The development of MXit, South Africa’s incredibly successful answer to Facebook as been well covered in the past. MXit’s success has largely been down to the fact that its focus was directed at mobile phone users, and it found its niche in providing a cheap alternative to SMS.
So what other interesting mobile social networks are being developed in the emerging markets? We looked for networks that are experiencing rapid growth or show some innovation that is likely to capture a bigger following in the near future.
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Here are eight social networks below that stand out, but if you have a favourite that you think deserves a mention, please feel free to add it in the comments section below and include a description of why you think it is going to go somewhere.
You can’t mention MXit without mentioning The Grid, one of its biggest competitors. The Grid is Vodacom’s social network, launched in 2008 in South Africa. In 2009, The Grid expanded to cover both Tanzania and Nigeria and it is continuing to grow on a daily basis.
So what makes The Grid so fantastic? Apart from the usual IM capabilities that seem to be ubiquitous across social networks these days, The Grid makes heavy use of geolocation services.
This includes the ability to see exactly where your friends are located at any time, the ability to locate yourself on a map and then to find directions to selected locations, and the ability to find nearby places of interest such as local bars, night clubs, shops and movie theatres.
You don’t need GPS on your phone to make use of The Grid’s geolocation facilities however, because it relies on triangulation to determine your location. The services look great and The Grid’s application runs on most phones.
Veepiz aims to be a pan-African social network with a strong African flavour. Significantly, Veepiz has built a University Research Tool that encourages students to share educational material such as assignments, notes, term papers and exams.
Veepiz also developed the Afrostar application that provides a central location to find information about African celebrities. This widget allows you to track celebrity profiles, read news and watch music videos.
Finally, the Shop Central facility allows you to buy and sell things using the Veepiz portal. The Veepiz portal offers a range of translation options, even within its chat and IM services, so that it is likely to gain quite a cross-cultural following.
Motribe isn’t so much a social network in itself, as a platform to enable companies and individuals to quickly build their own personalized social networks.
In some ways, Motribe is to mobile social networking what WordPress is to a website. You sign-up and then use the provided tools to start customizing your social network. This means that you can quickly provide a whole range of common services such as IM, chatrooms, photo sharing, and mobile blogging with a few clicks.
For businesses and individuals thinking about building their own social networking facilities, Motribe is a blessing. You don’t need to do any development and you don’t need to worry about hosting. If you have any doubts, it’s built by one of the architects behind The Grid, and is also based in South Africa.
If you already have a LinkedIn profile, then you will know how valuable it is in terms of keeping up with your business contacts and relationships. LinkedAfrica is trying to build something similar, but with a focus on African business.
LinkedAfrica provides localized job listings and business information. Of course, being a mobile social network, it is likely to garner a stronger following across Africa, where many people rely solely on their mobile handsets as their gateway onto the internet.
In Africa, this service originally started under the Yeigo brand. Its recent acquisition by Swiss-owned company, Telfree, is an indicator that Yeigo was making roads in the telecommunications industry.
Telfree provides a versatile communications suite that integrates the most popular communications platforms to be accessible via one application. This means that all of your Facebook, MSN and Skype contacts are stored in a single address book, allowing you to IM all of your contacts via the Telfree network.
Telfree also offers a Push Call service that sets a single rate for all of your calls regardless of your location, doing away with roaming fees. Calls to other Telfree customers are entirely free, just like Skype-to-Skype.
Telfree is the traveller’s mobile social network, which will lower costs if you frequently cross borders, and will help to keep all of your communications tools in one interface.
The mig33 community spreads across 200 countries globally, and has partners in almost every country you can think of. First released in December 2005, mig33 was initially designed as a very cheap instant messaging platform, but through the addition of a huge range of social networking features and a very aggressive marketing and partnership strategy, mig33 now has over 40 million users around the world.
Mig33 provides merchant services, cheap international phone call packages, chat rooms, games and virtualized gifts. The service also gets special mention because it has strong partnerships in India, Indonesia and South Africa and is a massively successful mobile social network, operating on a global scale.
Looking for a date? Streetspark is an international service that is now available in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, Denmark, Netherlands and USA.
Streetspark makes use of information about you, gathered from other social networking sites like Facebook, Pandora, Twitter and Foursquare. The service looks for other individuals within the network that may share interests with you and sends each of you a ‘spark’, or message.
You can then start chatting using their application, and if you hit it off, you can meet up offline. A nice feature of the application is that it can use GPS or triangulation to locate you and find matches that are close by.
Furthermore, if you frequently visit the same locations and another Streetspark member is doing the same thing, it will put you in touch. Originally developed in the UK, Streetspark is taking the world by storm and is expanding into all emerging markets.
Vshkole (At School) is a social networking site in Russia that has been around for some time. Last year, Vshkole added a mobile version to its interface and since it added GPS facilities, it has been making waves across the Russian speaking community.
Vshkole is interesting because it is a community built entirely around a popular Russian TV series. Users can communicate by phone, make friends, track down schoolmates, save, view and comment on photos and videos, blog and microblog, meet new people and download new episodes of the series.
The geolocation capability built into this network offers the user a list of other users who happen to be in or around the same area, and a list of nearby places to hang out and have fun, like movie theaters, discos, restaurants and clubs. Not particularly innovative, but interesting for the fact that it is actually a relatively large community built around a single TV show.