Photo by Bruce Irving.
Written By: Jennifer Smith
If you put the world of social media on a map, the sun never sets on the Facebook empire. The popular social networking site boasts more than 800 million monthly active users, approximately 80 percent of whom live outside of the U.S. and Canada. Currently, the site is available in more than 70 different languages.
Like any other empire in the history of the world, Facebook exerts its dominance over the social media realm by overtaking smaller communities. While some international social networking sites are holding strong in terms of their loyal followers, as of December 2011, Facebook secured its spot as the top social network on nearly every continent, outpacing local social networks in Brazil, Australia, Japan, India, Spain and more.
But if the recent billion-dollar acquisition of mobile photo-sharing app Instagram is anything to go by, it appears Facebook is trying to bolster its mobile engagement and development. In the past, mobile engagement has proved to be a somewhat irksome endeavor for Facebook, as it’s had to compete with companies who developed their networks for tablets and phones from the start.
Here’s a brief look at some of the social networking sites being edged out by the global spread of Facebook and some international mobile social networks that continue to thrive in mobile-centric cultures.
Owned by Google Inc., Orkut is currently managed and operated out of Brazil. According to web information company Alexa, approximately 62 percent of the site’s visitors are from Brazil while the next largest demographic, about 19 percent, are from India. Still, Facebook managed to replace Orkut in 2012 as Brazil’s top social networking site.
Orkut was once very popular in Iran, but has since been blocked by the government. The United Arab Emirates followed suit and banned Orkut as well. Currently, Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Tumblr, and MySpace are all blocked in Iran; however, the new social networking site Pinterest has yet to be blocked.
Persian-language social network Cloob.com, which states on its main page that all content is controlled in accordance with Iranian law, replaced Orkut in Iran after it was blocked.
Odnoklassniki and VK
Facebook has yet to take over Russia, but it’s not far behind the country’s two most popular social networks, VK and Odnoklassniki, respectively. VK is Russia’s most popular social site and the fifth most popular site overall, after such sites as Google and mail.ru. The second place rival, Odnoklassniki, is Russia’s seventh most popular site, while Facebook is just behind as Russia’s third most popular social network and eighth most popular site in general, according to Alexa.
Screenshot of Odnoklassniki.*
Albert Popkov created Odnoklassniki (or “Classmates” in Russian), in 2006 to connect long lost school chums and old friends. Odnoklassniki currently has approximately 30 million registered users, according to CrunchBase.
Most of those users fall into the 25-34 age range as opposed to the slightly younger VK audience, who fall between 18-24.
VK (originally VKontakte) has been accused of being a Facebook copycat because of its strikingly similar functionality and design. Still, the site boasts more than 100 million active users and a strong following in Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, and Uzbekistan.
Earlier this year, VK founder and 27-year-old entrepreneur Pavel Durov made international news for his $1 million dollar donation to Wikipedia. This is within the same year that Durov was pressured by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) to block Putin opposition pages during the elections.
Screenshot of VK.com.*
Clearly, VK recognizes its potential for political discourse. The screenshots provided on the site to show non-members examples of user pages take an oddly political tone, showcasing such conversations as: “Increasing competition between states means more freedom. No barriers to such competition should be allowed to exist” and “Taxation is a form of legal theft.”
The older demographic of Odnoklassniki doesn’t seem to be hankering for more mobile engagement or political activism, mostly using the site to connect with old friends. Meanwhile, in its effort to posit itself as the Russian equivalent of Facebook, VK may have to face the same mobile dilemma as their doppleganger.
A play on the word “hive,” as in beehive, Facebook supplanted this social networking site from the Netherlands as the social network of choice for the Dutch in July 2011.
Hyves still enjoys a number two spot and is making the best of a pretty good run. In May 2010, Hyves hosted and organized the first chat-debate between political party leaders during the Dutch elections. “Hyvers” chose the theme of the debate, which was broadcasted live on the site. After the debate, Hyvers voted on a winner.
Screenshot of Hyves.*
Like VK, this European network is embracing politics within the social realm and at a faster rate than Facebook, which offers access to politicians, groups and movements, but has yet to embrace the electoral process in such a way.
In an effort to offer users more mobile engagement, Hyves provides a mobile service integrated with Facebook Mobile.
Mixi is the 18th most popular site in Japan overall, while Facebook takes the sixth place. Still, mixi remains insanely popular because it has a decidedly mobile edge. It’s so popular, the Japanese coined a phrase been just to describe the feeling of growing weary of mixi, mixi tsukare, which translates to “mixi fatigue.”
Screenshot of mixi.*
According to a 2010 survey of almost 4,000 social network users in Japan, 75.4 percent of respondents said they access social media only from a mobile phone.
Mxit, a free instant messaging application from South Africa, boasts 50 million users across Africa and 10 million active users in South Africa, doubling Facebook’s 5 million. Branding itself as “Africa’s biggest social network,” Mxit works on nearly 3,000 mobile handsets.
Screenshot of Mxit.*
Although Facebook is most definitely on the rise in Africa with about 10 million users in Egypt and nearly 5 million in South Africa, like Japan, African users prefer mobile platforms. Perhaps this is because of the worldwide growth of mobile technology in social networking in general, but also perhaps because of Africa’s ethnic and cultural diversity. The subtle nuances of the African market require smaller, more pointed social networks to cater to specific communities.
For example, a mobile platform from Kenya called iCow specifically appeals to dairy farmers by tracking their individual cows’ milking schedules, nutrition, feed costs, etc.
With its ever-extending global reach, Facebook has created a small world. Still, mobile upstart networks make ours an even smaller one, providing niche communities across the globe with products to suit each individual culture and lifestyle.
It goes to show that if Facebook wants to keep on going global, it’s going to have to better focus its efforts on going mobile.
*Screenshots copyright and trademarked by Odnoklassniki, VK.com, Hyves, mixi, and Mxit, respectively.