True Lithuania

Internet in Lithuania

Internet is the top way to receive information and arguably the favorite pastime in Lithuania for those under 50. While the internet was slow to start, Lithuania has overtaken the West ~2010 in terms of internet usage. Today, the internet is accessible in nearly every home and workplace, wifi hotspots cover many public spaces while 4G internet is the cheapest and fastest in Europe.

Popular websites in Lithuania

According to the Alexa rankings, the most popular websites in Lithuania, just like in many Western countries, are Google, Youtube, and Facebook, in that order. All of them have Lithuanian translations and lots of local. The Google has a virtual monopoly on the Lithuanian and English internet search, while Youtube is *the* video site and Facebook is *the* social network of Lithuanians.

These websites are followed in popularity by the local so-called "internet portals", which are the most popular locally produced Lithuanian websites. These portals provide a massive amount of information ranging from news to articles on various topics to videos. They also provide lively comment sections, traditionally the most popular online locations to discuss. The top Lithuanian internet portals are Delfi.lt [4th] and 15min.lt [5th], with Lrytas.lt further behind [14th] and then Tv3.lt [21st]. and Alfa.lt [33rd]. Some portals (Delfi, Alfa) are the sole business of the respective companies, while others were established by media companies (TV3 moved in from TV business and Lrytas from newspapers).

There are also "specialized portals" which provide similar information on some particular topic. The largest among those is Vz.lt (business and economy, 29th). Others may be less popular but altogether their traffic form a significant part of the Litnet, as Lithuanian internet is sometimes called. The most popular topics include sports (basketball, football, F1) and child rearing. Many of the specialized portals have been started by hobbyists but later bought out by the main internet portals and effectively serve as subsites (e.g. moved to subdomains).

As merely 3 million people speak Lithuanian worldwide, the number of available websites in Lithuanian language is generally smaller than in larger languages. As such, the users who seek more specialized knowledge sometimes revert to foreign websites. These are either Russian or English as those two foreign languages are the most popular. Russian is spoken by 70% and English is spoken by 30%. However, as Russian speakers are mostly older, the non-Lithuanian-language web traffic is more evenly divided among English and Russian websites.

As Lithuania also has a significant Russian-speaking minority (~8% of the population), the Russian websites that are popular in Russia are also somewhat popular in Lithuania (among the Russian-speakers and their friends). This includes the top Russian-language search (Yandex.ru) and the top Russian-language social network (Vk.com).

Lithuanian-Russian-English keyboards are the most common keyboards sold in Lithuania. The letters of the English, Lithuanian, and Russian layouts are all marked, so it would be easy to use the same keyboard for typing all three languages. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

Also popular in Lithuania are the local pirate websites, providing torrents (Linkomanija.net, 27th) and, even more popular, an ability to watch illegal films online in a browser, like on Youtube (Filmai.in, 24th, Filmux.org - 45th). Unlike in the West, most pirate websites in Lithuania are paid, earning money by selling the stolen content (for a fraction of the price of "original"). They even provide added value in the form of original Lithuanian translations of otherwise untranslated films. The ability or will of Lithuanian authorities to combat these websites has been limited so far. Despite them being both easily accessible and owned by Lithuanians, little initiative is made to close them down.

All this, as well as the language barrier, make the international pirate websites rather unpopular in Lithuania. Likewise, the legal ways to get music or films online (e.g. Netflix) are nearly unknown in Lithuania.

Other global websites that enjoy less popularity in Lithuania than in the West include LinkedIn and Twitch.com.

History of the internet in Lithuania

In Lithuania, the internet was slower to start than in the West. As Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union until 1990, PCs were effectively banned and not available in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the freedom arrived but the Soviet-ravaged economy meant that few people could afford a PC. The same was true even for newly-started small businesses, while larger businesses were initially still Soviet-minded and saw little use for computers.

The situation gradually changed as the economy improved in the mid-1990s, yet until the early 2000s, the Lithuanian internet consisted entirely of hobbyist websites. The general population was unable to even make a distinction between a PC and a video games console, believing that PCs are only needed for games and adults have no use for them. At the time, the use of PCs was discouraged in schools and universities. Interestingly, internet services were free-of-charge in Lithuania throughout the 1990s (a remnant of Soviet rules for state-owned telephony) but even that attracted just a few users. Therefore some forms of internet popular in the West of 1980s-1990s (such as Usenet) never really took hold in Lithuania.

In the 2000s, the situation changed. Inspired by the success of the internet in the West, some businessmen (foreign internet businesses and local non-internet businesses) established their own websites which eventually started to turn in profits as the internet became increasingly more popular. As the telephony was privatized, the internet was no longer free, however. Yet the Lithuania experienced an economic boom and that did not discourage people, while the price of PCs have fallen enough for them to become widely accessible. As such, the numbers of hobbyist websites boomed. Forums and IRC became the most popular ways to discuss things online as well as to meet up new people. Internet cafes initially sprung up (in the early 2000s) but later closed down one after another ~2010 as by that time there were no Lithuanians remaining who did not own a PC (save for some older people who didn't use it).

In the 2010s, the internet established itself as the main way to get news and even a major pastime for everybody under 50-years-old and even for many above that age. Internet portals have outcompeted newspapers in that age range and largely replaced TV for under-30s. As former hobby sites became lucrative, they were often bought out by larger the internet business companies, forming the internet conglomerates. However, in many areas, the local companies have lost the competition to foreign ones (especially the startups). Facebook has outcompeted local social networks, for instance, as well as many forums and IRC. In the light of this, Lithuanians have also attempted establishing startups, but have failed to achieve true worldwide success so far. Internet was now a necessity, and cheap mobile telephony, as well as wifi, made it accessible everywhere save for a few deep forests.

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