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Russian Government to Develop National Search Engine

Categories: Eastern & Central Europe, Russia, Governance, Technology, RuNet Echo

Russian government will develop a search engine. “RBC-Daily” newspaper that published [1] [RUS] the sensational news on its first page already gave a name to the future engine “Kremlyandex” and said that it might be available online in a year. The source of inspiration for this name was the most popular Russian search engine Yandex.ru. So far, the main Yandex’s competitors are Google, Rambler and Mail.ru. According to Liveinternet.ru [2] [RUS], Yandex dominates Russian search market with 63.5 percent of usage. Approximately 21 percent of Russians uses Google, while Rambler and Mail.ru close to each other at the third place and fourth places.

It looks like Russian users don’t have a lack of options to search for online information. According to RBC daily, the idea to develop a national search engine, despite the fact that RuNet is well equipped with search options, was offered by the deputy head of presidential administration Vladislav Surkov, who is known as the chief-ideologist of the Kremlin. The newspaper suggested few explanations why the new project was born.

First, Russian government wants to have a major search engine that won’t be owned by foreign companies (Yandex belong to Netherlands based company Yandex N. V.). Second, the new system will be focused on governmental needs. It will provide access to secured information, while the prohibited content will be blocked. According to source of RBC, in both case the motivation has political nature since “the government will get a relatively controlled search engine with loyal owners.”

RBC told that the budget of project is 100 million dollars and it’s developed by the Russian Ministry of Communication, which cooperates with Russia-based private IT companies. Another source told the newspaper that Kremlin considered to purchase one of the existent search engines but eventually decided to develop its own.

The publication of the news raised a broad discussion among experts and bloggers. Most of them asked why RuNet needed a governmental search engine. It’s obvious that such an engine might be an instrument of censorship while promoting pro-government content and reducing the visibility of oppositional Web sites. However, experts argued that the main challenge is not to develop a search engine, but to make it popular in a situation when Russian users already can choose among Yandex, Google and Rambler.

The Lenta.Ru Internet expert Alexander Amzin writes [3] [RUS]:

Представьте себе, что железнодорожная сеть России была бы создана частными компаниями. Имело бы смысл государству строить свою, дублирующую? Нет, это огромные затраты, гораздо проще добиться целей законодательным регулированием. <…>

По рельсам Яндекса, Рамблера и Гугла ежедневно “ездят” миллионы человек. Представим, что рядом прокладывают государственные пути с невнятной бизнес-моделью (реклама?) и целью существования. На продвижение этих вторых рельсов тратятся средства налогоплательщиков. Но, что характерно, госрельсами никто не пользуется, потому что частники пестовали свою железнодорожную сеть с десяток лет. Они про это понимают все. Государство тут чужое. Число успешных государственных интернет-проектов, мягко выражаясь, невелико.

Imagine that the railroad net in Russia was created by private companies. Would it make sense for a government to create its one railroad net? No, there are a lot of expenses and it is much easier to achieve this goal via legislation. […]
Millions of people a day “ride” on the railroad of Yandex, Google and Rambler. Imagine that right next to it there is a government railroad with unclear business model (advertising?) and goal of existence. They spend taxpayers’ money to build this second railroad. But what is typical here is that nobody uses the government railroad because private businessmen have been developing their railroads for decades. They understand it all. The government is alien here. The amount of successful government projects, to say the least, is small.

“Convincing dozens millions of people to abandon everything and move to a governmental platform is not easier than making a revolution,” Amzin concludes.

Livejournal bloggers suggest two major versions: political censorship or money laundring. Vzav [4], for instance, wrote [5][RUS]:

Вот честно, не понимаю – нафига?
Зачем создавать то, что заведомо будет хуже уже существующих сервисов?
Идея тотального контроля? Так он есть.
Национальное самолюбие? Так оно не так достигается.
Деньги отмывают? Так ведь шито все белыми нитками…
Зачем тогда?

I really don’t understand what for? What for one should create something that will be worse than services that already exist? Is it an idea of total control? But we have it already. Is it a matter of national pride? This is not a way to achieve it. Is it money laundering? But in this case, it is too obvious to make it in such a way. What for in this case?

LJ user  dmadload [6] suggests [7] [RUS] a scenario how Kremlyandex might become popular:

Поскольку Гугл, Яндекс и Рамблер по-прежнему выводят неугодные единственно правильной политической партии результаты, они со временем (до марта 2012 года) будут выведены с легального положения. Как известно,  России 2 народа: один пользуется интернетом, а второй ходит на выборы. Дабы первый не соблазнял второй голосовать против ЕР, нужно его лишить мест публичного сбора и обмена мнениями. Яндекс и другие политически вредные поисковики нужно закрыть. Таким образом множество неугодных сайтов падут в небытие.

Since Google, Yandex and Rambler continue to provide search results that are not favorable to the only right Russian party, they will gradually find themselves out of law by March 2012 [time of the next presidential elections – G.A.]. As we know, we have two kinds of people in Russia – those who use Internet and those who go to vote. To avoid situation when the first group will tempt the second to vote against Edinaya Rossiya, the first group has to lose a place for public gathering and opinions sharing. Yandex and other politically malicious search engines should be closed. In such a way, many oppositional Web sites will vanish in non-existence.

Lead_and_aether [8] writes [9] [RUS]:

Ещё можно обязать Яндекс (Рамблер не рассматриваю) использовать движок этого кадавра, а Гугль с Бингов забанить в Кремлёвском Государственном Брандмауэре (КГБ для краткости). И придёт щастье и советские газеты на каждый стол!

One can force Yandex (I am not even considering Rambler) to use a search engine of this invention, and ban Google and Bing behind Kremlin Government firewall (KGB, for short). And there will be happiness and Soviet newspapers at on every table.

LJ user Tygro writes [10] [RUS]:

…правда, думаю, всё как всегда, сведётся к банальному освоению средств и распилу казённых денег…

…I think that everything, as always, will come down to embezzlement and breaking down of government money…

A head of the Internet department of the Radio-TV governmental holding (VGTKR) Askar Tuganbaev told [11] [RUS] “Svobodnaya Pressa” that the national search engine, as well as national operational system, should help the government in regulating the Internet. According to Tuganbaev, all governmental offices, universities and schools will be required to use the national Internet products. In this case, the new search engine will be the home page for all Russian public servants and students.

Victor Galenko, deputy director of “Finam” company, supports this point of view. In an interview to “Svobodnaya Pressa,” He said [RUS]: [11]

Это может быть элементарным капризом Путина или Медведева, а 100 млн долларов в масштабах государства – деньги небольшие. Какую-то долю на внутреннем рынке они все равно займут, пусть 5-10%. <…> Например, обяжут все государственные организации пользоваться только этим поиском. <…> Я думаю, это будет не только поисковик, там будет привязана еще и почта, которую граждане РФ смогут сделать официальной, чтобы получать различные документы. Каждый россиянин может быть принудительно затянут туда. Это единственная идея, которая сможет продвинуть проект.

It can be just a whim by Putin or Medvedev. 100 million dollars is not a big money for the state. And the search engine can take some niche in the market, something like 5-10 percent.They may demand governmental organization to use only this search engine. I think it won’t be only a search engine but also an e-mail service for receiving official document by Russian citizens. Russians will be forced to go there. This is the only way to promote this project.

It looks like Russia is moving toward an idea of the state creating not only e-government services by entire government-based online environment. In this case, “Kremlayndex,” is only a part of the future “Kremlinet” that will grow and expand inside RuNet trying to use the so-called administrative resource to fight its private competitors.

By the way, someone with a good sense of humor was faster than Kremlin. The domain “Kremlyandex.ru” is already taken and registered. Someone built there a Web page that similar to Yandex search engine. If you type there anything and click search, it will lead you to the Web site of the Russian ruling party “Edinaya Rossiya.”