New twenty-first century has brought a significant number of changes. With the development of computers, software, and information technology new gadgets appear every day with more functions and better opportunities for communication. However, not only technology and science but also society undergoes serious transformations recently. Internet grows, technology develops, and it, of course, impacts us, human beings. We access wireless internet connection from our phones and communicators any minute; we go online from laptop or iPad from everywhere. We spend more time online than offline, and internet replaces our real lives. That is why communication through internet becomes so important and significant part of our lifestyle.
It is only natural and reasonable that at the beginning of 2000s new social network appeared – the places on the web where people could communicate. Although we could do it before as well using forums, messengers, chats, and blogs, new media was much more convenient and universal. The social network is a combination of the personal web page, scrapbook, forum, photo gallery, chat, blog, and many other functions in one. It connects people who studied in one school, works in one company, shares common interests, or like similar music. It is a place to talk or to make new friends. It is like a real life, but even better.
The first and the most popular social network service was MySpace founded in 2003. His popularity soon was beaten by Facebook, invented by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004. Then Twitter appeared in 2006, a combination of microblog and social network. After that, many other social networking services performed, but only a few gained popularity. When Facebook and Twitter remain the most well-known and popular systems worldwide, with 800 and 300 million users respectively, some younger services from other countries are becoming more and more successful. For example, Russian-speaking audience has two social network sites that prove very popular. Odnoklassniki (from Russian – “classmates”) was started in 2006 and has more than 45 million users currently. However, the most popular social network in Russia and the former Soviet Union is VKontakte or VK (from Russian – “in touch”). This service was launched in 2007 by Russian University graduate Pavel Durov, and now it has 135 million users being the most visited social network in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and other Russian-speaking countries. What makes VK this popular? Let’s conduct our investigation.
They say that Durov stole the idea and design of his service vk.com from Zuckerberg’s Facebook. Indeed, these two sites have much in common. Pavel Durov launched this project for his fellow students of Saint Petersburg State University (just like Zuckerberg started Facebook for Harvard students), and it grew very fast. However, in the era of a social network, the appearance of such site in Russia was only a matter of time, so it is hard to tell if the idea was stolen. Designs of vk.com and Facebook also have not much in common, to my mind, except for blue background of the logotype. What is more important is the functionality of Vkontakte. Let’s study this aspect thoroughly.
Vkontakte, just like any other social networking service, works for registered users only. To register, a new user must be invited by an already registered member. Every member has five invitations allowing to invite five new users to this service. This function was launched last year; previously everybody could register in vk.com. However, even a non-member can surf through the site and visit user pages that are not “hidden.” Still, we’ll talk about privacy settings in Vkontakte later in detail.
When registered, users create their profile – representatives of self. Here you get your page and unique id that appears as your page address (for example, vk.com/id=1176426). However, users may change this address for sort of sub-domain name, (vk.com/michael_smith). User page can be customized entirely by updating user info, adding main photos, editing profile. Multiple categories allow submitting as many information as you want. In the settings menu, it’s possible to add and delete main info (age, date of birth, sex, relationship status, hometown, languages, relatives, etc.), contact information, interests, education, work, military, places you visited, and so on. Besides, you may fill in personal data – religious and political views, own priorities, views on smoking and drinking, and much more. This information is shown in the left part of your page (it’s possible to show or hide full details if there is too much text). On the left is your avatar – the main photo of yours. You may upload, tag, comment and even edit as many photos and group them in as many albums as you want. The main picture may be uploaded directly from your computer or chosen from any already existed collection.
On this site, there are many things a user can do entertaining himself. Communication is a significant activity, so messages play the great role in VK. You may choose a format of signals – either standard (looks like e-mail) or instant messaging (similar to chat or ICQ). It is even possible to talk in a separate small window that is above everything in your browser while you look through photo gallery or do anything else. Of course, you may find and make friends here – nicely searched with multiple categories helps you see them. Besides, in Vkontakte many services make this site unique, for instance, so-called graffiti – you may draw a painting yourself with a small application with a friendly interface. Forms on this site play a significant role, so there is a countless number of them – games, dating services, radio, painting, and much, much more. Everybody chooses the one according to their interest and uses them, with the possibility to invite friends.
Among unique features in VK are media. There is a massive database of audio and video files here with advanced search among them. They say – it is possible to find everything in Vkontakte. Of course, all files are not likely not downloadable, and you may only enjoy favorite music or video in your browser for your purpose and on your responsibility. Users can add audio and video to their profile, and organize them into groups, name, tag and comment them. Besides, one of the most significant functions here is attaching a file. In a message body, you can connect any file – audio, video, photo, graffiti, and even a document from the hard drive. Materials may be of any format and huge size – isn’t it a great substitution of file hosting?
The significant part of user page in Vkontakte is so-called “wall.” It is a combination of personal blog and scrapbook. You can post on your wall any information – text message, photo, audio or video file, link to another site, attach a document, a map, or poll. Friends can comment posts and also post on your wall if you allow them. Also, you can share with your friends any other post you find interesting. The wall can be hidden from non-members and non-friends – in this case only your posts will be seen, without comments or other users’ posts. User wall along with so-called “status” (a phrase that can be written near the main photo) are essential parts of the unique user profile.
Other exciting features in VK include groups (there are millions of organizations of all kinds that you can enter), notes (longer posts of user that may be seen separately), news (positions of all your friends listed chronologically), favorites (user can add any other user, group, or page to preferences in order to access it quickly). Besides, “events” is another useful function – users can create events (birthday, concert, party) and invite anyone to attend it. Of course, “like” system is implemented on this platform. It means that anybody can “like” (or “unlike” previously liked) post – be it a wall post, photo, video, note, or even comment.
Developers add new functions every month to make the site more comfortable and to help members connect. For instance, when looking through news, one may sort posts by types (comments, photos, friends, or even sort it by popularity). The new feature is a possibility to attach multiple files to the post or message – like several songs, or few photos. Another neat function is so-called “recommendation.” The system analyzes your posts, your friends and their posts on the wall and offers you interesting posts of non-friends of yours. Also, you can listen to recommended music – a playlist created automatically based on your audio-files list.
Privacy and protection are of course significant aspects of Vkontakte. Every user account is linked to the phone number, so when you want to change a password or make any other considerable privacy change the message is sent to a related number. This way users profiles and data are more protected. Besides, a user may choose items should be exposed to the public, what should be hidden, or may be shown to friends only. For example, you may choose to hide all notes, show all photo albums to friends only, show all videos to friends and their friends, allow comments on your wall to nobody except particular people, and allow all friends except for Peter and Michael to see groups where you are a member. The system is preferably flexible, but there are certain things you can’t hide – the list of friends (you can hide up to 10 names though), main photo (or photos), and playlist. Blacklist is another useful function that allows users to avoid contact with people you don’t want to hear from.
Vkontakte is now translated to more than 60 world languages so that anybody can become a member (if invited, of course). It is very comfortable regarding integration with other popular services – it can export data to Facebook, Livejournal, or Twitter. Mobile services integration allows accessing a site from certain mobile operator under better conditions. However, VK is not only a great place to communicate and entertain; it provides great possibilities to make money through advertising. Ads here are very neutral and calmly designed banners or text messages, appearing in the left column. Every user can create hype and choose the audience, target by place or other categories, and select the best payment format – per click or impression.
Vkontakte has a smartly designed intuitive interface, very neutral and enjoyable design, the best functionality I have ever seen on the social network, and continually growing number of coolest features. After studying this service in detail, I can say confidently – VK is better than Facebook. It is more comfortable, intelligent, pleasant, and functional. Therefore, I don’t think that Pavel Durov ever stole an idea from Mark Zuckerberg. He created his own talented and brilliant network. His team of hundreds of best employees works hard in Saint-Petersburg to provide users with best features. No wonder Vkontakte is the most popular social network in Russian-speaking countries. I honestly think of becoming a member if they send me an invitation. Will you be my friend in vk.com?
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