Foreign Policy's Evgeny Morozov has a lengthy post on today's news that Russia may pump $100 million into launching a national search engine and what it might mean for Google. The state says the search engine will facilitate safe access to information and filter banned content, but Morozov reads between the lines and points out that it is more likely a move to control the domestic flow of information.
Today Google is a very distant second in the Russian search market. The largest search engine is Yandex, which controls a crushing 62.8 percent of the market. Google has a 21.9 percent share. Since September, 2007, Yandex's market share has never dipped below 55 percent, according to statistics at liveinternet.ru. Google's share has yet to break 25 percent.
To add insult to injury, Yandex has come out with its own browser based on Chromium, the Google-sponsored, open-source project on which Google's Chrome browser is based, according to TechCrunch. Yandex's browser seems indistinguishable from Google's and, apparently, it's also called Chromium.
Yandex will also be spared by the possible national search engine, says Igor Ashmanov, a Russian internet pioneer and key consultant to the government on the search engine. "This won't help to topple Yandex, but it would help overtake Google," he said, according to Morozov's translation of a Russian-language interview.
Morozov also provides some interesting context on the viability of a Russian search engine:
The idea of national search engines is not new. Europeans have been toying with similar plans for a few years now but to no avail -- there was simply not enough political will in Europe to make that happen (who now talks about Quaero, a much-discussed European alternative to Google that never really took off the ground?). Russia, on the other hand, is a different case: the Kremlin wants to build this new engine for reasons that have nothing to do with national pride or the need to preserve national heritage. All Kremlin wants to do is to establish firmer control over the information flows in the country and given that they have quite a few unfair advantages -- both market-based and legal -- they may as well succeed.