After I had enough students pestering me about it, I finally joined Odnoklassniki, which is a sort of Russian Facebook. (There is another site, called vkontakte, which is closer to a Facebook/LinkedIn clone, but Odnoklassniki is much more popular with my students.) I finally relented because I’ll need student volunteers for some activities I’m planning and it’s an easy way to get in touch with them, and because I thought it would make for an interesting social experiment.
Because it’s all in Russian, the learning curve for me is a bit steep. I’ve gotten the hang of it by using my dictionary, though, and I think I understand just about everything on the site now. Odnoklassniki (the English transcription of одноклассники, ‘classmates’) is different from Facebook in a number of ways:
- You have to pay to join. It costs about $3, which you pay for by texting a phone number and the registration fee is deducted from your cell phone minutes.
- Everyone can tell when you’re online, not just your friends.
- Photos you put up are ‘rated’ by other people, on a scale of one to five, kind of like Hot or Not (who remembers that?). You can pay extra money to rate someone a ‘5+’ by the same means that you paid for your registration.
- You don’t actually have a profile where you can list The Bible, Twilight, and The Da Vinci Code as your favorite books or The Notebook as your favorite movie — your friends will have to just ask you if they want to know.
And, perhaps the creepiest part:
- People can tell when you’ve looked at their profiles.
You can upload photo albums, give status updates like on facebook, and comment on your friends’ photos and status updates; there are groups to join, games to play, a chat feature, and friend suggestions. You have to request that someone be your friend, and all your friends’ status updates and photo uploads go into a sort of news feed, called лента, which translates as ‘tape’ or ‘ribbon.’
Facebook is useful for a number of reasons: keeping track of friends who live far away, sharing links or videos, uploading fun photos of parties and such, event planning, long-form messaging that’s more structured than chat but less formal than e-mail, and, most importantly, ‘stalking’ potential girlfriends/boyfriends/employees. Odnoklassniki, though it has some of these capabilities, is not used for any of these reasons.
Instead, the fact that people can tell when you’ve looked at their profile ruins stalking, and the photo rating turns the whole exercise into an orgy of narcissism. None of the pictures I’ve seen on Odnoklassniki are funny in the least — instead, glamor shots rule the site, for boys and girls alike. It’s all just a contest to see who can post the most ‘frumos’ pictures, and when I’ve seen kids sign on, it’s mostly to check out how their pictures look; checking their profile visits and chatting come in second and third, respectively.
Hey everyone, I’m using social media in the former USSR! Come and see how good I look!