Social network websites are becoming a global phenomenon. Millions now go online to engage in social networks. According to Wikipedia, there are some 1.5 billion members worldwide. Where is this growth taking place? What does this mean for web2fordev? And what role do mobile phones play?
This first article is part of a series of three. It looks at the growth of social network websites worldwide, its implications and differences from former online network exchanges, and looks into the web2fordev potentials for mass engagement.
More than a year ago Tobias Eigen from Kabissa raised the question, "Does Africa use Social Network sites?" when he was looking at a social network map from Le Monde Diplomatique. At that time many countries were not yet featured on the map.
A lot has happened since then. Nonetheless it is still difficult to obtain reliable statistics. So, this is an attempt to highlight the numbers of social networks around the world, with particular focus on developing countries.
Asian societies are very conducive to social networks. Japan has the second largest Twitter community and one of the widest blogosphere. Besides countries such as Myanmar, where Internet access is severely regulated, all Asian countries account for vibrant social networks. By far, the largest is China with its QQ, being the largest social networking site that focuses on instant messaging and gaming with over 300 million active members. In India many social network sites are attracting an increasing number of members. The biggest social network in India is Orkut (Google) with 12.8 million visitors in December in 2008 and a total of 67 Million worldwide. But only 1.5 million out of a billion Indians are members of Facebook. Interestingly, only 230,460 of these are below 18 years of age and nearly 1 million are male. Malaysia and Indonesia account also for a steady growth in people engaging in social networking.
If one takes a look at the Vincos map, one could argue that Africa is lagging behind in the world, in terms of membership on social networking websites. Only 14 out of 50 African countries seem to have members on social networks. But the reality is quite different. Egypt alone has about 800.000 members on Facebook and according to the Opera mobile report, it has a high growth in accessing social networks through mobile phones. South Africa has shown for years that social networks in Africa will be run over mobile phones in the future. Mxit in South Africa, a mobile social network application with more than 5 million members, lets one engage in a community independently from location and time.
According to Appfrica, South Africa has 1.1 million Facebook members, Morocco 369,000, Tunisia 279,000, Nigeria 220,000, Kenya 150,000,and Mauritius 60,000. It is also Appfrica who presents an interesting little project, where Ugandans can interact Facebook through their mobile phones: Status.ug is a completely mobile gateway for Ugandans to also interact on Facebook. Appfrica estimates around 60,000 Facebook registered members in the Kampala area. Erik Hersman wrote on his blog about Sembuse, East Africa's first mobile social network “Sembuse is a mobile social network. It’s a way for East Africans to connect with each other via short messaging, cheaper than normal SMS messages (much like it’s counterpart Mxit in South Africa).”
A quick look at the analysis offered by Ignite Social Media, shows that many more social networks are used by African members:
A critical part of social network adaptation is a translation to many languages. Thanks to a group of Swahili scholars, Facebook launched a Swahili version of its network potentially targeting more than 110 Million people.
But there are many small networks appearing particularly through the social network platform ning.com, which are dedicated to a specific topic.
- Ghana IT professionals network – for IT professionals in Ghana and in the diaspora
- Venture capital and private equity in Africa – connecting investors and entrepreneurs
- Peace and Collaborative Development Network.
In closing, I would like to raise a few questions. Surely potential members of such networks face a lot of challenges such as access and low-bandwidth. But, if one looks at the still short-lived existence of website applications such as Facebook, it becomes obvious that we are just at the beginning. Almost a million people registered on Facebook in just three years for Egypt alone. Is this just a space for an elite in developing countries? What happens if these social networks would gain their space on mobile phones? What if social online exchange is not only for leisure, but for knowledge sharing and for generating ideas to tackle pressuring issues? These questions and more will be addressed in the forthcoming articles to appear on this web site.
Author: Christian Kreutz
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