Russian Fashion Dominance on the Web. A Study on Local Googles in post- Soviet Countries.

Even after the dissolution of physical borders, can we still see the cultural influence of a particular country on the others? Can these social conditions be seen on the Web?  The countries belonging to the USSR used to revolve around Russia and Russian language.  After the collapse of this empire Russia still remains a leading economic power. But what about culture? Are the former USSR countries nurturing their own (online) cultural independence, or are there still some remains of Russia’s cultural dominance?

The local Googles can be peep holes through which we may see how much content on the local webs of the former USSR countries is really local, and how much is global or imported from other countries. The plural form “Googles” is used on purpose, since the results obtained from different geographical locations (different local Googles) differ to  a great extent. Some scholars even talk about the “transition of the Internet from “cyberspace”, which invokes a placeless space of email and packets, to the web of identifiable national domains” (Rogers et al. 1), therefore, forming a network of many national webs (spheres). Precisely because of these local differences the internet can be useful for studying local cultures. As Richard Rogers says, “the Internet is a site of research for far more than online culture and its users. With the end of the virtual/real divide, however useful, the Internet may be rethought as a source of data about society and culture.” (Rogers, The End of the Virtual)

A starting point of this research is a claim made by Daniel Ford and Josh Batson on their Google Research Blog, “The language webs of many former Soviet republics link back to the Russian web, with the strongest link from Ukrainian. While Russia is the major importer of Ukrainian products, the bilingual nature of Ukraine is a more plausible explanation. Most Ukrainians speak both languages, and Russian is even the dominant language in large parts of the country.”# This research tests the relevance of this claim for Ukraine and other former USSR countries. It is a study on the national webs in six Russian speaking countries, i.e. the countries in which more than 10% of the population are native Russian speakers. Thus, the analysis does not include all post-Soviet countries, since some of them, like Armenia and Moldova, do not have a significant percentage of Russian native speakers# and, therefore, we assume that Russian online content plays relatively insignificant role in their national webs.

We attempt to see to what extent the web in Belarus, Estonia, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan rely on Russian content related to fashion. The query “fashion” was used to find out the degree to which those countries have developed their own tastes and trends visible online, and to what extent they look up to Russian fashion trends and import them to their culture. More specifically, what is the proportion between local and non-local content per country when using national search engine?

Since for using most search websites it is necessary to choose a language in search settings, another question was posed: to what extent do the search results differ depending on the language identified in the search settings? To check this, the query was googled twice in Russian, but with different language preferences (once with a preference set on the dominant language of the country, and once with Russian language preference).

It should be mentioned that this research does not aim at showing Russian dominance in a sense of deliberate imposing of values, language or culture on other countries. That is why the query chosen for the analysis is not politically or morally charged, but relates to tastes and trends. We assume that the presence (or absence) of Russian websites among results on local Googles is a result of an organic process, and these particular websites are simply the most popular and most viewed in a particular country.

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