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Facebook VS Odnoklassniki

In a country like Moldova where the last elections left a country split between Communists and the everyone else – in other words those supporting Western powers like Europe and Russia – there is also another matter of contention, in

by Emanuele Comi On December 23, 2010

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In a country like Moldova where the last elections left a country split between Communists and the everyone else – in other words those supporting Western powers like Europe and Russia – there is also another matter of contention, in some ways more engaging than politics. The chasm has to do with something increasingly more present in young Moldovans’ daily lives, a tool that is being used to keep in touch with the people they care about, or even to find new friends.

Since the Internet was first introduced in the country young people have been discovering social networks. Internet penetration has now reached about a third of the overall population, but among young people the figure is much higher.

Figures on subscribers don’t depict the reality of the facts, as they are limited to the location stated on people’s accounts. According to Internet World Stats, for instance, there are only 93,000 Facebook users in Moldova, though it is quick to add these stats are impossible to confirm. Nonetheless, it is common knowledge that a vast majority of young people have a presence on social networks.

While attempts to reproduce the concept of Facebook have mostly fallen flat around the world, this is not the case of Moldova. In a country highly economically dependent on Moscow, where Russian language is compulsory at school and its culture present through a minority of Russians who are still living in the Republic, when it came to choose a social network, Moldovans chose Odnoklassniki.ru.

The Russian site, created by former I-CD Publishing employee Albert Popkov in 2006, remains the most popular in the country, according to what most people say. Popkov was later accused by the English data provider he worked for before building Odnoklassniki.ru to have violated their copyright. Whilst Popkov has always denied the allegations, I-CD strangely dropped all charges after the first day of trial in London only a year ago.

Odniklassniki.ru is mostly popular in Russia and in the former Soviet republics. It claims to have more than 45 million of users, and 10 million daily unique visitors. According to figures on traffic released this year by Alexa.com, Odnoklassniki.ru is ranked 110th in world for visitors.

Unfortunately figures on Odnoklassniki’s subscribers don’t depict the reality because of the widespread phenomenon of users opening a second account to “explore” other profiles with the privilege of remaining anonymous.

The divide

However, no one knows how long Odnoklassniki’s popularity in Moldova will last. Facebook users have been growing fast in a country where young people increasingly speak English, and start connecting with people in the Western World. And now that many have definitely converted to Mark Zuckerberg’s creation, others are still registered with both, postponing the difficult decision.

A feature that allows users to create an advert on the US-based social network, makes it possible to get accurate figures on subscribers. At the moment, according to the same function, there are 143660 Moldovans on Facebook.

Since managing relationships is the ultimate goal, the choice is often made by one’s connections. If they are all on one site what is the point in moving? However, this is not what is happening. Users’ connections are in most cases in between the two banks of the river. So which one to go for, F or O?

“I was tempted to open an account with OdnoKlassniki.ru, because many of my friends were on it, but then I waited and they all joined Facebook.” says Mihaela Chiviriga, 26, NGO employee.

If “betraying” one to join the other is as easy as changing a mobile phone for some, other users are much more passionate about it. In the end, they are different indeed.

Facebook is undoubtedly fancier, but OdnoKlassniki.ru has a unique character.

More rudimental and clunky than the former, the Russian site allows its users, for instance, to rate pictures published on others’ accounts. A system based on stars – one for the lowest, five for the highest – empowers people to “dislike” things – ruling an unseemly picture with one single star. And if such function would be probably seen as rude by Facebook users, being honest – even at cost of being too honest – is certainly a priority for Odniklassniki.ru.

However, when it comes to the variety of functions, the Russian site has significant restrictions. In fact, Odniklassniki.ru doesn’t allow people to publish information on one’s or other’s walls, making it mainly a tool to stalk people’s profiles. This is why the case of people with second profiles – with the purpose of hiding their real identity – is common on Odniklassniki.

Another important divide is linked to users’ features. While Facebook subscribers are mainly from the cities and highly educated, country-side residents prefer Odnoklassniki.

Older generations

While younger generations are still divided between the two versions, the older ones have made up their minds. Having grown up during the Soviet times, when moving around the Eastern block was as common as it is today in Europe, the Moldovan parents have friends scattered all over the former Soviet Union. They were the mates they shared their youth with – they studied together, or were simply friends, until they moved to another region or city. And if letters used to keep a few of those relationships alive, most of them faded away as it used to happen.

And then, when Odnoklassniki got so popular as to reach the older population through the youngest, many Moldovans in their forties and fifties were found sitting in front of a computer for their first time, pushed by the eagerness to see their old acquaintances once again.

As in the case of Domnica Popa, 23, phone network employee. Her mum Julia, 52, begged her to open an account on her behalf on Odnoklassniki.ru. She used to study in in Arkhangelsk, Northern Russia, back in the eighties before relocating to Moldova.


Photo Credits: Flickr CC Zemlyanichnaya and Kelly Donaldson (bugdog)

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