Snapshot of a changing (global) social networking scene

By Anne Collier

It’s good that ReadWriteWeb’s bookmarking “Where in the World People Do Not Use Facebook,” because social-networking practices are certainly in motion around the world. Another headline, in the Washington Post, reads: “Facebook increases dominance in non-English-speaking countries.” So let’s start with the interesting cultural notes in the ReadWriteWeb piece, near the top of which are a couple of beautiful world maps created by a visual arts grad student showing, at a glance, where Facebook is and isn’t used. The article looks at how people are socializing online in countries where some sites are banned and others preferred (for now, anyway) for cultural reasons. EU Kids Online provided insight into Europe’s top social network sites last spring (see this), so zooming in on Asia….

Interestingly, in China, where Facebook has been banned since 2009, there are some 700,000 FB users anyway (what does that say about the workarounds users manage to find?). China’s top social sites are Qzone (505 million), Renren (117 million) and Pengyou (which launched less than a year ago, and now with 101 million users), ReadWriteWeb reports. [“Ren” means “people” and “pengyou” means “friend” in Chinese.] Only partly in Asia, of course, but Russia’s social networking happens in (with some 100 million users), which is more like than Facebook, and, the leader in that country (its name basically means “in touch” and it has about 118 million users, ReadWriteWeb reports). In Japan, where gaming is a big part of social networking, Facebook is No. 6, “after Yahoo! Mobage (big on social gaming), Gree, Mobage-Town, Mixi and Twitter.” More than three-quarters of Japanese access SNS only on their mobile phones, ReadWriteWeb adds (Mobage-Town is a mobile-only social site).

But the picture’s changing fast in Europe. Facebook’s Netherland numbers passed up native social network site’s this past August, the Washington Post reports, with 7.7 million compared to’s 7.2 million, comScore found. “In Germany, the number of users for VZ Netzwerke, formerly known as StudiVZ, more than halved to 8 million in September from a year earlier, while Facebook visitors rose 43%.” But Polish site and the Latvia-based are still ahead of Facebook in their countries. Various explanations are offered, such as local sites failing to distinguish themselves from Facebook enough (some are called “copycats”) and added features in FB, but I think the biggest reason is critical mass. If everybody and his second cousin can be found in a single site, a lot of people want to be there too. Sounds like a bandwagon effect, I know, but I think it’s more convenience and access (to causes, products, and services as well as individuals and social networks). And we’ll probably see people maintaining accounts at both FB and local sites in some countries, based on cultural interests. Anyway, Facebook was no dummy to start “Spanish, German and French versions in 2008 and later [adding] languages such as Russian, Dutch, Danish and Italian,” as the Post reports.

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