5 Year Evolution of Russian Queries for “What is?”

Whether you are willing to admit it or not, when you feel too silly asking a human a particular question, turning to your preferred search engine provides the perfect solution.  You get the answer to your question, clear your search history, and are up to speed on whatever had you guessing.

New trends, song lyrics, and acronyms are especially hot topics for users to learn more about online.   However, many users are searching for topics that date back to the beginning of time.  Whether you are American and searching on Google or Russian and searching on Yandex (the lead search engine in Russia with 60% of the search market share), similar search patterns tell a story of people looking for answers online for many of the same reasons.

In 2014, Google users wanted to know “What is love?” more than anything else.  To be fair, that is a tough question Haddaway has been asking since at least 1993.  For the past four years, Russian users turning to Yandex were searching the same thing.  This was the number one query for users who were looking to define something until 2014.  Last year far fewer people were wondering what love is because they were too busy figuring out “What is a selfie?”

Yandex question queries

Before selfies really took off and Russia’s President Putin finally got on board with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev‘s social media behavior, smartphones and social media apps had to hit Russia first.  Instagram took off in 2013 but many Russians had to ask Yandex what it was to figure that out, similar to the way they searched for Twitter and Skype back in 2010 and 2011.   Although, comparatively more people were concerned about Instagram and than they were Twitter.  Viber, a free call and messenger app, was the 2014 Yandex “What is” search for messaging and Internet related topics.

The two social media networks are becoming increasingly popular in Russia in connection with increased smartphone use.  There are 104 million mobile phone users in Russia and the smartphone penetration currently stands at 62%.  More people are using smartphones in Russia and appreciating the whole WiFi thing, especially as free WiFi has become available all over the place in major cities like public transportation.  Still WiFi was a popular search topic in recent years and is slowly penetrating other parts of Russia.

top 10 social networks 2014

While Russians were busy searching for these American based apps, Americans were searching, “What is science?” on Google.  Russians asked more specific science questions relating to human anatomy.  Younger people are probably hopping online to ask those questions.

Language has an important influence on searches and what people are wondering.  Interestingly, many of the Yandex searches relate to English cognates like sarcasm or are just the actual English word like “swag.”  Thanks to the popularity of TV shows, movies, and music abroad, and of course social media, Russian, like many other languages, adopts news words and of course, people want to know what they mean and how to use them.  For instance, rather than taking the acronym IMHO (In my humble opinion), and recreating the acronym with Russian words, Russians translate the letters that don’t correspond to the actual translation and instead loosely translate it to “I think” or “I consider.”

You probably have had to search for similar things in English.  Many Americans wanted to know what tbt (Throwback Thursday) is similar to the way Russians were searching for “228” back in 2011 and 2012 -although, they mean drastically different things. FYI, 228 grew in popularity from a song lyric and is a statue on the illegal possession, transportation, and distribution of drugs (Yes, I had to Yandex it). “228” beanies did become a fashion fad.

Current events tend to have an impact on searches as well. While the ice bucket challenge swept through the US and more people were Googling, “What is ALS?,”  Russians were searching for terms related to local events as well. Maidan, recession, and devaluation were all new Yandex searches in 2014 for “What is?”

Russians uniquely search for terms relating to capitalism.  After all, two decades of capitalism leaves a lot of room for learning. Similarly, Russians are wondering about  СНИЛС (SNILS) an individual insurance number, which has taken different forms since it’s first existence in 1996 onward.

These popular Russian queries for “What is?” show a consistent pattern over time for the types of things people are searching based on popular trends.  Every year Russians specifically make it a point to find out about the next useful social network or online messaging tool.  Beyond the human body questions, Russians consistently search for the meaning of love and happiness.  In addition to these steady searches, every year new words pop up and either fall off the top searches or reemerge years later.