Calling Russian Internet book order service Ozone "the Russian Amazon.com" and Russian search engine Yandex "the Russian Yahoo," director of Intel-Eastern Europe Juergen Thiele was upbeat at the fourth Russian Internet Forum, as were many others.
Russians and Westerners alike gathered for three days at Lesnye Dali, a resort outside Moscow where the Intel-sponsored event was being held, and made presentations on Russia's bright, promising Internet future.
However, in the between-session hallway banter, a handful of Western bankers said that, while the promise was real, the whole picture just might be a bit too good to be true.
Thiele said the projection for the number of Russian Internet users in 2000 is around 5 million, up from less than 2 million in 1999. Internet penetration in Russia should be 6 percent, as opposed to around 3 percent last year. By comparison, it will likely be close to 32 percent in Sweden and 28 percent in Germany for 2000.
Russia's Guta Bank, which has been providing banking services over the phone so far, announced that customers can now make transactions via its Website. And Latvian Internet bank Rietumu Banka should begin servicing Russian customers on the Web next May, its senior manager for Russia, Eugene Dugaev, said.
Holger Muller, director of investment bank Fleming UCB Moscow branch, was one of the few participants who had a more sober view of Internet business in Russia. "There are certainly opportunities for growth, especially as far as business to business is concerned," he said. "However, the euphoria we have been witnessing seems a bit exaggerated to me. The number of good Russian Internet projects is really not that large. We may be facing a small bubble phenomenon."