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The overwhelming power of the English-speaking media would have you believe that social networking services such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace are the only web spaces where people are connecting. But when you consider that the vast majority of people using the internet are non-English speakers, then you start to realise that there are huge, successful social networks in the world that are under-reported by major global news organisations.
We list 11 successful social networks popular in countries outside the US and amongst non-English speakers:
Ibibo is an Indian social networking site with more than 3.3 million users according to Bloomberg Businessweek. It is also ranked as the 45th most popular site in India by Alexa. The name of the site stands for “I Build, I Bond” and is mostly targeted at young males. According to Bloomberg, the site initially made a splash with catchy radio ads and original user generated content. The site sold a stake to Tencent for an undisclosed amount and is therefore partly-owned by the South African news giant Naspers via their 46% stake in Tencent.
10. Cyworld (South Korea): 7,5-million users
Cyworld, founded in 1999, is a South Korean social network that is 11 years old. Cyworld has the usual social network features, with members cultivating relationships by forming friendships with each other. Reports show that as many as 90% of South Koreans in their twenties have a Cyworld account. The site is ranked 9th on Alexa in Korea and had 7,5-million users in 2009. The “Cy” refers to the word “cyber”, but is also a play on the Korean word for relationship. A significant part of the site’s revenue is derived from selling fonts, which are apparently very popular on the network, and are used to personalise users’ profiles.
9. Tuenti (Spain): 8-million users
Tuenti, a Spanish social networking site launched in 2006 is essentially the Spanish Facebook equivalent. The name Tuenti means “your entity”. It’s targeted specifically at a Spanish audience and works on an invite-only basis. According to Google’s Zeitgeist 2009 report, Tuenti is the “third fastest-rising global search term”. Alexa reports that the site is listed as the 10th most popular in Spain. Wikipedia has stated that the network now has just over 8-million users, which places it as the largest social network in Spain.
8. Hyves (Netherlands): 9-million users
Hyves is the biggest social networking site in the Netherlands and was founded in 2004. According to the company, the network quickly reached a user base of more than seven million. Wikipedia states that five million of the seven are Dutch nationals, the equivalent of one third of the Netherland’s population! As of August 2009 the service had a reported nine million users and is regularly listed as the second most popular website in the Netherlands according to Alexa. The word “Hyves” is a reference to “beehive”. Many well-known Dutch celebrities and politicians have their profile on the network and use it to market themselves.
7. Mixi (Japan): 10-million users
Mixi is a Japanese social networking site that has gained enormous popularity. As of May 2008, Mixi reportedly had over 10 million users and an 80% share of the social networking market in Japan. The focus of Mixi is “community entertainment” and the site features the usual social networking functionality. The word Mixi is a combination of “mix” and “I”, this refers to the fact that the user, “I”, “mixes” with other users through the service. The site is currently ranked as the 13th most popular site in Japan by Alexa.
6. StudiVZ (Germany): 15-million users
StudiVZ is a German network based in Berlin, claiming 15-million users. The network is primarily targeted at students and was started by Ehssan Dariani (CEO) and Dennis Bemmann, both students at the time. Der Spiegel online reports that the site has since been sold for over 100 million Euros to Holtzbrick Verlag, a giant German publishing company. A strong criticism of the site has been that it is essentially a Facebook clone, something that the founders have openly admitted to.
5. Skyrock (France): 21-million users
Skyrock is currently the 17th most popular site in France and was also ranked as the world’s 7th largest social network with over 21-million visitors. The site is available in other languages, but is particularly popular in French speaking countries. According to Wikipedia, Skyrock.com began as a blogging site, called Skyblog.com, founded by Skyrock CEO Pierre Bellanger in December 2002. The site made the news when the American press attempted to associate the Paris Riots in 2005 with the usage of Skyblogs, which was reportedly used to spread hate messages and help organise the riots.
4. Vkontakte (Russia): 75-million users
3. Orkut (Brazil): 100-million users
Orkut is a social networking site that is owned and operated by Google. Launched in 2004 the network has had very little uptake in English speaking countries and is less popular than networks like Facebook and MySpace. The site has however garnered a large following in Brazil and a similar but smaller following in India. According to Wikipedia roughly half of Orkut’s entire user base comes from Brazil . One user blogged this as a possible reason why: “Orkut is very easy to pronounce in Portuguese. Try telling someone from Brazil to go to Friendster.com or MySpace. The names of those sites are lost in translation. When someone pronounces “Orkut” in Portuguese (especially Brazilian Portuguese with the heavy accent on the “ch” T sound), they can easily spell it, visualize the word and remember it next time they get infront of the computer.” Orkut is doing so well in Brazil that Google decided that the service would be operated entirely from Brazil. Orkut is ranked 9th overall for Brazil by Alexa.
2. Friendster (Philippines): 115-million users
After launching in 2003, Friendster quickly raked in a huge number of subscribers, but then plateaued. While it may no longer be as popular as it once was the site is still a hit in Asia, and particularly the Philippines. According to Alexa, Friendster is ranked 9th overall in the Philippines, but also ranks highly in Indonesia and Malaysia. More than 90% of Friendster’s traffic comes from Asia. The site claimed that in 2009 it had more than 115-million members worldwide. Wikipedia reports 61 million unique visitors a month globally. The website receives approximately 19 billion page-views per month, and is in the top 500 global websites based on web traffic, according to Alexa.
1. Qzone (China): 200-million users
Qzone is China’s largest social networking site according to Wikipedia. With reportedly more than 200-million users as of January 2009 it is the largest foreign language rival to Facebook. The website was launched in 2005 by Tencent of which 46% is owned by South African emerging market publishing giant Naspers, who also support the popular Indian social network Ibibo. The company, Tencent, is also behind QQ the most popular IM client in China (ranked 10th on the Alexa index for China). Most Qzone services are not free; only after buying the “Canary Diamond” (the highest user level) can users access every service without paying extra. Over 150 million Qzone users update their accounts at least once a month, which singles the network out as having the largest active reported user base.