This site is our response to everyone who has ever asked us what Russia is like, and for anyone who might have never wondered, but should have. It’s an attempt to put into words Russia as we see it; our go at explaining that big old riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, that in fact, never went away. It’s about understanding the views, opinions and psyche of a nation that hits our headlines daily, without many of us ever really knowing why. And ultimately, it’s about providing a picture of Russia, as seen first-hand by two people, who think that although the journey they’re on to try and understand this country might never end, the process itself is worth sharing.


Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Autocompletology

Photo: By the group, The Fourth Height

Recently I came across a site dedicated to the weird and often wonderful world of google's autocomplete. You know those suggestions that pop up when you enter a search term on google? Well, those are autocomplete: the most popular searches corresponding to what you've entered so far. And my goodness some of them can be odd! Take, for example, the case of an innocent search for 'What do I do if I get swine flu?'. Half way through your typing, google will handily propose a number of suggestions of what you might be looking for. Top of the list? 'What do I do if a ginger kid bites me?' Says reams about our society. This got me thinking about how useful this function could be as a means of analysing popular opinion. With an estimated 100 million searches per day, surely google can tell us something about what people are really thinking about. And, whilst I'm sure it is lacking something in terms of real quantitative research, in a world where it is possible to study David Beckhamology, I think it merits further attention. So, I shall name this new science Autocompletology and my first area of interest will be Russia-related searches.

The most logical place to start is with 'Russia.' A nice simple search. Initially nothing too controversial pops up: in first place, thanks to Rihanna no doubt, Russian Roulette; then Russian translation. But in third place: Russian Brides. Third place?! Surely it is not normal for one of the most popular searches containing the word Russia to be connected to the (legal) purchasing of women? Even worse, if you begin to type 'Russian women', google's top returns are: Russian women personals/dating/scams/for sale...

Of course, this says far more about the western mentality (or perhaps that should be the english-speaking mentality? Actually no: on entering 'les femmes russes', French Google usefully suggested 'les femmes russes' after just entering 'femm', so I think it's fairly western) and perceptions of Russia, than it does anything about Russian women. (Who, I want to stress, are not the topic of this post.) I've been accused in the past of being overly sensitive with regards to (some) western men's attitudes to Russian women, but there is something about (many of) them that is just skin-creepingly horrible. If you go to the websites themselves, the way in which they objectify Russian women is blatant and frankly quite horrible. What I find even stranger is that this attitude isn't unique to dating sites, which I can generally overlook when I imagine the average profile of users (lonely, sad, delusional, sexist...) and given that most of them are scams anyway. No, a lot of the ex-pat crowd I knew in St Petersburg expressed similar attitudes when talking about Russian women. "Russian women are this" etc. etc. This constant generalisation and objectification of women that men just wouldn't dare use if talking about western women. Or, indeed, women they had ever spoken to.

To return to our Autocomplete studies: as a point of comparison, when I switched to Russian google and tried out 'британские мужчины' (British men), nothing happened! And then 'French men', followed by 'Italian men'... still nothing! Eventually when I typed American men, something did pop up, but way down the list and only when I'd almost completely finished the word. (Important Autocompletology note: the speed with which a word is suggested, i.e. how far through the word you get, is big indicator of the popularity of a search.) Ho hum. So, the sites probably are scams and the men using them delusional. Still, says a lot about how Russian women are presented in the West...

...Somehow this Autocompletology study seems to have been hi-jacked by another rant about sexist men but I have time for one last search. Next stop, 'Putin', since we do love a bit of V.V-watching on the Eastern Blog. And the results? Disappointingly quiet concerning those pictures (no bare chests, hunting or swimming, alas) but nevertheless a rather pleasing selection: 'Putin height/French/quotes/calendar/tiger'. And so, in the popular Google imagination, the mighty Russian president is reduced to a small man (various sites dispute exactly how small), whose name, when transliterated into French is amusing close to putain, who shot a tiger down with a tranquilizer and of whom a not insignificant amount of people (127, 000, 000 hits) wouldn't mind owning a calendar. And who came up with such blinders as: 'You must obey the law, always, not only when they grab you by your special place.' Worryingly not one one mention of his actual role, his politics or indeed anything beyond the banal. Autocompletology analysis: Is this the product of his much-famed PR (a rejection of it, perhaps?), of Western portrayals of the man, or just a sad indictment of popular engagement in politics and foreign affairs? (I fear the latter, looking at London's current mayor...)

That's all for now folks, however, I shall definitely be taking this new found social science further. And if you come across any, do please tell me about any good Autocompletologist discoveries!

4 comments:

A.R.G said...

"Russian/Ukrainian brides" is not all scams. And its NOT 'buying brides', it is places where interested sides could meet, and if they both like (or desperate) eachother, then they could get married. Sort of like dating agency.
To me as Russian man it is horrible that Russian women are viewed like that. But hey there is no shortage of British, American, French, (and Russian) etc, women who do much worse things (like porn)
And still..., I don't think of you gals any less. Just life! Some wanna leave Russia with bolding, old dudes. Some wanna leave UK and enter Hollywood 'Adult Industry'.

Anyway..., sorry, thats Not kind of comment you were looking for. Is just that there is a little bit of truth in every stereotype.

Katie said...

Thanks very much for your reply, A.R.G. - I'm happy to get any feedback at all!

I think I over-generalised on scams and, as a Russian, you definitely know more about this than I do. I wanted to focus more on the fact that when you make a generic search for Russia it comes up with Russian brides/women - which is pretty depressing, if that's the most common popular perception of Russia. (And I don't mean that just from a 'feminist' point of view, or someone interested in women's generations. It suggests that Russian women, as objects, are perhaps more emblematic of Western perceptions of Russia, than other things: say literature, history or even Russia's role today...

That said, I was joking a little bit and I doubt that the Google search is fully representative! A comedy show described the internet the other day as 'an adventure playground for mentals' - not so PC but maybe some truth there... In any case, the nature of the bride buying/meeting requires the internet which probably messes up the search figures too.

Emmanuelle said...

I typed "homme" on the French Google just to have a look. Well, autocompletology really is an amazing science: who would think that people were interested in learning about "famous naked men"?
Scarier: if you type "russes" you get "Russian rape", "Hot Russians" and "Drunk Russians".
I think we've just discovered an easy way to get depressed...

Caroline said...

ARG I agree that the Russian brides thing is certainly not a scam, it is indeed a place where interested sides can meet, but unfortunately the sad reality behind both sides' motivations is what makes the whole thing leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

Louis Theroux did this on Thai Brides, I think it sums up the process quite well:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pmy_fnFqjfM

Overheard on a jam-packed beach in Odessa a few years ago where lying right by me is a girl of about 25 and an Australian man of around 60. The conversation overheard went something like:

Man "When I saw your picture on the site I just couldn't believe you wanted to meet an old guy like me."
Girl "I just saw your beautiful eyes"

And big fat wallet?