Facebook's popularity is threatened in the countries of the former USSR by* the rival V Kontakte ("in contact"), which is pretty much Russian Facebook with a dash of MySpace thrown in for good measure.
* Another competitor is the mega-popular site Classmates but I obviously have no business registering on that site so sorry, dear readers, no stories for you about that one.
I've decided to join V Kontakte after being asked only about 45 billion times by students. Hmm, maybe I can sneak in some extra English in their daily language diet this way... It's also been an excellent exercise in Russian immersion since, haha, there's no immediately discernible way use it in English. My Russian is just good enough to navigate around the site. The site seems a little confusing but I've heard Ukrainians make the same statement about Facebook, so I guess simplicity is in the eye of the beholder. Plus, the new Timeline design of Facebook is about as complicated to me as this social networking site in Cyrillic. Do you hear that, Mark Zuckerberg? In Cyrillic! Написано такими буквами! (Written with letters like this!)
Anyways, I noticed some cultural differences between V Kontakte and Facebook.
For example, since military service is more or less required here for all males of a certain age, there's an info section for military service (военная служба) on your profile.
Also, preset options for political views include communist and socialist. Which I embarrassingly didn't even realize were different. (On a related note, last week representatives of the Communist Party were handing out pamphlets and playing recorded yet rousing Soviet music near the metro.)
I think it's fascinating how Russians and Ukrainians are so focused on philosophy. Even regular people go around quoting long-dead poets, reading War and Peace in high school (eek!), and studying up on psychology in their spare time. Not surprisingly, on your V Kontakte profile you answer questions like: "What's important in life?" (the answers are: family and kids, career and money, entertainment and rest, science and research, world perfection, self-improvement, beauty and art, glory and influence. By the way, you can only choose one answer, so make it count!), and "What matters in people?" (Choose one: mind and creativity, kindness and honesty, power and wealth, courage and determination, humor and love of life.)
One more thing- like a dating site you're asked about your drinking and smoking preferences. The rating scale is not from "I never smoke" to "I'm on fire, you fool"....instead you rate your preferences from negative to positive. That's probably because the popularity of smoking and the simple reality of secondhand smoke means that if you live here, you smoke anyway, regardless of whether you actually put a cigarette in your mouth or not. It's difficult to say "I never smoke" if you are guilty of ever A) going out to a cafe and B) breathing.
After putting in a couple hours on в контакте I'm quite satisfied so far. It's going to be a fantastic way to learn more Russian and connect better with native speakers and get more insight into the cultures behind the website. See you online!
*Update 3/11/12: It is possible to change the language by going to the very bottom of the screen. And WOW- vk users appear to have uploaded every song + every movie + every textbook ever made!
Here is an interesting link to information about В Контакте vs. Facebook...for example, the most popular game on В Контакте is a game where you give a prisoner tattoos.*