Oct. 5, 2012 at 4:11 PM ET
Facebook may have a billion users worldwide, but hardly any of them are in Russia — though founder Mark Zuckerberg aims to change that. But it won't be easy: the world's biggest social network isn't used to being the underdog.
Zuckerberg visited Moscow this week to help host an event where developers put together apps over just six hours. The ability to play games and listen to music is, of course, a big draw on Facebook, but Russian-language content is lacking.
That's not surprising when one considers there are only 3.5 million users in the country of 143 million. Developers and new users are both drawn to where the people already are online: Russia's leading social networks, VKontakte and Odnoklassniki. Combined, the two sites have more than 10 times Facebook's Russian users. This puts Facebook in the awkward position of having to scramble for users — something it hasn't had to do for years.
The outlook is good, though: Much of Russia is still offline, meaning there's lots of room for growth. If Facebook can entice just some of the new Internet users to join up, that could be the answer to their problems in that country. But making those users choose Facebook instead of the popular competition will be hard.
That's why Zuckerberg and the company are working hard at making their network more Russia-friendly. They're hoping that a smash hit, like Zynga's Farmville and the Spotify music service in the U.S., will make users join up and stay put.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.