Photo Courtesy of Hugo E. Martin]
It's a typical start up story. A couple of smart students, do a class project with a professor encouragement. They decide there's a commercial opportunity and take it into the mainstream where they decide to put the customers as much in control as possible. It catches on and it inmproves at least one aspect of society just a bit.
Except this one didn't start in Palo Alto or Austin, but in Ukraine, a new and emerging country. The story shows how much alike people are when they have the freedom to pursuit what they want and the tools that are now available through the Internet.
I owe a very large thanks to German blogger Hugo E. Martin, as I recently stated. Sirhey Danyenko is one of several people he connected me to. I love Sirhey's story. I think it is relevant to the SAP Global Survey because it shows that cultures and economies are emerging through social media, and when people can interconnect, they very iften end up doing business with each other.
Here are my questions to Sirhey and his outstanding answers:
1. Tell me about the Internet and the technology in Ukraine. Do people have broadband access? What about business?
Ukraine is a pretty large country located in Eastern Europe. We have a population of 46 million. people and the territory comparable to France. 38% of Internet users enjoy broadband connection and this number is growing. It means that very soon Ukraine will solve the problem of low speed dial-up connection.
In fact, almost all Ukrainian web-projects being developed at the moment, are aimed at users with broadband connection. Business understands the importance of IT.
Both small and big companies provide their employees with Internet access at workplaces. At the same time we have some troubles with access in regions and small cities, though the situation is getting better. In 2007 PeopleNet 3g Internet-provider appeared on the market, so it's enough to buy PCMCI or USB card for laptop and stay online 24\7 wherever you like.
2. When and how did you get interested in social media and citizen journalism? How have they influenced your life?
Together with my friend Dmytro Dubilet we studied at Shevchenko University, Institute of International Relations where we specialized in International information. We published the University newspaper and then decided create our own project, starting with an Internet newspaper. The basic idea we had is that readers should influence journalists as much as possible. We thought that in our project there wouldn't be editorial staff and people would be free to publish any information they want.
We started writing the code in 2004 and on 5 August 2005 Highway went online. Then we found out, that the model we were using is called citizen journalism in Western countries. And then the concept of Web 2.0 appeared and we found ourselves in a middle of the social media stream.
3. What would you say are the results two years later? How and why did you select the name 'Highway? '
In our third year of study we realized, that we wanted to run our own media project. From the very beginning it was a business project.We wanted to create brand new, honest, popular and trustworthy newspaper based on a profitable business model. It took us a year to become listed among theTOP-25 Ukrainian online mass media properties and sell a part of the project to Ukrainian Media Holding. That was our first big success in the media business. The name "Highway" was chosen to symbolize freedom, broad outlook, speed of thought. This word is not often used in Ukrainian language so both project idea and its name appeared as something new and interesting for the Ukrainian media landscape.
4. Who reads Highway? How many readers do you have? How many of them comment? How does it compare in influence with traditional Ukrainian media?
Can you give me a good interesting anecdote that illustrates the effect Highway is having in the Ukraine?
One can say that Highway is a daily general interest newspaper. We have 20.000-25.000 unique visitors per day. Many articles prepared by citizen journalists get republished by other web-sites. Highway has 5500 registered users, of whom 500 are active contributors, which
publish up to 100 stories per day: articles, interviews, pictures, poems, stories, news stories etc. The life of Highway team sometimes reminds me of anendless anecdote.
We do not hesitate to experiment and work in style "Fire! Fire! Fire! Now Aim". People, who come to our office, think that Highway has a huge editorial staff and they
are pretty astonished, when they get acquainted with me and my several friends.
When I send letters, depending on the addressee I sign them "Editor in chief", "Head of marketing department", "Co-founder", "Head of advertising," "Brand manager" etc.
5. In the US, we know all too little about Ukraine and your region. How can social media change that? Will it?
Internet and social media in particular change the lifestyle of Ukrainians. People use Highway not only to read stories, but also to communicate and socialize. Every published story is a welcoming message for conversation. In comments, people provide links to additional information and alternative viewpoints, express their own thoughts. Students, who study journalism, use Highway to have a practice and prepare good credentials for a future career in traditional media.
Civic activists and NGO members publish information about their plans and results of implemented projects. Highway has a strong community. People, who talk to each other online willingly meet in real life. Once a year, we organize Highfreedom - an annual meeting of Highway citizen reporters from all over Ukraine. The last High freedom took place on a beautiful island near Kyiv (Kiev). 170 citizen journalists spent the whole night in a tent camp with fire, songs and lots of communication.
Highway is not just a newspaper, but also a social network, which provides people with space for communication and personal development.
6. What languages do people speak in the Ukraine? How big of a barrier is that to social networking with the West? How does that barrier get reduced?
In Ukraine people speak our own Ukrainian language and also Russian, the language we inherited from Soviet past. At the same time children study English almost in all schools and Ukrainian business elite speaks English pretty well. There are a lot of Ukrainians at LinkedIn. Google is the #1 search engine in Ukraine. However, the majority of Ukrainians prefer to use Russian social media services, since they can speak this language. I don't think the situation will change soon. Media professionals will have active contacts with the West, when the majority of Ukranians will use native services.
Another detail worth mentioning is software development outsourcing. I won't tell exact project names, but a lot of prominent Western web-projects were created by Ukrainian teams. Western companies hire Ukrainian coders, because they are quite talented and skilled and cost less, than Western coders.
7. What other social media do people use in the Ukraine? How fast is it growing? How do you think it will change your culture over the next five years?
Among popular social media sites are Maidan and Narodnapravda (Ukranian lins). Maidan is known as a site, where civic society activists publish information and coordinate their actions. Narodnapravda is a part of Ukrayinska pravda project, based on the community of its readers. Both projects are growing consistently and contribute to the development of civic society in Ukraine.
8. Tell me about business in the Ukraine. Who are the largest employers? What do people do for a living? What is the average lifestyle of mid-level
The largest employers are industrial companies (coal, steel, chemicals), servise providers, banks and IT companies. Average income is 1500$ per month, however, the prices are quite cheap. For you to compare: a good dinner costs 5$. 0,5 l Coca-Cola sosts 0,6 $. Mid-level employees spend 8 hours a day working in the office, waiting for evening to meet friends, go to the cinema, nightclub or just have a cup of tea in a cafe. Some of my friends drink beer and watch TV till late at night or play computer games. Other use evenings and day-offs to study, read, go in for sports, sleep, devote time to hobbies. Ukrainian lifestyle is very European.
9. To what extent do businesses use social media and if so, which ones and for what purposes?
Businesses only start realizing the importance of social media. At the moment, we help one of the biggest Ukrainian banks set up its corporate
blog. Another company, mobile operator, created Web 2.0 portal for its community. Yet another company organized contest of mobile ethics
aimed at bloggers. These are only first steps. We can feel a great interest on the part of business, so more projects are to appear in the future.
10. Additional Comments?
I think Ukraine is one of the most promising markets in the world. It's developing rapidly and we have a lot of smart people to run beautiful projects. You can come visit Ukraine and take part in this event we're organizing at the moment.