5 international social networks to keep an eye on

Facebook and MySpace may lead the pack in the U.S., but there are a slew of leading social networks from around the world that we don't hear about on a daily basis. Don Reisinger takes a look at five.

Facebook and MySpace may reign supreme in North America, but we can't forget that they don't control every country in the world. Simply put, people from around the globe have different tastes and the major U.S. networks barely capture relevant market share in some countries.

It's a big world out there and believe it or not, Facebook and MySpace don't own it.

China: Xiaonei

Xiaonei is basically a Chinese Facebook clone. The site's design is extremely similar to Facebook's layout and profile options are quite similar, as well. But with a reported $430 million in funding raised earlier this year, it's poised to keep its lead across the world's most populated country, regardless of its similarity to the social network giant.

Xiaonei targets college-age Chinese students. According to figures it released earlier this year, the social network currently has 15 million registered users and almost 9 million active users visiting the site each day. Much like Facebook, the service allows users to share photos and videos and connect with friends at school. Xiaonei also provides a platform for users to share music and movies--a practice that shouldn't come as a shock considering China is one of the leading sources of piracy in the world. Much like Japan's top social network, Mixi, no third-party apps are allowed on the service, though.

France: Skyrock

France's leading social network, Skyrock, may surprise you a bit: it never was supposed to be a social network. Skyrock started as a blog in 2002, which was eventually abandoned in 2007 and turned into a social network. It was the right move.

Skyrock dubs itself the "Free People Network" and generally succeeds in making that moniker hold up. User profiles are freely available with site registration and users can create blog entries that are published on the site's main page. The top 100 bloggers are featured under the site's "Blogs" heading, which also includes a blogger "Hall of Fame" and a running tally of articles--656,000 as of this writing. According to the site's figures at the top of its page, there are currently 20 million blogs and 11.3 million profiles on Skyrock. If you want to create a profile--anyone from any country is allowed to do so--the site does require a quick registration. But if you're looking for privacy, you won't find it here--Skyrock is all about being open and hides nothing from site visitors.

Germany: StudiVZ

StudiVZ is, well, an almost exact replica of Facebook, but without the company's signature blue design. Instead, the German firm employs a red palette in an attempt to differentiate itself. Regardless, its profile pages look almost exactly the same as Facebook's and its many features mimic the social network giant. Because of that, Facebook initiated an intellectual property infringement case against StudiVZ back in July. So far, nothing has come out of that lawsuit other than posturing on both sides and much to Facebook's chagrin, StudiVZ's 9 million users haven't stopped using the site.

Once users register for StudiVZ, it allows them to create a profile and interact with others. They can upload photos and videos, share interests, make updates, and post messages on friends' walls. In fact, most Facebook users would feel right at home using StudiVZ. See what I'm getting at?

Japan: Mixi

Say what you will about the prominence of MySpace and Facebook in the U.S., but in Japan, they barely compete. A major social network called Mixi reigns supreme and there's nothing Facebook nor MySpace have been able to do about it.

Mixi controls almost every aspect of the member's profile design and structure and it doesn't even let third-party developers deploy apps on the site. Membership is restricted to users over 18 years of age and requires an invitation from a current user to sign-up. According to the company, just 5 percent of the site's 15 million users provide their real names and photos and every visitor to a person's profile page is recorded so they can see who has been looking them up.

It's difficult to call Mixi a social network considering such a few number of its members really want to be that "social", but it's considered one nonetheless. The company is sitting atop Japan's group of networks, which includes both MySpace and Facebook, and so far, neither can gain significant ground.

South Korea: Cyworld

South Korea's Cyworld has been the de facto leader in that country for years. And although the odds are against it, it recently launched a U.S. site in an attempt to expand globally and take Facebook and MySpace on directly.

Cyworld's success has been astounding. The site currently has more than one-third of South Korea's entire population using its service and 90 percent of all South Koreans in their 20s use the site.

Once users sign up for the service, they can create their own profile and an avatar, which becomes their digital face to the world. That avatar can then be personalized to modify hair color and general look. Once that's complete, Cyworld allows users to upload photos, exchange virtual gifts, or create a club where others who share the same interests can join and interact. According to the company, its intention is to create a "virtual world." So far, that vision has proven relatively successful.

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About the author

Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.

 

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