONOVA JOURNALIST
udging by his elevator selfie, Peter is about 30 years old. He works for the Federal Security Service (FSB) and has an iPhone. Peter likes to check in at nice restaurants and post pictures of his food. His Instagram profile features shots of tiramisu and sushi. He also checks in at his office headquarters at Moscow’s Lubyanka Square and posts pictures of its halls and rooms. His Foursquare profile has a photograph of a man lying face down on the floor, hands tied behind his back. The man’s left arm is broken. The photo is geotagged: it’s some dormitory outside of Moscow. Vladislav also works for state security, but he is an employee of the main intelligence directorate in the Ministry of Defense, the GRU. He has a selfie standing next to the checkpoint at the entrance to the building where he works. He also has a lovely wife, drives a Toyota and lives in Annino. He goes to the pool on Fridays and is trying to lose weight. David Byttow, the creator of the anonymous network www.secret.ly (Secret) believes that Russians do not fully understand Internet anonymity. Vladislav and Peter prove his point. Despite being security service employ-
CO N V E RT I N G M O N O LO G U E I N TO D I A LO G U E Russia Direct is a forum for experts and senior decision-makers from Russia and abroad to discuss, debate and understand the issues in geopolitical relations from a sophisticated vantage point.
Pipe Dreams: Two Scenarios for South Stream
The future of the massive South Stream pipeline connecting Russian gas supplies to European consumers in Bulgaria, Greece and Austria via the Black Sea has recently been called into question because of geopolitical tensions between Europe and Russia over Ukraine. What are the prospects for the project, which has already been in development for seven years and under construction for two? Will it be able to open next year as scheduled?
ees, they seem to place showing how cool they are above online safety. Given Russians’ nonchalance about online privacy, it is a little surprising that Secret, which went online in Russia at the end of May, has become so popular. The site allows users to make posts on an anonymous social network without having to worry about their identities being discovered. Could the site be the Russian answer to WikiLeaks? So far the Russian-speaking population hasn’t been using it as a whistle-blowing tool. The majority of users post about sex and failed relationships. “You think Russians are interested in Putin, Ukraine, Crimea and corruption? No, all they need is sex and cuddles,” wrote a disappointed Moscow journalist on the third day after the Web site launch, hoping instead for some juicy leads. In San Francisco, Secret has become a place for gossip about the technology industry. In London, users post about neighbors who were terrible students, but now make a lot more money than they do. Muscovites write about former lovers who turned out to be gay or slept with their best friend’s wives. They write about where to have sex in the office and who the director of sales used to sleep with before she became the director of sales. Secret representatives say that the anonymous service was not created so that people could publish graphic photos or gossip about each other. Two days after the launch of the site’s Russian version, the company’s office in
San Francisco hired two Russianspeaking employees to monitor posts. “We want the rules of our service to be understood by the international community, and we want people to be just as responsible about what they post in Russia as they are in the States,” said the company’s marketing director, Sarahjane Sacchetti. When asked why he thinks Secret users in Russia have turned the service into a place for inappropriate discussions of private lives, David Byt-
So far the Russian-speaking population hasn’t been using Secret as a whistleblowing tool. Most posts are about failed relationships. tow said: “You tell me, because I have no idea.” One user, who wanted to be referred to only by her nickname, Lightning, said that Russian users don’t get enough opportunities to discuss their private lives. In Russia, she said, Facebook has become a platform for political statements; Twitter is used to discuss the news; and discussions about work are reserved for in-person chats with friends.“Real, everyday problems are not news; they are feelings,” said Lightning.“The Internet doesn’t leave enough room for such discussions. Moreover, talking about relationships is embarrassing, and your public image
on social networks should demonstrate that you’re involved in politics and serious issues in the country. And you really are invested in these subjects, but sometimes you want to talk about other things. The problem is that such discussions come off as irrelevant.” Another user, who goes by the name of Fish, likes social networking but called the content on Secret“irresponsible infantilism.”Fish thinks that Secret reveals childish attitudes and a schoolyard culture. “It’s like writing ‘Masha slept with the gym teacher’ on a desk,” he said.“The message will be read by your friends and friends of friends, and everybody will know which Masha the note is talking about, but nobody will find out who ruined the desk with the message.” Perhaps the content of the site is an indication of the frustrations of its audience. In Russia, Secret is mostly used by mid-level professionals in the creative spheres, many of whom are frustrated by the state of the economy and political scene. These kinds of people use Secret as a way to let off some steam and escape worries about their careers and futures. Recently a British friend wrote me the following text message: “I can’t meet up with you next week, I want to sleep with this girl I know.”In English, it’s possible to write this phrase so it doesn’t sound completely vulgar. In Russian, however, the sordidness cannot be avoided. There is no neutral language in Russian to use to talk about sex. Russian has either medical terminology or vulgarities. Americans have convenient expressions such as “first base,”“second base,” or “third base” to tell a small group of friends about their last date. Russians don’t have such stand-ins, but now they have Secret. Tonya Samsonova is the London correspondent for the radio station Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow).
The availability of pirated content has driven the popularity of Russia’s dominant social network, VKontakte. According to surveys, the majority of Internet users in Russia — as well as the majority of Russians in general — are not particularly bothered by the law requiring the registration of bloggers.The government’s efforts last summer to fight Internet piracy generated far more discussion. The outcry over that law, which originally stated that users as well as owners of pirated content would be subject to legal action, resulted in the eventual passage of a less-harsh version, which blocks only access to specific information that violates copyright. Attempts to combat online piracy in Russia are often resisted, as many say they believe in the freedom to share information, a concept that goes back to the dissident tradition of self-publishing (samizdat) in Soviet times. The availability of pirated content has driven the popularity of Russia’s dominant social network, VKontakte (VK).VK began life as a Facebook clone, but the site has since taken on a life of its own. Much of VKontakte’s traffic is driven by the wealth of pirated music and films available on the site, most of which is curated by fan groups.VK has periodically tried to purge its pages of pirated content at the request of copyright holders. It has also signed deals with several major copyright holders
HUGE POTENTIAL FOR OPEN ONLINE LEARNING IN RUSSIA CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1
The e-learning market in Russia may be in the embryonic stage, but the potential is huge. Russians spent about $10 billion annually to enroll in online courses in foreign universities, according to research from the Londonbased Economist Intelligence Unit. Forecasts made in 2012 estimated Russia’s annual growth in the e-learning market at 20-25 percent. Dmitry Repin, director of the Moscow-based Digital October technology center, which seeks to foster MOOCs in Russia, said that Russia has as much potential for developing e-learning as other countries, although he admits there are some problems — including the need to translate content from English into Russian and the difficulty of adjusting online courses to fit the Russian university curriculums, which are highly standardized. Repin sees the development of MOOCs as crucial to Russian universities’ future competitiveness. “One day our best universities will face rivalry from the world’s other leading universities,” said Repin. At that point, he says, they will have been improving their online programs and of-
fering them in different languages for three to seven years. Repin’s concerns may be unfounded, however. A Gallup report on higher education and MOOCs released in early May revealed that only 3 percent of college and university presidents in the U.S. believe that MOOCs improve the learning of all students. Twentyeight percent of respondents are strongly against MOOCs and 31 percent question their effectiveness. Only 11 percent think that MOOCs foster creative pedagogical strategies, while 8 percent believe that MOOCs are effective and reduce the cost of education for students. Jack Goldstone, a sociologist and professor in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University, is one of those who thinks that MOOCs are overrated. “MOOCs will not be the magic bullet that allows for great education while bypassing the existing school complex,”said Goldstone.“People want MOOCs to do to schools what Amazon has done to bookstores. But that won’t happen. Amazon took a product [books] that were delivered in one form and delivered it a different form. But MOOCs are not just delivering the product — they claim they are the product and can substitute for the ex-
isting product of in-class faculty engagement with students.” Goldstone chalks MOOCs up with other the educational innovations that have appeared on American college campuses in the past 50 years. “So far, it does not look like this will work any more than television or lectures on tape or correspondence schools replacing conventional universities,” he said. William C. Wohlforth, the Daniel Webster professor of government at Dartmouth College’s Department of Government, does not think MOOCs can replace traditional education, but that they could be considered a complement to it. Wohlforth suggested that MOOCs could be used to give additional help to remedial students or provide material for enrichment. He also gives MOOCs credit for forcing institutions to rethink the effectiveness of their existing educational models. The growth of MOOCs has encouraged traditional institutions to think more about “what goes on in a classroom and what the benefits of direct faculty-student interaction are,”said Wohlforth.“In the end, my bet is that MOOCs in one form or another are here to stay — not as transformative as [its] boosters originally thought, but still a useful tool.” Goldstone agrees that MOOCs are
not useful for providing in-depth knowledge or skills and should not be considered replacements for traditional courses taught by professors, but that they aren’t completely without merit.“They are OK for introductions to new areas or basic math or language skills,” he said. Despite the skepticism that American educators have expressed, Digital October’s Repin remains bullish about the potential of mass e-learning courses for Russian universities. “Now we need to try many different approaches, make hundreds of mistakes, understand what exactly works better in online education and then create content in accordance with working out effective methods and technologies,” said Repin. “Because the average professor in Russia is hardly likely to teach you critical thinking, you’d better develop effective technologies and then teach people this valuable skill through an online course.” Pavel Koshkin is the deputy editor-inchief of Russia Direct and a contributing writer to Russia Beyond The Headlines. He also contributes to a number of Russian and foreign media outlets, including Russia Profile, Kommersant and the BBC.
in Russia to provide licensed content on its site instead. Nevertheless,VK’s status as the most popular platform for exchanging free music and films is the main reason it continues to dominate Facebook in Russia. But Russians, who are always chasing the latest Internet trend, are also now flocking to Facebook. The American site’s audience in Russia is increasing, in particular among the socalled creative class: mid-career professionals who use it for social purposes and exchanging content from online media. Previously, those functions were the domain of Livejournal. That blogging platform, which was developed in 1999 by American programmer Brad Fitzpatrick, failed to take off in the United States, but became a surprise hit with Russian users. Over time, the percentage of Russians using the platform became so disproportionate that Russian became the site’s prevalent language and its parent company, S.U.P., was bought by the Russian tycoon Alexander Mamut. Today, however, Livejournal’s popularity is declining even in Russia. The blogging platform has been unable to keep up with the fast-changing online environment, remaining stuck in the early 2000s. Its archaic engine and services often leave even the most conservative users disappointed. Nevertheless, Livejournal remains a popular place for sharing long stories with pictures and for joining discussions in comment threads. Many popular bloggers continue to share their posts via Livejournal and other social networks and blog platforms. Given the varied purposes social networks serve in Russia, it’s not surprising for Russians to have accounts with a number of networks, and entrepreneurs are frequently trying to create new sites to attract Russians’ insatiable appetite for socializing online. ProKremlin businessman German Klimenko tried in 2003 to create a competitor to Livejournal called LiveInterest and although it never caught on, Klimenko is currently testing two other products to attract the attention of Russians online. One recent example, Mediametrics (mediametrics.ru), is a rating of news stories on the basis of the number of visits they receive from various social networks. According to Mediametrics,VK, Facebook and Twitter are the biggest drivers of traffic to news in Russia. However, there are two other social networks worth noting: MoyMir@mail. ru and Odnoklassniki, both of which belong to the Mail.Ru Group. Unlike Livejournal and Facebook, which tend to attract a more affluent, urban audience, most MoyMir and Odnoklassniki users tend to be older. They are also primarily from towns in the Russian regions, outside Moscow and St. Petersburg. Alexander Plyushchev is a popular blogger and one of the pioneers of Internet journalism in Russia.
ACCESS ALL RUSSIA DIRECT REPORTS WITH ONE CLICK russia-direct.org/archive
June Monthly Memo: The Pivot to China
Against the backdrop of deteriorating relations with the West, Russia is taking steps to expand its cooperation with China. For many Russian experts, the possible economic gains that Russia’s Far East could benefit from through cooperating with China far outweigh the risks. This new Russia Direct Monthly memo explains what the reorientation of policies will mean for Russia’s economic development and geopolitical positions.
RUSSIA BEYOND THE HEADLINES A global media project sponsored by Rossiyskaya Gazeta www.rbth.com
News and current affairs
Predictably, Russia’s two largest English-language newspapers are based in the country’s two major cities: The Moscow Times (http://www.themoscowtimes.com) and the St. Petersburg Times (http://www.sptimes.ru). They mostly target the expatriate audience inside Russia, but some articles may be of interest to readers outside the country who would like to know more about Russia or get an internal view of life in the country. Another publication, the Siberian Times (http://www. siberiantimes.com), focuses specifically on life in Siberia. If you want to know what’s going on with Russia’s bears, check out this resource.
Useful information on how to get a Russian visa, where to eat out in Moscow, how to find a job here and many other practical tips can be found on the Moscow Expat Website. (http://expat.ru/). Those who are interested in the latest statistics about life in Russia can find them on the English-language version of the Website of the Russian Federal Statistics Service (http://www. gks.ru/wps/wcm/connect/rosstat_main/rosstat/en/main/). While most information is openly available, some of the more in-depth reports are provided for a fee.
WHAT’S RUSSIAN FOR GOOGLE? CHECK OUT THESE SITES.
Entertainment A daily photoblog with the strangest, funniest and most insightful pictures from Russia is available at http://englishrussia.com/. Russian programmers have also caught the global fever for Internet video services. The coub.com service allows users to create looped videos up to 15 seconds long, adding music and footage including fromYouTube. The particular attraction of this service lies in the exact synchronization of the sound and the picture, often to superbly comical effect. The service has a mobile application that allows for both watching and creating one’s own coubs.
Russia is one of the few countries in the world in which Google is not the most used search engine and Facebook is not the most popular social network. Instead, local audiences make use of a wide variety of local Internet services and applications, some of which might be useful for foreigners, too.
■ VSEVOLOD PULYA RBTH
Language learning and text services
The Gismeteo Website (http://www.gismeteo.com/), which offers detailed weather information, was launched in 1998 and still remains one of the most visited sites in the Russian segment of the Internet. It offers the most reliable weather reporting for any location in Russia. Gismeteo also has information on the weather all over the world. The Website also has mobile applications.
For help with learning Russian, try the Russian For Free Website (http://www.russianforfree.com/), which contains links to numerous language courses. If you prefer to learn a foreign language by listening rather than reading, you could subscribe to podcasts on RusPod (http://ruspod.com/).
Russia’s most popular search engine,Yandex (http://www.yandex.com), popularly known as“the Russian Google,”offers a traditional set of services: Web, image and video search; an email service; translation of Websites and texts from 42 languages; and maps of practically all countries. In fact, Yandex maps for Russia are more accurate that their Google equivalents and are updated more often. So for locations inside Russia, Yandex maps are the best choice. A further perk, they provide the latest and most complete traffic information for Russian cities, including using data coming from millions of Website users.
In case you have not yet mastered the entire Russian vocabulary, you can use Lingvo dictionaries offered by the Russian company ABBYY (http://www.abbyy.com/), which are available also as mobile applications (the application and additional dictionaries are not free). In addition, ABBYY offers a wide variety of optical character recognition (OCR) tools. The ABBYY Business Card Reader application will allow you to keep an electronic catalogue of your business cards, while its premium version can be integrated with customer relationship management (CRM) systems. Fine Scanner can scan text from file (in the desktop version) or with the help of a mobile phone camera (in the mobile version). The CopyTranslate application can translate any text in a user’s mobile’s clipboard.
Yandex also has numerous free mobile applications for navigation: commuter train timetables (Yandex.Trains); metro maps (Yandex.Metro); a taxi service similar to Uber (Yandex.Taxi); and a recently launched application for locating nearby places of interest (Yandex.City).
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Published on Jul 2, 2014