Like Yandex, Only Bigger

The state has not yet allocated funds to create a new Internet search engine, but people are already lining up to get their hands on the possible startup budget of $100 million.

Headhunter agency Arthur Hunt Group is pitching vacancies to employees of Yandex, Mail.ru and Rambler, said three managers close to the Internet companies. They said the agency was recruiting Internet search and linguistic specialists, as well as managers to lead development groups.

“The scale and ambition of the project are, perhaps, aiming much higher than your company, which is why I'm being so bold as to offer that we meet and discuss [changing employers]," said the letter, which an employee at one of the search engines received.

The letter is signed by Arthur Hunt Group's IT and telecoms director, Irina Kulnacheva, who declined to comment to Vedomosti.

A manager at Yandex, whose developers received similar letters, said that at the interviews they discussed creating "some search engine" from scratch.

After a successful interview with Arthur Hunt, the candidate is called in to meet with representatives of the Global Investments group. The representatives, Alexei Naumov and Ilya Maximov, explain that a team is being assembled to create a large search engine, which will be supported by the state and could eventually become larger than Yandex.

The project's startup budget is $100 million, they said. The staff needs to be hired within three months, and the search engine is supposed to be up and running by the end of 2011.

Naumov confirmed to Vedomosti that he represented Global Investments but said he did not know anything about a search engine project.

The government has been deciding whether to create a national search engine for several years. Last year, the presidential commission on modernizing the economy discussed the issue but did not decide on anything.

The idea to create a state search engine came up in 2008 after the war in Georgia, said Ilya Ponomaryov, a State Duma deputy on the Information Policy Committee.

Information in search engines' news aggregators did not always correspond with the state's official version of events, although the stories were very influential, he said. It then became clear that a search engine could serve as a powerful media resource to gather news that suits the state's needs, Ponomaryov said.

A source close to Rostelecom said the project should be included in the federal e-government program, for which Rostelecom is the main contractor. If that were to happen, the funding would be allocated by the end of the year. But there is still no order to begin work, no scope statement and no financing, said a manager close to Rostelecom.

A spokesperson for the Communications and Press Ministry was also unaware of the project's launch.

To launch a working prototype capable of searching the Russian Internet and indexing a large portion of it, a team of 50 people and about a year of work would be needed, said Igor Ashmanov, managing partner at IT consultant Ashmanov & Partners.

The budget of $100 million seems realistic, said a manager at a company that develops search systems.

To be successful, the search engine would need several innovative features and state support in promotion — advertising on state television channels and, for instance, installation as the default search tool in schools and state institutions, Ashmanov said.

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