Indian social networks stake their claim

12 August 2009

NEW DELHI: An increasing number of domestic social networking sites in India are seeking to take on their more established multinational counterparts such as Facebook and Orkut, which currently have a pre-eminent position in the country.

Figures from comScore, the online research firm, show that India had 34.6 million web users in June, with 65% of these consumers accessing at least one social network during the month.

Orkut, the Google-owned social media platform, recorded 15.5 million "active users" from among this audience during this period, with the typical member spending an average of 12.5 minutes on the site per visit.

The Asian country is Orkut's third-biggest market – behind Brazil and the US – and the popular property, like many of its counterparts, is exploring a range of different advertising models.

"Everyone is experimenting with different things. Some things will work; some things won't," said Rahul Kulkarni, product manager of Google India. 

Facebook recorded 6.9 million active users in the sixth month of this year, and is enjoying a rapid pace of growth in India, a trend attributed both to its usability and the increasing popularity of the range of "apps" it has made available.

As more Indians currently have access to mobile phones than the web, Facebook is also focusing on this medium, a strategy that has similarly been adopted by Google for its search service.

Meenal Balar, international marketing manager at the company, said "Facebook Mobile will be a hugely important way to enable people in India to stay connected."

Bigadda, which was founded in August 2007, is one of the biggest domestic operators in the country, with 3.3 million active users in June, and combines a local approach with features such as celebrity blogs.

Shivanandan Pare, the portal's coo, said advertiser interest was rising, adding that "since our sales force went out to get advertisers in January, we have had 40 brands" buying up inventory.

Ibibo, which posted 3.1 million active users in June, has aimed to distinguish itself by allowing users to "showcase your talent", as well as offering free phone calls and text messages.

Ashish Kashyap, its ceo, said the Indian social networking arena housed a number of "me toos" which may struggle in the long-term, as to survive "you have got to differentiate and solve a problem."

Apnacircle, the "online social and career networking site", currently has 5.5 million registered members, a total that falls to 2.8 million for Brijj, which bills itself as the “professional networking website".

Indyarocks, which is an entertainment-based property, recorded 1.8 million active users in June, with an average dwell time of 23 minutes per visit.

Japan's Mixi, China's QQ and South Korea's Cyworld acted as models for this portal, having been developed specifically for a national audience.

Kalyan Manyam, co-founder of Indyarocks, said these examples "continue to rule the market with specific offerings" in their "local language."

However, Diptarup Chakraborti, principal research analyst at Gartner in India argued that just as the dotcom boom brought a focus on "eyeballs", the current trend is about "communities".

Given the explosion in the number of social networks in India, Chakraborti predicted it is likely that a "big percentage will not survive".

Data sourced from Livemint; additional content by WARC staff