Russia’s Yandex releases Wonder app in the US, but don’t call it a market entry

Yandex, Russia’s answer to Google(s goog), is releasing an social app for mobile users in the U.S. But it’s not about entering that market – this is purely a data play.
The iPhone app is experimental, it’s called Wonder, and it seems to combine some of the functionality Facebook(s fb) recently announced regarding Graph Search with the natural language interface of Siri(s aapl) or Google Now. Using Nuance‘s speech recognition and text-to-speech technology, the app lets users ask questions about their friends’ activity on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Foursquare.
So, for example, you could ask Wonder which Italian restaurants in New York are most frequented by your friends, what electronic music a specific friend listens to or what news your friends are sharing at the moment. These questions can be typed rather than spoken, if the situation demands it.
This is different from, say, Facebook’s approach in Graph Search, because it searches across the specific user’s immediate network — and across different services — rather than across the whole of one network.
Of course, there’s plenty of scope to monetize the results that Yandex throws out here: the user could click on a restaurant-related result to book a table, or on an album title to buy it on iTunes. Bearing in mind that this is experimental, right now the app only covers questions relating to news, places and music.
The company is loath to call it a product just yet, and certainly not an entry into the U.S. market. So, why the U.S., apart from the fact that Yandex Labs, once known as Tweeted Times before that startup got bought by the Russian giant in 2011, is sited in Palo Alto?
“It’s a pretty big country and they speak with one language, so there’s a lot of database potential,” a Yandex spokesman told me. “They definitely use social networks pretty actively to share their daily activities. Foursquare has a detailed database for the U.S., and it’s not so detailed for Russia.”
Yandex is a very data-centric outfit and, when it comes to social data, it clearly knows where the quick wins can be found.