When it comes to social networking, most people in the United States think of MySpace and Facebook. But when you're talking about social networks, the truth is there are many others out there, and many are based in other countries.
MySpace and Facebook are ranked as the top two sites in the US in terms of repeat traffic. Projected revenues for 2008 show MySpace at $755 million; Facebook comes in a distant second with $265 million. But trend analysts report that Facebook is growing more quickly, making a splash in the UK, France, China, and India. Orkut is still the most popular site in India, while Bebo is a hit in the UK and other parts of Europe. Perhaps AOL was making a wisely strategic decision when they purchased Bebo for $850 million.
But despite their growing popularity, there is bad news for established social networks abroad. Some companies are encouraging users to express their creativity by creating their own Facebook-type sites. Not surprisingly, those companies are also selling the software to make it possible.
Agriya Infoway, a social networking site based in India, sells a software package called 'Kootali' that allows developers to duplicate Facebook's design and some of its features, such as friend networks, photo sharing, and 'mini-feeds'. It even uses Facebook's famous font. Agriya's Chief Technology Officer, Aravind Kumar, isn't terribly worried about the legal implications of cloning the Facebook model. "We haven't stolen any of Facebook's content or images, so we haven't done anything wrong," Kumar says. "We're just giving Facebook's look and feel to our customers."
Facebook doesn't seem to be too concerned about the software and its resulting websites. Experts have weighed in on the situation and commented that Facebook would be foolish to push the legal angle. If lawsuits were brought about for copyright infringement, Facebook may find itself on the receiving end due to some of the content posted on its various networks. In other words, the company doesn't seem to be too keen on stirring the pot right now, in case it blows up in their Facebook, so to speak.
"Facebook is being particularly careful," says John Dozier, an intellectual property lawyer that deals primarily with Internet issues. "They recognize the danger that overly aggressive copyright claims can backfire."
Some international Facebook clones have experienced success. For example, the Russian network VKontakte ('In Contact') claims 4.5 million unique visitors per day. With 13.3 million registered users, it is also the most popular website in Russia. German Facebook clone StudiVerzeichnis ('Student Index') has approximately 6 million registered users. Chinese-based Xiaonei (Mandarin for 'In the School') claims to have more than 15 million unique site visitors. According to Xiaonei's parent company, Oak Pacific Interactive, their site is regularly visited by more than 90% of college students throughout China.
One common trend among the international Facebook clones is to ask volunteers to translate sites into other languages. So these innovative developers are on a track to seek and capture international users. If this trend takes hold, the number of 300,000+ social networking sites will surely skyrocket. MySpace is soon to be YourSpace, OurSpace, and TheirSpace. Maybe MoonSpace is the next step?