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Facebook to Open Russian Office

Social-networking site Facebook is in talks on cooperation with Russian mobile operators and is opening up an office in Russia.

Within a few days, Facebook will announce the opening of its Russian office, said Unova Media, organizer of the Russian Internet Technologies conference, where Andrew Bosworth, Facebook's top software engineer, made a presentation. Unova received this information directly from Facebook.

Facebook representatives did not answer a letter from Vedomosti, but a manager of a large Internet company operating in Russia was informed of Facebook's move.

Facebook counts more than 400 million active users. Its main competitor, MySpace, already opened a Russian office but closed it in summer 2009 along with offices in a number of other countries. One of the main functions of MySpace's Russian office was ad sales.

Facebook may also sell space on its site to Russian advertisers, said the manager of a large Internet holding. More likely, he says, Facebook may reach an agreement with mobile phone carriers. For example, Vodafone has a free SMS service that alerts users when they have received a message on Facebook.

Executives of Facebook and the big three Russian mobile operators — MTS, VimpelCom and MegaFon — are already acquainted. MegaFon and MTS have already discussed possible joint ventures with the social network, said representatives of the two companies, Karen Asoyan and Irina Osadchaya.

Employees of VimpelCom and Facebook met six months ago, said Ksenia Korneyeva, the operator's spokeswoman. There have been no concrete agreements, but VimpelCom is already planning to incorporate an application for communicating on social networks — including Facebook — into its Beeline brand telephones.

The mobile operators are discussing many different possibilities for cooperation, said an executive of one of the big three. In particular, there is talk of integrating the social network with the operators, of paying for Facebook content via SMS and of a subsidized fee structure.

Facebook's goal is to reach 15 percent to 20 percent of Russian Internet users, said an employee at another operator. According to TNS Web Index, there were 32.6 million Internet users in February. The social network could get about 4.9 million to 6.5 million users, said Denis Terekhov, a partner at consulting agency Sotsialniye Seti.

But the user base of Vkontakte, Russia's biggest social network, is already much larger: According to TNS Web Index, Vkontakte had 18.37 million users in February. For mobile operators working with the average customer, it is more logical to work in partnership with a mass-market brand, but the Russian users of Facebook are more upmarket, Terekhov said. The Russian version of Facebook has been around for a while, and the appearance of a Russian office won't affect its users, said Vladislav Tsyplukhin, head of the press service at Vkontakte.

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