The Internet is a world without borders, this is true. However, like in the real world, people from different countries have different preferences regarding websites and online services. it is not rare for a local website or service to compete successfully with global giants. Normally, it happens due to better localization of domestic websites. The Russian segment of the Internet, often called RuNet, includes local services and global portals which for various reasons have become very popular among Russian-speaking users. I hope this brief observation will help you become more informed and establish more contacts among Russian native speakers.
According to numerous studies, the leading search engine in Russia is Yandex.ru. Despite the growing popularity of Google, Yandex is more popular due to very well implemented morphology analysis. In other words, Yandex knows Russian grammar and can recognize that different forms of a word are actually one word. Yandex is really good for searching documents in Russian.
There are two extremely popular Russian networks: Odnoklassniki.ru and Vkontakte.ru.
The first, Odnoklassniki.ru, is a network for class reunion (odnoklassniki means classmates). Users can upload photos and videos, chat and post small status updates. Nothing special, however, the network boasts 10 million visitors per day.
Vkontakte.ru is a Russian Facebook clone. Like Facebook, VK allows users to message contacts publicly or privately, create groups and events, share and tag images and videos, and play browser-based games. One distinction of VK is its integration of torrent filesharing technology which allows users share larger files. There are lots of pirate audio and video files at VK, and, from time to time, the questionable legal status of VK content is widely discussed in the respective law enforcement agencies.
Some studies have reported that Facebook is gaining popularity among Russian users.
Since the beginning of the Era of Blogging, LiveJournal has been the leading blogging platform in Russia. LiveJournal is also the largest online community on RuNet, containing about 45% of all entries in the Russian blogosphere. It unites Russian celebrities, politicians, immigrants and thousands of ordinary people.
Why LJ? Why not stand-alone blogs? First, LJ does not require any knowledge of HTML. You don't have to set up domain names and mess with hosting issues either. The second reason is that LJ is a community, and Russians are fond of communities. When you have a stand-alone blog, you have to make some serious effort to build a community around your content. With LJ, you already have a community all set and ready to go.
I wouldn't be too wrong if I called Mail.ru the most popular mail service in Russia. Back in 1998, it was among the first free email services available in Russia. Users tend to get stuck with their email addresses, so today Mail.ru hosts many business and personal emails despite tough competition from GMail and other mail services.
I could name two online news portals that are purely virtual: Lenta.ru and Newsru.com. These are the two websites that report about global and local news fast and more or less unbiased.
For business and economic news, I would suggest the online versions of two respected newspapers: Kommersant.ru and Vedomosti.ru.
Lib.ru — free online library that contains lots of Russian books, both fiction and non-fiction, and books translated into Russian.
Habrahabr.ru — collaborative blog discussing predominantly IT-related topics. Community moderation with karma score and rating system makes this website very useful.
Ozon.ru — one of the most popular online shops. It started with selling books, but today it offers many other things like electronics, air tickets and much more.