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Uzbekistan: ‘National’ Social Network Not Quite a Facebook Clone

Would you ever give up your Facebook account to switch to a “national” social networking platform? Well, this is what the authorities in Uzbekistan apparently hope the country's Internet users will choose to do. They are challenging the popularity of Facebook and the Russian-language social network Odnoklassniki [Classmates] in the country by promoting Youface, a new local platform.

Interestingly, this is not the first attempt of the sort. An Uzbek-language social network service, Muloqot.uz, was set up back in 2011. However, the platform has not become popular, perhaps because people had to provide their cellphone numbers to register on the website. The launching of Youface, therefore, is another attempt by the authorities to get the country's Internet users to prefer a “national” platform over the “foreign” ones.

The new social network has striking similarities with Facebook – in name, but also in interface and functionality.

Home page of youface.uz

The domain name is owned by an Uzbek national named Ayubhon Abdullaev. He has admitted [ru] that the new social network service resembles Facebook “at first sight”. However, according to Abdullaev, the service's design “will be changed” as soon as its Facebook look helps attract more users. He also announced that the goal of Youface is to “boost patriotism among young people in Uzbekistan”. It is not surprising than that the website's welcome page quotes Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov: “Our children must be stronger, smarter, and happier than we are”.

Some netizens seem to like the idea of having a “national” social network and are quite optimistic about Youface's future. For example, Black_A writes [ru]:

Prajevyov uvidem. Nu zato o nix uje uznala ves MIR! eto vam ne kakoyto MALAkot.uz :D ili SET.uz! etot sayt budet kak VK.ru v Rossiyi. Unas budet YouFace.uz…….. Ya registrirovalsya tam i ya etogo gorda skaju!!

We’ll see. The point is that the whole world now knows about [Youface]. This is not something like [muloqot.uz] or set.uz! This website will be similar to VK.ru in Russia [VK.ru or Vkontakte.ru – the most popular social network in Russia]! And we will have our YouFace.uz…. I have registered there and I am proud to say this!!!

However most Internet users in Uzbekistan have not made up their minds yet about the new social network. Almost two months after its launch, Youface has only slightly over 1,500 registered users (as of July 7, 2012). The majority of Internet users in Uzbekistan seem to care little about the new service. Nevertheless, some netizens have criticized the service for being a Facebook clone.

Hushnud, for examples, tweets [ru]:

youface.uz плохая копия FB очень даже. дизайн детское и вообще…

youface.uz is a bad, very bad copy of Facebook. The design is childish, and everything…

Oybek agrees [ru]:

я вообще в шоке такого плагиата никто не видел, просто нереально стыдно за то что это у нас… http://youface.uz 

I am shocked, nobody has seen such plagiarism before. It is an unbelievable shame that we have this… http://youface.uz 

However, once users register on the service and sign up, they can see that the website has some differences from Facebook. For example, Youface users can see who has viewed their profiles. This option is not available on Facebook, but it is very popular on Odnoklassniki. Youface also allows users to search for new friends not only by name, but also by sex, age, and location, making the website similar to online dating services. The website also has a “Marketplace” where users can post classified ads. Besides, Youface features a “Youmoney” option which does not function yet, but which is supposed to enable users to shop on the website .

Thus, Youface developers hope to attract users from Uzbekistan by providing them with more functionality then either Facebook or Odnoklassniki can offer.

An information security expert who does not want to be identified suggests [ru] that Youface might have been created to help the authorities in controlling the country's Facebook users and “relocating” them to the local social network service. According to the expert, some users might simply not notice that instead of opening a real Facebook page, their internet browsers will be opening Youface. The login and password typed into the website will then be intercepted and used by the authorities to access the Uzbek nationals’ Facebook profiles. Besides, according to the expert, Youface developers might make it completely identical to Facebook and  even copy some of the latter's user databases. In this case, Uzbek users would have access to the clone service rather than the authentic Facebook, without realizing it.

It is impossible to tell now whether these assumptions are true or not. However, Youface's policy states [ru] already now that, “when posting content on the site a user empowers the site administration to copy it […]” and even if a user deletes her or his account, “the site administration has the right to keep archived copies of user's content …”

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