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Should Google Prepare for a Battle Royal with Yandex?

Right now there's a 68% probability you're using Google for search. Google's dominance in search is a reality worldwide, although some countries managed to escape the giant.  A little excursion I am taking with Yandex may prove "acceptance" is not something the world’s users have to stand for, and that innovation has not died out for a lack of smart people trying. The latest release today (the original came out two weeks before Google Drive in 2012) of the new Yandex Disc is another puzzle piece for what may be the real Google Killer from Mother Russia. Check this out.

Yandex Search 

Background for a Search Battle Royal

As significant as the Google's market share is, the years it's dominated search and web advertising are even more so. Back in 2006, when I first began evaluating Google and its so-called "semantic" competitors, Google owned 45% of search – Yahoo! had about a third. Then, in 2007, at the peak of technology media's interest in search, the Mountain View company really took off. Since then, despite efforts by Microsoft (Bing) Yahoo!, and a few others, Google kept on ruling like a virtual monopoly. No one seems to be able to make headway, but a Russian search engine, begun by three Russian entrepreneurs, Arkady Volozh and Ilya Segalovich, about the same time as Google (1997 vs 1998), may have the cleanest shot at a challenge in years. A stream of releases of late, since Yandex execs unveiled something called Yandex Islands, bears telling you about.

Yandex, for those unfamiliar, is the most widely used search engine in Russia. Some 65 plus million users in Russia depend on the engine for discovering the World Wide Web, roughly 60 percent. This is significant for a number of reasons beyond simple inbound user markets.

First, the emerging Russian middle class travels and shops far abroad. This gives Yandex a massive potential advantage where marketing to Russians is concerned. But Yandex has also begun offering their engine in other languages, of particular note – the English version (which I’ll talk about later).

Then, Yandex has improved not only in terms of localization through language, but with technological breakthroughs that will add massively as mobile search becomes the norm.

I list below new features added by Yandex, which make a compelling “integrated” contextual search product:

  • Yandex Islands (Summer 2013) – Islands are rich contextual snippets (Islands) that speed and accentuate the search process
  • Yandex Metrica (October 2013) – This lets businesses and developers know real time analytics about app users
  • Yandex acquires KitLocate (March) – The Israeli startup that powers up geo-fencing, motion detection and social location
  • Nokia phones come loaded with Yandex
  • Virtual Tour Images – On Yandex Maps, this is an interesting take on Google street-view/Earth value
  • Sibir (last month) – Siberia abbreviated, this Yandex tech additive is really CBIR, or content based image retrieval –
  • Finally the current Yandex.Disk released this morning – as I said, Yandex.Disk has been out since 2012.


Coolness Plus Other Features of Yandex

Before I go into the implications for Yandex.Disk integration into this mix, I should report on a discussion I had with Yandex’s head of international media relations, Vladimir Isaev. The seeming mobile implications for Sibir, and on Yandex.Disk interested me most. I asked Isaev about the potential for smart devices for the latest Yandex.Disk release, which seems for me to be a booming market for such;

"This feature is available on web version of Yandex.Disk. However we are going to bring it on mobile for our Android, iOS and Windows Phone Yandex.Disk apps. Some new social networks may also be connected via their API".

Yandex Mail Forest Theme

We went on discussing such augmented reality features, such as Sibir, but essentially it seems my suspicions may be correct in that the smart device users everywhere may soon get a handful of interesting tools from Yandex. This is no big secret, but what’s interesting for me, and some others, is how Yandex is integrating their product line as compared with how Google grew developmentally. Some people claim Yandex copied Google, but I think it’s more appropriate to say they “emulated” and refined what Google did. I’m not prepared today to compare SERPs or key term search queries, but Yandex Mail (Not my adorable Forest Theme), the browser, and some elements of search I’m testing show a lot of promise in key areas.

Yandex products are 10 times easier to adopt for first time users as compared to western competitors. I actually got started with Yandex the other day doing research on the VK social network. Within a very few minutes I became enthralled with Yandex Islands, then Yandex Mail (and my ever cool “Foxes” mail theme), then Yandex’s Browser (flawlessly simple) and finally Yandex.Disk. Now that I sound like the Russian company’s best salesman (which I would not mind), I should note I’m still doing in depth testing of all these services. That said, let me show you Yandex.Disk, and explain why the Russians may be coming for Google.

Yandey.Disk sharing

Patchwork Services Versus Incremented Innovation

Control equates to streamlining life, especially for wired tight internet users. Yandex.Disk is the latest tool in this company’s toolkit of services to superpower a person’s control over content across social networks. Yandex.Disk allows service users to filter all their photos on various social networks (as above), into folders in the cloud on their Yandex.Disk.

Yandex.Disk photo editor

What’s most powerful in this is the way the service lets users store not only their own photos, but “shares” they’re tagged in, and the ability to cross share across multiple networks. New users will find the experience fascinating if only for the potential of the integration in between mobile phones. Yandex.Mail and Yandex.Disk and already integrated.  Another cool aspect is that the free 20gig storage is upgradable. Last, but not least, Yandex.Disk has a great image editing tool (shown above in a Crete photo edit) to enhance images, add filters, text, and graphics before you publish them.

While my testing is still ongoing (see my later report), if you try these services now you’ll find a cohesiveness that never was there during Google’s development. It’s as if Google patched a bunch of services like search, video, mail, RSS reading (now defunct), and myriad social tries (Google Plus is hurting) to “attach” to their core business. Yandex, on the other hand, seems to have approached service from an intrinsically developmental/user friendliness perspective. Through improved "clonage" like image hosting with Yandex.Fotki, and face recognition capability with, cobined with the expanding interoperability of the Russian search giant's other services, when the world goes full mobile Yandex is bound to be leading or tied with Google and others if the west adopts these platforms. Personally, I do not envision hundreds of millions of people, choosing inferior products, so.... 

Battle Royal

In conclusion, cohesive and well functioning user friendliness is the point, wouldn’t you say? Google, for anyone who’s used all the services, is about as user friendly as a porcupine. Another strength of Yandex is their infrastructure, the way their people are accessible. I won’t go in depth here, but connecting with a living organism at Yandex is 100 times easier than at Google, and 1000 times less stressful than for Yahoo! Any reasonable assessment of those companes, compared to emeringing ones like Yandex, looks a bit like my mashup above.

This speaks volumes for me, but of course the downside of “swapping” and missing features of Yandex factors in too. The point is, Google has needed a real competitor for some time. Users need better search, a better Google, and a viable 2nd best in the search business. Yandex has so far convinced me, we'll see about the interim verdict as I use the system more and more. Let’s hear your feedback as I compile the real litmus test. 

Meanwhile, here's some more information from Yandex telling about Yandex.Disk

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