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Posts Tagged ‘social network’

Social Media and webshopping trends in Russia

Part 1 of 2, Social Media and webshopping trends in Russia

Russia was for long somewhat behind Western Europe and North America what comes to the availability and use of web services and even general accessability to Internet. Still today many of the far eastern parts of Russia are lacking stable Internet connection and thus the country has suffered from slow web business culture development compared to the western world. But this has changed – fast!

In bigger cities, especially in St. Petersburg and Moscow, people are using web and Social Media in particular more than the average western Joe. The time spent in the web and in social networks is even higher than in the western neighbour Finland that’s long been one of the leading countries what comes to the time spent online. Actually the Russians spend most time online in the world – 6,6 hours per day, when the average is 3,7 hours.

The leading websites in Russia are mostly local versions of popular online services known in other parts of the world, providing webmails, search functionalities, and of course social networking possibilities all in Russian. Of the top 10 most popular websites in Russia only Google, YouTube, Wikipedia and LiveJournal are also well known and frequently used in the western world. Of the top websites many are clearly Social Media.

The top 12 most popular websites in Russia:

  1. Yandex – the local Google-clone, a search engine
  2. vKontakte – the local Facebook with over 101 million users
  3. Mail.ru – the local Hotmail/GMail
  4. Google.ru
  5. Google.com
  6. YouTube
  7. LiveJournal
  8. Wikipedia
  9. Odnoklassniki.ru – the local Classmates
  10. Rambler – the local Yahoo + webnews + price comparison aggregator
  11. vk.com = vKontakte.ru, another entry point to vKontakte
  12. Facebook

The western social media companies have for long struggled to find audience in the Russian speaking countries, and many have more or less given up already. The local clones of similar western services attract users much more, as the site structures and general usability, advertising, etc. have been well taken care of and localized to suit local needs. Facebook and Twitter are still in the game and slowly gaining popularity, but as the usage in general is very different in Russia (and in many other Eastern European countries), it is extremely hard to become popular there. One needs to know exactly how the local users use web services – and much more – one needs to understand the culture, the infrastructure, and the ethics as well, and that’s where most western companies go wrong.

One good example of this is the webshopping culture (or the lack of it) and it’s extreme localities. If you don’t know what you’re doing in Russia, find a local partner. Actually, find one anyway. If we think about the webshopping trends and the barriers of entry, there’s one major point that stands out loud and clear. The postal service. Russians don’t tend to use webshops, as they don’t trust to get the item they ordered. Period. The postal system is so poor that no one trusts it, and thus there’s a good amount of courier services and similar hugely popular in Russia. The government has promised to make a total extreme makeover for the postal systems, but that still takes a long, long time to be fully working and trustworthy. And meanwhile one has to find other ways to handle the logistics to get things delivered.

Another problem for a western webshop is the payment terms. The Russians are used to paying upon delivery, in cash. Credit cards are gaining popularity extremely fast, but people still want to pay upon delivery to the courier. And how does a small foreign (western) webshop handle the collecting of money? It doesn’t! So you need a local partner, a well known courier /transport company, and the money then needs to be paid to your account somehow. Not very simple is it? Did you know this? Stay tuned, more will follow in the next article, the second part of Social Media and webshopping in Russia.

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Netcycler – Social swapping online

Netcycler – Social swapping online

I recently saw a newspaper editorial about this new ´Green´ social network that helps people get rid of all their excess ´stuff´. Not so interesting? You could always throw away the crappy old stuff, but you just don´t, do you? People are collectors by nature, and you never know if you one day may actually need that thing that your grandmother bought you for Christmas some years ago. Or perhaps your kids would one day love to play with it… or something. So suddenly you have all this stuff stored at your storage room, at your mom´s, or at friend´s attic like I have. The name started haunting me the next time I went to the storage room to bring over some more useful ´stuff´ that I may one day need.

So I go to the allmighty Internet and search for Netcycler (www.netcycler.fi), and there it was, ta-dah, my new favorite web tool that actually helps solving my real-life issues. How often do You find something like that? Seriously! Web tools are fine when you´re online, but finding something that actually solves a problem that you face in real life, is a true gem!

Netcycler is a part of the new wave of social tools and networks. The basic idea is to get you connected to people, offering your excess items for swapping (or plain give away), and by swapping I mean you decide what you want in exchange. So for example you have some DVDs you no longer feel like watching and you´d actually be more interested in playing board games with your friends. You choose the categories for your items, rate the condition, preferably upload a picture (don´t have to), choose whether you want to swap with someone locally or if you´re willing to send the item by post, and then you name what you´d like to have in exchange. And wait.

If your offering and wish are reasonable and not too exclusive, it shouldn´t take too long before someone checks your items out and has the matching item for your wish. You get a note to your Inbox, you go and click to approve the swap, and then you get a separate message where, how and who you can swap with. After the swap has taken place you go and give feedback and confirm the swap having taken place. Simple, right? That´s the simpliest way it can happen, but the other options are not that difficult either. The company behind Netycler don´t care if you swap one item at a time or a dozen at once, it´s all up to you how you want to trade. If there´s need for posting the items, they will take care of the posting issues by collecting the postal fee (amount agreed upon uploading your item), they send the sender a pre-stamped box with relevant contact details for the recepient, and you just add the item and drop it to a mailbox or post office. Difficult? Not!

The beauty lies in simplicity and in finding interesting swaps where both parties get what they wish for. You may well have the most interesting item in the whole system, but none of those people that fancy your item have what you´d like to have in exchange. Then again that precious old movie poster you always fancied is uploaded by someone who doesn´t want anything you have to offer. No problem, that´s where the beauty of the system kicks in. Netcycler has built a brilliant engine that creates swap-rings. So that when you fancy the poster and have an item fancied by another party, the system suggests swap rings where you send your item to one person, he/she sends an item to the next person, and so on, until you finally receive an item you were wishing for. And of course anyone in the swap-ring can pull the plug and say ´sorry, not gonna happen´, if they consider the swap not being interesting enough for them. The swap-rings are pre-approved before anyone sends any items forward, thus securing that there´s no need to send back items you´ve already received. Nice, ´eh? That´s the part I love in the system anyway.

So it´s not really flea market, you don´t buy anything from anyone, and it´s not charity either, nor is it an auction, but real recycling. And it of course makes you feel good about yourself when you give away excess items you no longer need, and get exactly what you always wanted in exchange.

Oh yes, did I mention they are building some interesting revenue models to keep the system running? So far it´s just premium services that they offer to users in relation to posting the items and collecting fees for packages being sent, and there are no ads anywhere in the system, no company logos, nothing. Additionally the system has some social networking aspects, like linking to people and inviting buddies, possibility to hide items and wishes from people that are not friends, etc. And of course they are only running the system in Finland for now to double-check everything before International expansion, also testing their Facebook success. A deep throat told me Germany may be their next big market soon to be launched, possibly even in late 2010. And… they will be releasing a new UI soon… stay tuned!

Ps. I´ve propably never seen a company as dedicated to customer service as they are. They go to unimaginable lengths to keep users happy, all the way into putting their own money and items where the mouth is should a user go nasty and try fooling the system by not sending items forward – and they act on things when no one has even complained about anything yet. That´s dedication and service!

Ps2. As the company has a huge number of possible features and services already planned, I´ve been happy to witness things are moving forward quickly, the most recent update being the addition of Foursquare-ish badges for active swappers. Nice move! Can´t wait to see what comes next…

Netcycler Badge system

Ps3. No, I do not get paid for writing this… I just like the system a lot.

UPDATE 5 Dec 2010: The post was recently reviewed by German press at the launch of Netcycler in Germany, and an interview based on Netcycler and myself may be reviewed here

http://www.taz.de/1/archiv/digitaz/artikel/?ressort=wu&dig=2010/12/04/a0023&cHash=726d07fa27

I´ve been told Taz (die Tageszeitung) is the 6th biggest newspaper in Germany.

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