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How does Russia's State Search Engine Stack Up Against the Competition?

Published: June 2, 2014 (Issue # 1813)



  • A screenshot of Sputnik’s home page showing a drop-down menu classifying Crimea as a peninsula in Ukraine.
    Photo: Sputnik.ru

On May 22, state-owned telecoms company Rostelecom rolled out the first version of its new search engine, Sputnik. A week later, the engine, which some analysts see as the latest move in the Kremlin's ongoing crusade against the uncontrolled and subversive Internet, has fallen flat.

On the day that Sputnik launched at www.sputnik.ru, it clocked 141,800 searches, according to data from Internet tracking service LiveInternet.ru cited by business daily Kommersant. Not bad for the early version of a government-sponsored service that hopes to compete with Google and local rival Yandex — the two largest search engines in Russia. However, on Thursday that number was down to 16,500. To put this number in perspective, at the end of its first week, Sputnik enjoys .01 percent of Russia's search engine market, according to LiveInternet.ru. By contrast, Yandex has 62 percent and Google 28 percent. Mail.ru, another big Russian Internet company, is distant third with 7 percent.

To be fair, Sputnik is not yet a finished product. It is currently in its "open beta" phase of development, the point at which the service is useable but not yet 100-percent finished. The idea of an open beta is that you allow the intended user to interact with the service to help you identify flaws in the system prior to its official launch.

And Sputnik is not aiming to compete directly with its rivals. Instead, the engine hopes to differentiate itself from Yandex and Google by tailoring its results toward "social services," such as locating medication at the local pharmacy, or comparing gasoline prices at nearby gas stations.

The St. Petersburg Times reviewed Sputnik to get a better idea of how the engine stacks up to its competitors. In an attempt to be as fair as possible, we ran identical Russian-language searches through all three search engines — Sputnik, Yandex and Google — ensuring that the cache was cleared before each query was submitted and that we were logged out of Google and Yandex's services. By doing so, we avoided tailored search results from their advanced algorithms and were able to compare the results as objectively as possible.

Flashpoints and Drug Stores

On Sputnik's launch day, screenshots circulated on Twitter of an obvious bug in the system. Crimea — which became ground zero in a standoff between Russia and the West when Moscow annexed the region from Ukraine in March — was described as "a peninsula in southern Ukraine" in a drop-down menu on the website's main page when users entered its name. This made "Krym," the Russian word for Crimea, a natural launch pad for our Sputnik adventure. On Friday, a full week after the service's launch, Crimea is still described as a part of Ukraine on the drop-down menu on the main page's search bar.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Nov. 26


AmCham’s Public Relations Committee will meet this afternoon in their office in the New St. Isaac’s Office Center on Ulitsa Yakubovicha at 4 p.m.


Zoosphere, an international exhibition focusing on the pet industry, opens today at the Lenexpo convention center on Vasilievsky Island. Not only will items such as toys, terrariums and accessories be available for purchase, but animal enthusiasts can also learn about the latest in veterinary medicine and behavioral training thanks to the conferences and presentations that are part of the event.



Thursday, Nov. 27


The Customs and Transportation Committee for AmCham meets this morning at 9 a.m. in their office on Ulitsa Yakubovicha.


Tickets are still available for local KHL team SKA St. Petersburg’s showdown with Siberian club Metallurg Novokuznetsk tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Ice Palace outside the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. Tickets can be purchased on the team’s website, at the arena box office or in their merchandise store on Nevsky Prospekt.


Celebrate one of Russian literature’s most tragic figures during Blok Days, a two-day celebration of the 134th anniversary of the poet’s birthday. The tragic tenor’s work, which led to writer Maxim Gorky to hail him as Russia’s greatest living poet before his death in 1921, will be recited and meetings and discussions about his contributions to the Silver Age of literature in St. Petersburg will be discussed in the confines of his former residence.



Friday, Nov. 28


Join table game aficionados at the British Book Center’s Board Game Evening. Held every Friday at 5 p.m., aficionados and amateurs alike can come take part in a variety of different games that test one’s intellect and cunning.



Saturday, Nov. 29


Cats, dogs, birds, rodents and reptiles are just some of the things that will walk and crawl at Lenexpo convention center this weekend as part of Zooshow, a two-day exhibition featuring not only man’s best friends but a four-legged fashion show, as well as a food fair that will help pet owners find out more about which kibbles are best for their hungry pets.



Sunday, Nov. 30


Remember the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Russo-Finnish war in 1939 during today’s reenactment titled “Winter War: How it Was.” More than 200 people will take part in recreating the opening salvoes of the battle for the north in Kamenka, a small village situated between Vyborg and St. Petersburg, using authentic equipment and vintage vehicles from the era. The faux battle begins at 2 p.m.



Monday, Dec. 1


Serbia filmmaker Emir Kusturica is the featured guest this evening at the Lensovet Palace of Culture the Petrograd Side. Fans of the director will get the chance to watch his movie “Black Cat, White Cat,” as well as ask questions about his award-winning filmography. Tickets for the event, which starts at 7 p.m., start at 2,000 rubles ($42.50).



Tuesday, Dec. 2


Today is the final day of “Takoy Festival,” a three-week program of plays based on the works of Dostoevsky, Remarque and other famed European writers, whose work is transcribed for theatrical performances. Tonight’s festival finale is “Fathers and Sons,” a two-act drama staged by the Novosibirsk Academic Drama Theater based on Turgenev’s classic about familial relations.



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