Russian Internet behemoth Mail.ru has officially announced that it’s dropping Google to provide all queries made by users of its own proprietary search engine, Search Mail.Ru.

This confirms rumors that circulated back in November last year, that suggested Mail.ru was planning to cancel its Google contract.

Founded in 1998, Mail.ru operates a range of online tools and services, including social networks (Odnoklassniki and My World), IM services (Mail.Ru Agent and ICQ), online gaming properties, a browser and, of course, a search engine, which it has been developing over the last few years.

Since launch, Mail.ru’s main search portal has been partly powered by other companies at different times. Initially it was Google, then the company signed an agreement with fellow Russian search engine Yandex, then in August 2010 Mail.Ru jumped into bed with Google again. It’s thought that Mail.ru typically powered around 40% of all search queries, with Google lending its processing power to the remaining majority.

Russia is among Europe’s largest Internet markets measured by number of users, with Mail.ru Group’s sites reaching around 86% of Russian Internet users each month, and Search Mail.Ru notching up 39.5 million monthly users. So dropping Google entirely for its own service is a major move not only for the company itself, but for users across the region.

Moreover, this move shifts Mail.ru into a unique cluster of countries that can lay claim to their own proprietary search engines, though admittedly Russia already has Yandex, the biggest search engine in the country.

“It’s remarkable that there are fewer countries with their own search engines today than those with their own space program,” says Dmitry Grishin, Co-Founder and CEO of Mail.Ru Group.

“Only five countries – the United States, Russia, Czech Republic, China and South Korea – can boast successful search engines, while space exploration activities are regularly performed by nine countries,” he continues. “Development of a competitive search engine is an ambitious goal, but it’s essential that our own search engine enables us to be more flexible and that now we are able to provide our service with higher search quality.”

Though Mail.ru is a dominant player in the Russian-language Internet market, the company says it’s only third in terms of search, with less than 9% of all queries being relayed through Search Mail.ru.

Mail.ru may be a big player in Russian-language countries, but it has been looking to expand into international markets too, under the name My.com, but no word yet on how these efforts are paying off.

Mail.ru says that its search engine development team has expanded from 15 to 200 people over the past few years, and over the past six months “index volume has grown from 5 to 10 billion documents”, with several thousand servers now dedicated to query-processing.

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