Hype-check: Will Google's Olympic Charter Doodle make an impact in Russia?

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Google’s daily Doodle today is unusual, in that is overtly political. The regular special graphics are usually celebrating people who are uncontroversial – birthdays of the long dead and the like. Today though, on the day of the Sochi Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony they’ve gone for Russia’s jugular. The Doodle is a rainbow of winter sports, which when clicked displays a quote from the Olympic Charter – a clear protest against Russia’s depressingly regressive attitude to gay rights. But will it make an impact in Russia?

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For most of the world, Google is an essential tool – I know I’m not alone in saying I couldn’t live without Google search and their suite of services, from Gmail to Calendar to the dear-departed Google Reader (I’m still only just managing to hold it together). But for some countries – it’s a different story. Take a look at this map from Pew Research of the most popular websites in different countries:

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If you can’t read the key – red is Google, blue is Facebook and that long orange stripe across the top, representing Russia represents a website you’ve probably never heard of: Yandex.

That’s right – whilst Google over here command something like 90%+ of all searches, with Bing a distant second – in Russia, things are much more competitive.

Yandex is Russia’s biggest website, and biggest search engine by a long way – with something like a 60% market share.

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So what does this mean? It might not be seen by quite as many people as you might hope.

Don’t get me wrong – Google are still a big player in Russia – Google.ru and Google.com are both in the top 10 websites according to measurement firm Alexa, but for many users they’ll sail by, seeing only whatever Yandex have on their homepage. Sadly Yandex, as a Russian company are probably fairly unlikely to speak out, lest they feel Putin’s wrath.

Still – it’s a bold move by Google and somewhat uncharacteristic. Despite the immense power of being the default homepage for millions of people around the world, they rarely use their power to advocate particular political positions. The last such usage was probably during the ‘blackout’ protest against the proposed American SOPA law, which saw many websites shut their doors for the day – though Google only went with the clever logo.

It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any blowback on this from the Russian regime. Though increasingly totalitarian, Russia isn’t well known for blocking websites for political reasons (unlike say, the Chinese government – though they do block some) – but a big embarrassment like this on Putin’s big day, during the launch of his big personal project? He ain’t going to be happy.

James O’Malley
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