Friendster looks to expand Asian base

With the majority of its subscribers coming from the region, the social networking site says it wants to continue investing here toward growth.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor

Social networking site, Friendster, said as most of its subscriber base comes from the Asia-Pacific region, it wants to invest in the region to continue its growth.

The U.S. Web site, which was one of the initial social networking sites to launch in 2003, has been growing its Asian subscriber base since the first "connections" from the region were made in 2004.

According to Jeff Roberto, Friendster's marketing and PR director, the site's Asian subscriber base started to outgrow its U.S. base from the onset.

Friendster gets 36 million monthly unique visitors from Asia, out of the overall 40 million globally, said Roberto, quoting figures from an April 2008 comScore Media Metrix study.

Speaking during a press briefing for ad:tech Singapore 2008, Roberto attributed Friendster's growth in the region to its "first-mover advantage"--it was accessible ahead of its biggest competitor, Facebook, which opened its doors to global access later, in 2006.

The comScore study ranked Friendster seventh globally in terms of total page views. Facebook is ranked fourth, but Roberto added that for the region, Facebook has a smaller 18 million visitor pool.

Roberto said Friendster's biggest audience within the region comes from the Southeast Asian countries of the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, and is the result of the site's efforts in launching Asian-language versions.

Friendster supports Malay, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, Japanese and Korean, while rival Facebook currently supports both Chinese versions, Japanese and Korean.

"Eighty percent of our subscriber base comes from Asia, so 80 percent of our new hires will come from the region too," said Roberto. The company is looking to hire mostly marketing executives.

Friendster's growth in the last six months saw it move from the comScore January top 20 list of largest Web sites in the world to its current position at seven. Roberto said this was the result of its launch of a developer program in December 2007, which has seen some half a million applications added to its directory each day, and some thousand developers registered.

Competitor, Facebook too, launched an application developer program last year, the success of which has been likened to a "gold rush".

Roberto said the growing China social networking market is valuable to Friendster, but acknowledges that local competition in the country will pose a greater challenge than it has in other countries in the region.

"It may be more challenging with the government [restrictions]," said Roberto, adding that the company has hired a Chinese advisor for its expansion plans in the country.

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