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Top Ten Social Networks Circumnavigating The Globe

What does social networking look like by country? Sure, Twitter, Facebook. LinkedIn and MySpace have huge international followings, but indigenous social networks have also grown up within certain countries that are beginning to reach beyond their own borders. So considering Intranets other than the dominant players in the US, take a look at the TOP TEN social networks that are flourishing around the globe.

The French newspaper Le Monde posted an interesting look at social network usage around the world in February 28, 2008. As you can see from the chart, a year ago MySpace dominated the US and Australia, while Facebook held the lead in Great Britain and Canada. Today Facebook has over 200 million active users around the world. In comparison, MySpace had only 124 million monthly unique visitors in May, a decline of 2%, according to the marketing research company comScore.

Click on map to see larger imageClick on map to see larger image

Also noteworthy, while interest in sites like LiveJournal and Friendster have waned in the US, both have found strong followings overseas — Russia and South Asia respectively.

1-Xiaonei

Xiaonei literally means "on-campus network". Its a Chinese social networking site that began with college students but soon broadened its membership base to include young professionals. Except for being written completely in Simplified Chinese, many have analyzed Xiaonei as a Facebook clone. In May 2009, Facebook was calculated as having a 17.2% global reach of Internet users, compared to Xiaonei's 0.419%. The Xiaoneidou (equivalent to 1 RMB yuan) or Xiaonei bean, is the virtual currency on Xiaonei as some of its services are fee-based. Xiaoneidou can be used to acquire game coins, gifts and advertise on the site.



Xiaonei’s censorship is fairly strict compared to other networks in China, especially regarding sensitive keywords in blogs that relate to political issues and obscenity. Suspicious content may be manually censored by the administrators before it is released for viewing (read more about China's censorship issues in my previous blog)

As of June, 2009 Xiaonei's registered users reached 40 million, 400,000,000 pageviews and 22,000,000 daily visits.

2- Bebo 

Bebo is an acronym for "Blog early, blog often"  founded in January 2005. Originated in the UK, and Ireland, Bebo's geoographics now reaches out to New Zealand, Austrailia, Canada and the United States. A Polish version was launched recently, which utilizes a different user database. On November 1, 2007, Bebo announced that similar to Facebook and other international social networks it would be joining OpenSocial, a set of common APIs that allows for the building of social applications across the Web.



Content providers can connect their media players to Bebo, and monetize the advertising within it. Each content provider has a specialised page designed for video which showcases Adobe Flash video content. Several international news and media networks are signed up for the service, including CBS, Sky, Ustream.tv, BBC and Last.fm.

According to the Cloud Computing Journal, Bebo claims 35 million users, reaching 4 million users per month in the US and Quantcast estimates it has more female than male users with a high ethnic index and slightly lower educational and affluence ranking than some of the other social networks. Alexa has it ranked as the 164 website on the Internet with 17 minutes of usage a day and 24.6 pages per user.

3- Orkut

Orkut is a free-access social networking service owned and operated by Google and designed to help users meet new friends and maintain existing relationships. The network platform was named after its creator, Google employee Orkut Büyükkökten, a Turkish software engineer. Although Orkut is less popular in the United States than competitors Facebook and MySpace, it is one of the most visited websites in Brazil (22.5 million users) and the Indian subcontinent (14.5 million) In May, according to comScore, 49.83% of Orkut's users were Brazilian, followed by India with 17.51%. Early on, Orkut was also very popular in Iran, but the website is now blocked by the government. Saudi Arabia is another country that has blocked access to Orkut, and Bahrain's information ministry is also under pressure to follow suit (see previous blog on censorship of social networks in Iran).



Google will soon introduce “Orkut Promote”, a self service advertising platform for its social networking site reports Digital Inspiration. The platform apparently allows Orkut users to promote their content to others in the community via photos, videos and text content. Advertisers will be charged for ads on the service, while Orkut users won’t have to pay a fee for promotion.

Originally hosted in California, in August 2008 Google announced that Orkut will be fully managed and operated in Brazil, by Google Brazil, in the city of Belo Horizonte.


4- Cyworld

Cyworld is a social networking website that originated in South Korea and launched on Sep 1, 1999. Operated by SK Communications, it's a subsidiary of SK Telecom. Literally translated, "Cy" is short for "cyber" and is also a play on the Korean word for 'relationship.'  Cyworld is much like a virtual haven on the Internet where users can decorate their "homes" and invite friends.



Members cultivate on- and off-line relationships by forming Ilchon or 'buddy relationships' with each other through a service called 'minihompy' (mini-homepage), which is inclusive of a photo gallery, videos, message boards, guestbooks, friend lists and a personal bulletin board. A user can link his/her minihompy to another user's to form a buddy relationship, similar to the Facebook and MySpace platforms. Reports show that as much as 90 percent of South Koreans in their 20s are members, and as June, 2009, 23 million Koreans out of a population of 48 million were registered users.

Today, Cyworld has extended its operation to the United States, China, Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam, and they have developed a premium service for their Korean celebrities.

5- Fotolog

Fotolog is the world's leading photo-blogging site. Its a global cultural phenomenon headquartered in NYC but popular in Argentina, Chile & Uraquay with over 23 million registered members according to the Web site. As of September, 2008 Chile claimed the most accounts (4,827,387), Argentina second with 4,225,209, while Brazil had 1,443,474 user.



The platform offers both free and subscription accounts. The free version is ad-supported, and limits users to uploading one picture and 20 comments to their "guestbook". Paying members, known as "Gold Camera patrons" can upload up to 6 pictures a day, with 200 comments per photo and are entitled to premium customer support service.

Compete reports 304,000 U.S. unique visitors per month and Quantcast estimates 11.8 million worldwide visitors per month, with demographics that are skewed toward males, 12-34, Hispanic and ethnic, low income with no college. Alexa has it ranked as the number 162 site on the Internet with users spending 18.8 minutes per day and approximately 19 pages a day


6- LiveJournal

LiveJournal, often abbreviated LJ, originated in Belarus & Russia and is a virtual community where users can keep a blog, journal or diary. LiveJournal is also the name of the free and open source server software that was designed to run the LJ virtual community. LiveJournal's differences from other blogging sites include its WELL-like features of a self-contained community.



LiveJournal was established April 15, 1999 by Brad Fitzpatrick as a way of keeping his high school friends updated on his activities.Today it is owned by SUP, a Russian media company that had been licensing the LiveJournal brand and software for use throughout Russia. The new owners unveiled a plan to upgrade the service and launch new products for advertisers.

On January 6, 2009, it was announced that LiveJournal had laid off some of their San Francisco-based employees and moved product development and design functions to Russia. Statistics from the LiveJournal stats page which is updated every 24 hours indicates there are currently 20.9 million users globally, with the greatest percentage of members located in the US (4.2 million) followed by the Russian Federation ( 1.1 million)

Interesting to note, with President Obama's most recent visit to meet President Dmitry Medvedev, that the Russian president has been an active member of LiveJournal since April 22, 2009.

7- Friendster

Friendster -with more than 105 million members worldwide, its a leading global online network in the countries of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore. Languages include Tagalog, Thai, Malay, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Chinese (both Traditional and Simplified), Japanese, Korean, and Spanish. Founded by computer programmer Jonathan Abrams in 2002 in Mountain View, California it was established prior to MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn.



Fan groupings are broken up into categories of 40 different types including artists, celebrities, models, musicians and organizations. This assists in creating a  "Fan Profile" which allows members to promote themselves and build a fan base.

Quantcast reported Friendster attracting a rough estimate of 2.0 million US visitors per month, with demographics that are skewed to 18-49 yr range, heavy Asian, low income and college educated. Alexa has it ranked as the number 73 site on the Internet with users spending 21 minutes per day and almost 18 pages a day on the site.

8- Xanga

Xanga's origins can be traced back to 1999, when it first began as a site for sharing book and music reviews. It now has an estimated 40 million users worldwide with a concentration in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines and the US. As of May 24, 2008, Alexa Internet ranked Xanga as the 231st most visited site on the Internet.



All Xanga members receive a "Xanga Site", a web site made up of a weblog, a photoblog, a videoblog, an audioblog, a "Pulse" (mini-blog), and a social networking profile. Members also have the option of joining or making blogrings (groups).

Similar to Twitter, an entire vernacular has evolved around the word "Xanga".People will refer to their weblog as a "Xanga". The word "Xanga" is also used as a verb. (For example: "I'm going to xanga later tonight." or: "Oh, I haven't had time to xanga today.") In addition, the term "Xangaholics" refers to Xanga addicts. A yearly anniversary of one's Xanga site is called a "Xangaversary".

Xanga also offers two levels of premium subscriptions: Premium; and Premium Plus. Members who subscribe to either service receives additional features, including additional photo storage and monthly uploads.

9- hi5

hi5 is currently the twenty-fifth most popular website according to Alexa Internet. The company was founded in 2003 by Ramu Yalamanchi who is also the current CEO. As of January 2009, hi5 claims to have over 60 million active members in Columbia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Kuwait, Mauritius, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Peru, Portugal, Romania, Thailand and Tunisia. According to comScore, in 2008 hi5 was the third most popular social networking site in terms of monthly unique visitors.



Hi5 also features a “degrees of separation” system similar to LinkedIn where your network consists of 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree contacts, and you can decide whether to make your profile publicly viewable or only accessible to members of your network

At hi5, once users create an online profile to highlight interests, gender, age and residence, they can upload user photo albums where followers can post comments. Hi5 also allows members to set up a music player in the profile, similar to the MySpace Music service. Bands create their own profile pages to promote their music and connect with fans. Each band page also includes a Flash player – where users can play the tracks, add them to their own pages or, in some cases, buy them from the iTunes Music Store. Popular styles include HipHop, Reggaeton and R&B.

10- Skyblog/ Skyrock

Skyblog/Skyrock is a massive French social network and blogging platform that has grown at a tremendous rate throughout France, Belgium, French Polynesia, Guadeloupe,Martinique, Switzerland, Caledonia & Senega.The site launched in 2002 and currently has 5.4 million logs. In June '08, Skyblog ranked as the world’s 7th largest social network with over 21 million visitors.



Unlike most successful social sites, Skyblog is the product of a “traditional” media player – Skyrock, the popular French radio station. Despite the name, Skyrock plays mostly R&B and HipHop. It’s France’s most popular station among the 13 to 24 year old demographic, with around 3.7 million daily listeners. Both Skyrock and Skyblog are owned by Orbus, which was acquired by Axa Private Equity in March 2006.
                                                                   
Skyblog has plenty of features that rival US counterparts like Livejournal and MySpace. You can create a blogroll of your favorite Skyblog members, post to your blog via SMS, monitor your visitor stats and post voice messages by phone. And of course you can add friends to your network by hitting the “Add Friend” button on their Skyblog.

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This TOP TEN clearly shows that social networks are truly global affairs. It also demonstrates that geographics have something to do with how they differ from one another. As mentioned earlier, I purposely left out  the big boys: Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIN to concentrate on the networks lesser known in the US.

Similar to the growth of world powers, it will be interesting to watch over time which of the ten listed here will expand their borders yet still and become a dominant player on the same footing with big boys.

To analyze why certain social networks have reached popularity in certain countries and not in others is based on the demographic and psychographics of the country of origin. For example, the Japanese and the Americans are very used to having their cell phones being an integral part of their lives, which may be why Twitter is growing exponentially in both areas of the world. Most likely there are similar factors that can explain the “geographic popularity” of some of the social networks listed in this TOP TEN.  But I believe it will require additional study  to discern the weight of these factors.

As always, I would like to hear your feedback regarding this TOP TEN list. Please let me know which ones you feel are gaining the greatest traction and will become a dominant player by the end of 2009. Take our poll and leave us a comment as to the reasons why?  (And if you think we left one out,  please let us know that too!)

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Ron Callari
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