Hi5 goes mobile: It's a bigger deal than you think

San Francisco-based company is most popular in Latin America, where it's more likely that a social-network user will own a cell phone than a PC.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
2 min read

The biggest social networks, like Facebook and MySpace, have operated mobile sites long before anyone ever held an iPhone. Midsize social networks are still warming up to the concept: Hi5, a San Francisco-based company that counts its biggest following in Latin America, formally launched Hi5 Mobile on Tuesday.

The social site has launched its mobile edition in 26 different languages, a testament to its multicultural image, and has optimized it for the iPhone, BlackBerry, and select handsets from manufacturers like Nokia and Samsung. Those translations, Hi5 says, are done on the part of locals rather than the company to make the site more "culturally relevant."

But more importantly, Hi5's mobile site is a marketing effort to reach its most loyal customers. MySpace and Facebook's current mobile sites are intended as supplements to the browser-based editions, but Hi5 openly targets the "millions of international users who primarily use mobile devices, instead of a personal computer, to stay connected with friends, family and colleagues." After all, access to PCs is less common in many Latin American countries than in Hi5's home country.

Recent statistics from ComScore indicate that Hi5 has doubled its visitor count over the past year and that much of its foothold is in Latin America; the social-networking industry in that region of the world has grown by a third since mid-2007, according to the same statistics.

While other social networks like MySpace are working hard to make headway in the Latin American market (and MySpace says its market share there is growing), launching a mobile site is a savvy move on Hi5's part.