The List: The World’s Top Social Networking Sites

Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace have made the world seem like a small place after all. But even on the Internet, persistent language barriers and cultural differences mean that the planet may not be quite as interconnected as you think.

Googles Orkut

Googles Orkut

Where its top: Brazil and India make up more than 80 percent of Orkuts traffic.

Languages: English, German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Marathi, Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, and Telugu

Standout features: Google power. Language features make this social networking site the top Web destination in Brazil, and by some estimates half of the countrys Internet users are on the site. Much like the verb to google in English, the word Orkut (pronounced oh-koo-chee by Portuguese speakers) has become part of the Brazilian lexicon; the site even inspired a popular song, Im going to delete you from my Orkut. True to Googles global reach, the site also features content in five languages native to South Asia, which may explain its high popularity in India. But not everyone in that country is excited about Orkut. Shiv Sena, a Hindu nationalist party, has called for the site to be banned due to its immoral content; some party followers have even gone as far as attacking Internet cafes. So far, however, attempts to convince the government to block the site have failed.

Hot or not? Not. The site may remain king in certain niche markets like Brazil, but according to Web research firm Alexa, Orkut reached its peak number of users back in 2006. Traffic is basically flat at a time when other social networking sites are experiencing amazing growth. Google is already looking at other options and spearheading its own OpenSocial project. The new technology is meant to allow Web developers to create content that will work with any number of social networking sites.


Where its top: Canada, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Norway, Panama, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, and Britain. The site boasts at least 60 million users worldwide, and the company expects to reach more than 200 million by the end of 2008.

Languages: English

Standout features: Global social activism. For any issue that young people in the world care about, you can bet theres a Facebook group dedicated to it. This fact has led to some problems with oppressive governments in the Middle East, however, where real-world activism is tightly restricted and Facebook has become the online organizing tool of choice. Arab countries make up a significant portion of the sites traffic, and Egypt has the highest number of Facebook users after the United States, Canada, and Britain. Facebook groups such as No to arresting journalists and Free Egypt provide forums for activists concerned with free speech, democracy, and human rights. In April 2007, Facebook removed an Arab gay rights group after the company received complaints from the Egyptian and Saudi governments. Bloggers in the United Arab Emirates and Iran sometimes complain that Facebook is being blocked entirely, although those countries governments deny any official ban on the site. Due to its primarily social function, Facebook can serve as a forum for human rights groups in many countries that would otherwise suppress political speech. Of course, virtual activism is a poor substitute for the real thing, however.

Hot or not? Hot. Microsoft recently paid $240 million for a 1.6 percent stake in the social networking site, but Facebook has to play its cards right to stay on top. The worry? Google may seek to use OpenSocial as a Trojan horse to pry open Facebooks relatively closed system.


Where its top: Central and South America (except Brazil), and outliers such as Mongolia and Romania

Languages: Spanish, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Romanian, Polish, and Turkish

Standout features: The sad truth is, its like a Latin American MySpace. Users tend to do little more than create their own personal Web pages. Hi5 founder Ramu Yalamanchi attributes the U.S.-based sites success to the companys decision from its inception to provide services not only to the U.S. English-speaking market, but to the global market as well. The sites easy-to-use interface and localized search utility that covers over 70,000 world cities also aided its start-up in other countries. In contrast, MySpace did not even provide menus and content in Spanish until 2007, a delay that allowed Hi5 to gain prominence among Latin Americans. Hi5 also dominates in Portugal, Mongolia, and Romania for many of the same reasons.

Hot or not? Lukewarm. Once a site has a loyal group of members, it can be difficult to get them to switch even when better options are available. The company is profitable, even in non-English-speaking markets, and it plans to expand in the U.S. market by connecting Hispanic users with their relatives back home. Hi5 is one of the sites joining with Google in its OpenSocial partnership, which may be just the thing to keep Hi5 from entering Internet obscurity.

Skyrock Blog (formerly Skyblog)

Where its top: La Francophonie

Languages: French, English, German, Spanish, and Dutch

Standout features: Popular in the French-speaking world, the site originally started as an offshoot of the French youth radio station Skyrock. Unlike other communities, which focus on social networking and where users maintain their own personal Web biographies, Skyrock Blog members use the site mainly as a personal political forum. Users tend to focus heavily on social injustices and problems experienced by French youth. Many members use their mobile phones to post to the blog, and the site was a primary mode of communication used by young people in the riots that rocked France in 2005. Three Skyrock Blog users who posted on the site were prosecuted by French authorities for inciting violence.

Hot or not? Hot. The site, which now bills itself as the Free People Network, remains hugely popular; Skyrock Blogs traffic increased throughout 2007 and continues to be the second-most visited site in France. Music is also a key factor to its success as musicians, including many rap and reggae artists, feature songs with lyrics that highlight the plight of French and immigrant youth. Skyrock Blogs foothold in the Francophone world and its unique role as a medium for political expression will probably keep the company safe from foreign competition in the near future.


Where its top: Southeast Asia

Languages: English and Chinese

Standout features: It was the original. And really, thats about all Friendster has going for it now that the site has been eclipsed by Facebook in most of the world. As of May 2007, though, an estimated 87 percent of Filipino Internet users were registered on the site, according to the Los Angeles Times. Users of the site in the Philippines have speculated that the countrys friends-helping-friends culture may have driven the growth of the site in a place where networks of family and friends are still extremely important for just getting by. The addition of Chinese in 2007 represents Friendsters attempt to sign up more East Asian customers, especially in Taiwan where people have been curiously slow to join the global social networking trend.

Hot or not? Hot. Friendsters dominance in Southeast Asia is near total: Along with being the most visited site in the Philippines, Friendster is the second-most visited site in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia; those four countries combined make up more than 86 percent of the sites users. In November 2007, the company opened up its platform to allow outside software developers to make improvements to the site, and it will also be joining Googles OpenSocial project. With loyal users and growing traffic, up more than 35 percent in late 2007, Friendster looks as if it just might be able to save itself from Web annihilation.

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