Rhodri Marsden: Facebook doesn't rule the world – yet

Cyberclinic

You sometimes hear Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg talking of his noble ambition to "connect the world", as if there are parts of the globe full of withdrawn folk who are unable to form relationships and are waiting for him to ride to their rescue with photo sharing, instant messaging and interminable games of Farmville. Unsurprisingly, this isn't the case. Every country with internet access has its favourite social network, and what's galling for Zuckerberg is that it's not always his. His battle is really one of domination, to turn the world navy blue; a bit like a game of Risk, but a game of Risk in which Goldman Sachs occasionally chuck $450m to one of the players to give them an advantage.

This Risk-ian metaphor for the changing shape of the world's social networks has been shown in infographics produced by an Italian blogger, Vincenzo Cosenza. He's been using data generated by web ranking service Alexa.com to produce a colour-coded world map of the most popular social networks by country, and it's striking to see how many have been turning blue of late. 18 months ago, the honours were shared by some 17 social networks, including such long-forgotten online destinations as Friendster (which, after being deserted by Western users, eventually became Indonesia's top social media hub). But in his graphic from last month, that number is down to 11; Facebook has now taken the lead in Hungary (beating local competitor iWiW), Poland (Nasza Klasa) and many other countries, too. It's recognised that people like their social media experience to be country-specific, but Facebook's strength in localising its product, combined with sheer weight, is making it unbeatable: 583 million users and counting, remember.

But let's hear it for the websites pluckily holding out. The popularity of both QZone and RenRen within China doesn't count; that's like beating a team that haven't turned up, with Facebook banned due to government restrictions. Iran, however, choose to embrace cloob.com, not Zuckerberg's baby. In Western Europe, The Netherlands is a lone state battling on all fronts with its Hyves service, while Russia and a number of its former republics shun Facebook in favour of V Kontakte, Draugiem or the wonderfully named Odnoklassniki. But this lot will inevitably succumb sooner or later, and it's Brazil and Japan that are proving Facebook's most stubborn opponents. Orkut, a social media site operated by Google, has been the most popular in Brazil for years; many reasons have been offered for its dominance, one of the most compelling being that it's easier for Portuguese speakers to say. But Japan is another thing altogether.

Barely 2 per cent of the online Japanese population use Facebook, compared to 60 per cent in the USA. Their loyalties are divided between three sites: Mixi, Gree, and Mobage-Town; all offer the kind of anonymity and pseudonymity that Facebook, with its insistence on real names, doesn't allow, and as a result a privacy-conscious Japan has given the world's biggest social media site an extremely wide berth. Japanese citizens just seem to use the medium differently; for example, one recent survey shows that half of respondents know none of their online acquaintances in real life. And that's a cultural difference that Facebook, with all its talent for localisation, may never be able to get past. The film about Facebook's global rise, The Social Network, is launched in Japan this week; it'll be interesting to see whether the Japanese public show any more interest in it than we might show in a film about, er, Mobage-Town.

***

More than five years ago, LG launched its GRD-267DTU Digital Multimedia Side-By-Side Fridge Freezer With LCD Display. "The ultimate in kitchen technology," its announced, "with a built-in MP3 player ... e-mail and video mail ... And it's great for storing food too," while we doubled up in laughter and steadied ourselves by clutching at the nearest armchair. But at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas it had another go, and now it doesn't seem quite so outlandish. A bunch of household gadgets were demonstrating internet connectivity, including bathroom scales that don't so much speak your weight as tweet your weight, forcing you to shed pounds through embarrassment over the online revelations. LG was still overexcited about its oven that texts you to tell you your dinner's ready, however. Whether it's my phone beeping or my oven beeping, a beep's just a beep, right?

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