Facebook continues its rise, but not in Asia

Facebook continues its rise, but not in Asia

A regional breakdown of social networking sites shows how hard the major players will have to work to catch ‘copycat’ sites in China
Jonathan Richards
August 1, 2007

Facebook has continued its inexorable rise as the social networking site of
the moment, but questions remain about its ability to tap the Asian market,
where other sites are significantly more popular.

Facebook‘s audience grew by more than
270 per cent to 52.2 million users in the 12 months to June – far outpacing
the increase at Bebo (a rise of 172 per
cent to 18.2 million) and MySpace,
which grew by 72 per cent to 114.1 million.

But a breakdown of the sites’ users by region shows that just 7.1 per cent of
Facebook’s audience, or 3.7 million people, is in the Asia Pacific, whereas Friendster
has 21.9 million members in the region, according
to comScore
.

More than two thirds of Facebook’s audience is in the US and Canada, with 17
per cent in Europe. MySpace has 62 per cent of its users in North America
and 25 per cent in Europe.

By comparison Friendster, a site which, like Facebook, is based on finding old
friends and building a network of people, now has 24.7 million unique users,
89 per cent of which are in the Asia Pacific.

A spokesman for comScore said Friendster’s strong performance in the region
was largely due to its popularity in Malaysia, where the site has set up
tie-ins with local pop singers.

"Paying attention to the subtleties of each country is absolutely
critical for these sites," Bob Ivins, vice president of international
markets at comScore, said. "It’s a problem any multi-national company
faces. Just because you’ve got a strong brand in one country doesn’t mean
you’ll succeed in others."

Rebecca Jennings, an analyst at Forrester, said that there were significant
difference in the way countries adapted to social networking, and the
success of sites often depended on how well they catered to local needs.

"Obviously in China and Japan, part of the problem is language and
question for Facebook is: do you launch a local language site?" she
said.

"Germany has not taken particularly well to social networking, because
people there are less willing to sign up for those types of services. In
Brazil, however, where the culture is much more about how many friends you
have, they’re huge, and Orkut, a site which tailors to those needs, is doing
very well there."

An additional problem for companies considering the Chinese market was the
propensity for authorities to control the use of the internet, which has led
many to focus their energies elsewhere, she said.

MySpace has launched a ‘beta site’ in China – owned and operated by a Chinese
company – and the company has also introduced a site in Japan, as has
YouTube.

Facebook is yet to launch an Asian-language site.

Earlier this month, Tudou.com, a site
similar to YouTube on which 40 million Chinese users watch an estimated 1.2
billion videos a month, announced it had secured $19 million (£9.4) in
venture capital funding and would start selling ads.

Other sites to have entered the video-sharing space in China include www.mofile.com,
www.5show.com, and www.56.com.

Last year, one of the largest college-based networking sites in China, www.xiaonei.com,
was acquired by Oak Pacific, a Chinese company backed by US venture capital
firms. According to Venturebeat.com,
the site will merge with Oak Pacific’s own networking site, 5Q, to form "a
giant Facebook copycat."

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