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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

Friday, Aug. 1


Bikers from all around the world will gather to take part in a parade, extreme shows and rock concerts during the International Biker Festival that revs its engines today and runs through Aug. 3 near Olgino Hotel, 4/2 Primorskogo Shosse.


The Peter and Paul Fortress will be turned into an open-air cinema today and tomorrow as part of the 5th International Short and Animation Film Festival. A huge screen across the fortress walls will air short films non-stop with board games, photo sessions and other activities also on offer for visitors. For more information, visit www.opencinemafest.ru



Saturday, Aug. 2


Gatchina Palace Park Museum will host its second annual Night of Light, an impressive audio-visual show across the night sky. Tickets are 600 rubles ($16).


If graphic design is more your thing then check out Illustration Day, where you will be able to visit an exhibition, attend lectures by professionals and even show experts some of your own work. The event starts at noon at Zona Deystvia, 73 Ligovsky Prospekt. The entrance fee is 350 rubles ($10).



Sunday, Aug. 3


History lovers shouldn’t miss the chance to see reenactments of World War I battles in Pushkin at noon. Besides exciting war scenes, visitors can enjoy live music, historical costumes, an equestrian show and a fancy-dress parade starting from the Moscow gates.


Garage Sale, the popular and growing flea market where nothing is priced over 500 rubles ($14.11), starts today at noon in Loft-Project Etagi, 74 Ligovsky Prospekt. Be sure to get in early to score a bargain. Entry costs 50 rubles ($1.40)



Monday, Aug. 4


Continue the working week with a calm and steady mind with a free yoga lesson at 7 p.m. in the Bukvoyed store at 23A Vladimirsky Prospekt.



Tuesday, Aug. 5


Visit The Romanov Dynasty doll exhibition today, where more than fifty porcelain dolls depicting Russian rulers, and made by Olina Ventzel, will be on show. The exhibition continues through Aug. 31 in Sheremetyev Palace, 34 Fontanka Naberezhnaya.



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