Net Effect: Battle of the networking stars

Google's OpenSocial provides access to the cream of the crop

MySpace might be the headlining member of Google's OpenSocial platform in the eyes of Americans, but with such names as Bebo, hi5, Friendster and Orkut, the search giant also has opened up some of the largest international community sites to its developers.

The OpenSocial project, announced last week, will provide resources for developers and community sites to make widgets and other applications available to a range of destinations in an attempt to provide new standards for social networking. Although the tangible benefits and financial impact of the project to the sites and Google won't immediately be known, the platform is seen as an attempt to mount a challenge to the open platform of Facebook, which last month announced $240 million in funding from Microsoft.

According to Nielsen Online, MySpace had 59 million unique visitors in September, more than triple Facebook's 18 million. Business-focused site LinkedIn was the second-most-visited partner in terms of U.S. visitors with 4.1 million. The other top sites -- hi5, Bebo, Plaxo and Friendster -- all attracted 1 million-1.5 million visitors.

Internationally, however, the numbers tell a different story, with many of the sites with smaller stateside numbers dominating overseas markets such as Latin America, Southeast Asia and India and pockets in Europe.

Hi5, which said it has 60 million registered accounts and 25 million visits per month, is the social networking standard in Mexico, Central America and several other Latin American and European countries.

Google-owned Orkut is the dominant site in Brazil and India and the 10th-most-visited site on the Net, according to Internet database Alexa.

Friendster, one of the earliest social networking sites to make headlines, might be passe in the U.S., but it is the most visited site of any kind in the Philippines and the second-most-visited in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, according to Alexa. The company said it has 50 million users worldwide, and according to ComScore, it had 24 million visitors in June, with 89% coming from Asian countries.

In the U.K., Bebo is the top social network, beating MySpace and Facebook. The service also is on top in Ireland.

Although Facebook reportedly has been considering an IPO, European business site and OpenSocial partner Xing has the distinction of being the first social networking to go public. With a strong base in Germany and following its acquisition of two Spanish business networking sites, the company has 4 million members with some paying for premium services.

Alliance member Hyves is the largest social networking site in the Netherlands with 3 million users in that country, which has a total population of less than 17 million.

MySpace also has strong international numbers, with 20 million users in Europe, according to ComScore, and a rapidly expanding base in the Asia Pacific region.

But for now, OpenSocial falls short in parts of Western Europe as Skyrock Networks is the largest community in France and StudiVZ is dominant in Germany and Austria. The group also lacks traction in Japan, where Mixi is the largest site, and in China, where Xiaonei.com and Wealink.com are two of the biggest names.

Nielsen Online is owned by the Nielsen Co., parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.
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