How Googley Is Yandex Anyway?

The Russian search company has just announced a collaboration with Twitter. Here's how they're becoming more like Google—and also how they also zag with every Google zig.

Yandex and Twitter just announced a collaboration that would give the Russian search company access to Twitter's fire hose of real-time updates, news, and events. In our MIC 2011 feature (Yandex came in at #26), Yandex was growing "Google-style," sprouting add-ons and apps month on month. Yandex now has a video search service, a photo hosting site, and an advertising analysis tool. It runs primarily on advertising money. Recently it added an online payments system (Yandex.money). Sound like anyone we know?

But in the year since we last visited with Yandex, whose name derives from the phrase "Yet Another Indexer," has become anything but. It's taking over turf that even the maker of an autonomous car hasn't.

First for the familiar bits. In April last year, Yandex announced a program called Yandex.Factory, to invest in promising tech startups. "We are full of ideas, but it’s not always easy to do everything at once," Ksenia Yolkina, Project Manager of Yandex.Factory said at the time. "If we spot a young, talented team of like-minded people doing interesting and relevant things on the market, we are eager to support them in all possible ways, including financing." An approach not unfamiliar to Google, which believes in investing in startups of all sorts through via Google Ventures. 

Also in April, Yandex announced they'd gotten into mapping—perhaps you've heard of Google's own mapping service. By June, though, Yandex released a planner application for routing trips via public transport. By August, they'd added a traffic monitoring service. But then it did something un-Googley and launched a taxi search service (also in app form!) to relay taxi hail requests to companies in Moscow, with plans to expand to other big cities. 

Then there's mobile devices, on which Yandex seems to be in direct competition with Google. In October last year, Yandex kicked off a partnership with Samsung to have its search engine installed as the default on all Samsung's bada-powered smartphones in Russia—40% of Samsung's total smartphone sales in the country. Yandex's ever-growing list of apps also placed prominently in Samsung's devices, offering up weather data, mail services, currency exchange rates, and more. It also inked deals with Nokia, HTC, and Microsoft to get installed on Lumia Windows Phones as the default search engine. 

In addition to launching local spin-off search services, part of Yandex's strategy seems to be to expand into non-English-speaking markets. In September, Yandex launched in Turkey for the first time, targeting an Internet-rich market that had a growing search need for local language content. "Rolling out this new product involved developing a number of new technologies, such as a technology for storing web documents in different languages and a document prioritization technology. We expect to make broader use of these technologies in the future," Arkady Volozh, Yandex CEO said at the time. By the end of January this year, their Turkey base had grown to 100,000 daily users.

Then there's the Twitter deal. Twitter's own interest in languages will be of good use to Yandex on this front. But then, it will also strengthen Yandex's core identity as a general search engine, allowing it to deliver results super fast, and super first.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about technology and life. Follow on Twitter, Google+.

[Image: Flickr user Fiddle Oak]

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