Tag Archives: social networking site

Facebook in Asia: Seeds of Decline?

Some thoughts after trawling through data I’m collecting on Facebook membership in selected Asia Pacific countries

Membership of Facebook in developed Asia Pacific territories declined for the first time in a year in September, suggesting, possibly, that interest in the social networking site in the region has peaked. The figures may also reveal insights on whether, in developing countries, a social networking site can break out of their middle class enclaves.

Facebook populations in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Hong Kong all fell during the month, while those in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines all either grew only marginally or shrank somewhat. Hong Kong dropped by the largest margin—5.7%—while Thailand, alone among the countries under study, grew by more or less the same amount.

India and China, though included in the study, offer a more confusing picture. China’s data may be unreliable: after showing slow but steady growth until April, membership dropped precipitously before rising by nearly 140% in the past month. The reasons for these spikes and dips are unclear, but may have something to do with China’s limits on access to the service. In any case, the proportion of China’s real population remains negligible.

India’s too is negligible, although it did rise above 1% in July and and has been growing by between 400,000 and 1.7 million people per month. In most other countries that would be noteworthy.

But while the data overall remain questionable—these figures are from Facebook’s own statistics, but are not transparent, and are based on where members say they are from or in—there are some identifiable trends:

  • Australia and New Zealand seem to have not only hit a limit in terms of percentage of their overall population who are on Facebook (45% and 41% respectively), but may actually have begun to decline. After recording impressive growth up until May, membership plateaued for a month or two before falling in September. Google Trends graphs measuring traffic to facebook.com in these countries seem to confirm this. (Australia; New Zealand)
  • Hong Kong and Singapore seem to be in a similar boat. While more than half of Hong Kong was on Facebook in July, and nearly 49% of Singapore was on Facebook in August, both populations shrank in September. Only five months ago both territories were recording double digit growth.
  • Thailand is still growing, as is the Philippines. But both are from low bases: Less than 3% of Thailand began the year on Facebook, although that has now grown to 8%. The Philippines has risen from about 10% of the population to about 18% in the same period, but growth in both has dropped recently from earlier rates of up to 25% per month.
  • Indonesia is an interesting case. Its membership, too, was surging in the first half of the year—twice growing by a quarter in the space of a month—but has slowed considerably in the second half. Indeed, its population seems to have plateaued at about 11% of the overall population. That pretty much covers the country’s middle class, according to my calculations. (I wouldn’t want to labor the point, but based on the latest ADB figures, Indonesia is remarkable in the way that Facebook has extended beyond what would usually be considered the middle class limits of an Internet-based service. Those considered to be middle class or above by the ADB is about 11.6% of the population, which is exactly where Facebook’s Indonesia population currently stands. The Philippines—at 18.25%, about 5 percentage points behind the ADB’s calculation of the country’s middle class—has a little way to go, while Malaysia’s Facebook population has space to double in size. Of course, this has a lot to do with the growth of the mobile Internet, which is another topic in itself. )

Previous Facebook data posts:

Facebook in Asia: A Limit to Growth? – loose wire blog

Facebooks Asian Growth: Not Everywhere is North – loose wire blog

Facebook in Asia: A Limit to Growth?

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Here are the latest figures for Facebook populations in Asia-Pacific:

Country Users
Australia    7,395,200
New Zealand  1,279,260
Indonesia    15,254,060 
Singapore    1,763,340
Malaysia    4,155,880
Philippines    8,667,880
Thailand    2,000,320
Hong Kong 2,565,440
China    60,440
India 5,459,440

While there’s no doubt that Facebook is the premier social networking site in most Asia-Pacific countries, with subscription growing by about 20% in the past month in some countries, growth is tapering off in the developed economies of Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore.

The figures, gathered over the past six weeks from Facebook’s own data, suggest that once about a third of the population is on Facebook, there’s not much more room for growth.

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A comparison of Facebook users between November and January shows growth of 2.6% in Australia, 7% in New Zealand, 4.7% in Hong Kong and 2% in Singapore.

 

Australia

Hong Kong

New Zealand

Singapore

Proportion of population on Facebook

34.6%

36.77%

30%

36.44%

Growth, Dec-Jan

2.6%

4.7%

7%

2%

The Emerging Four

Compare this with the four Southeast Asian countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand, where despite impressive growth Facebook penetration remains relatively low:

 

Indonesia

Malaysia

Philippines

Thailand

Proportion of population on Facebook

6.68%

15.4%

9.6%

2.97%

Growth, Dec-Jan

24%

18.3%

20.2%

20.1%

India and China

In India and China, Facebook has yet to make much of a dent: China restricts access to the service, while in India users make up less than half a percent of the population. With 5.5 million users, Facebook’s India footprint is smaller than the Philippines.

Country observations

What growth there is among Facebookers in Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong comes from younger users, particularly the under 18s.

In Singapore, with the highest penetration in the region, is growing only among those groups with a small pre-existing share of users: Females over the age of 35, for example.

In Malaysia growth is being driven by teens: the number of females and males between the age of 13 and 17 grew by a third between December and January.

Indonesia is seeing growth across the board, particularly among males (there are 3 million more males on Facebook than females in Indonesia.)

Thailand’s Facebook population is still relatively a small proportion of the country—less than 3%—but is showing impressive growth, especially among the under 25s.

Why Social Network Sites May Fail

Look at a social networking site lie Yaari and you can see where the social networking phenomenon may fail, simply by abusing the trust of its users.

Sites like LinkedIn, Plaxo etc rely on expanding quickly by offering a useful service: trawling your address book to find friends and contacts who use the same service. We’ve gotten used to this, and it’s a great way to build a network quickly if you sign up for a new service.

But any service that uses this needs to stress privacy, and put control in the hands of users. Plaxo learned this a few years back. Spam a user’s contact list without them realising and you invite a firestorm of opprobrium on your head.

But surprisingly some services still do it. And in so doing they risk alienating users from what makes Web 2.0 tick: the easy meshing of networks—your address book, your Facebook buddies, your LinkedIn network—to make online useful.

Take Yaari, a network built by two Stanford grads which has for the past two years abused the basic tenets of privacy in an effort to build scale.

What happens is this.

You’ll receive an email from a contact:

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It’s an invitation from a “friend” which

  • gives you no way to check out the site without signing up. The only two links (apart from an abuse reporting email address at the bottom) take you to the signup page.
  • neither link allows you to check out your “friend”  and his details before you sign up.

If you do go to the sign up page you’ll be asked to give your name and email address:

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Below the email address is the reassuring message:

Your email is private and will stay that way.

But scroll down to below the create my account button and you’ll see this:

By registering for Yaari and agreeing to the Terms of Use, you authorize Yaari to send an email notification to all the contacts listed in the address book of the email address you provide during registration. The email will notify your friends that you have registered for Yaari and will encourage them to register for the site. Yaari will never store your email password or login to your email account without your consent. If you do not want Yaari to send an email notification to your email contacts, do not register for Yaari.

In short, by signing up for Yaari you’ve committed yourself, and all the people in your address book, to receiving spam from Yaari that appears to come from your email address. (Here’s the bit from the terms: “Invitation emails will be sent on member’s behalf, with the ‘from’ address set as member’s email address.”)

You should also expect to receive further spam from Yaari, according to the terms:

MEMBERS CONSENT TO RECEIVE COMMERCIAL E-MAIL MESSAGES FROM YAARI, AND ACKNOWLEDGE AND AGREE THAT THEIR EMAIL ADDRESSES AND OTHER PERSONAL INFORMATION MAY BE USED BY YAARI FOR THE PURPOSE OF INITIATING COMMERCIAL E-MAIL MESSAGES.

In other words, anyone signing up for Yaari is commiting both themselves and everyone else in their address book to receiving at least one item of spam from the company. Users complain that Yaari doesn’t stop at one email; it bombards address books with follow-up emails continually.

Needless to say, all this is pretty appalling. But what’s more surprising is that Yaari has been doing this for a while. I’ve trawled complaints from as far back as 2006. This despite the company being U.S.-based. I’m surprised the FTC hasn’t taken an interest.

So who’s behind the site? This article lists two U.S.-born Indians, Prerna Gupta and Parag Chordia, and quotes Gupta as saying, back in 2006, that to preserve the integrity of the network access is restricted to the right kind of Indian youth. I’m not young, I’m not Indian, and I’m probably not the right kind, so clearly that goal has been abandoned.

Here are some more details of the two founders.

Gupta, who is 26, is an economics major who graduated in 2005, was working for a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley called Summit Partners until 2005. Her facebook profile is here; her LinkedIn profile is here. According to this website she once won the Ms Asia Oklahoma pageant (her hometown is listed as Shawnee in Oklahoma, although she lives in Atlanta.

Chordia, chief technology officer at Yaari, has a PhD in computer music, and is currently assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, according to his LinkedIn profile. His facebook profile is here.

There’s a video of them here. An interview with Gupta last year indicates that they’re going hell for leather for size:

We are focused on growing our user base and becoming India’s largest social networking site within the next two years. Our goal for the next year is to become one of India’s Top 10 Internet destinations.

What’s interesting is that nearly every site that mentions Yaari and allows comments contains sometimes angry complaints from users. In that sense Web 2.0 is very effective in getting the word out. Unfortunately if Yaari and its founders continue to commit such egregious abuses of privacy, we can’t be sure many people will trust such websites long enough for the power of networking sites to be properly realised.

(I’ve sought comment from Gupta, which I’ll include in this post when received.)

Facebook’s Faceless Apps

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We’re probably being too kind to Facebook, and, in particular, to the third party applications that plug into it. They’re abusing user trust and committing sins we castigate others for, so we should be consistent: Many Facebook applications are spam.

Take this one, for example, illustrated above. It’s called ATTACK! and upon accepting an invitation from someone the screenshot above (reduced for privacy reasons) is the first page you see. You’re encouraged to invite friends:

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To make it easier for you, the first 10 friends on your alphabetical list have already been selected (what it must be like to be called something like Adam), and the only button available is the big blue one that says:

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There are, as far as I can see, no alternative buttons. No options to just skip the inviting part, or to unselect the existing friends, meaning you’ve got to unselect the ten manually. If you do that and then click the blue button you get another message:

image

And the ten are selected again. Hang on a minute; wasn’t I invited by someone else to play this game? (Laying aside, for a moment, why I would be playing a game during work hours of dubious intellectual or work-related relevance.) Why can’t I just accept his invitation and start playing?

By now I’ve forgotten who invited me and the invitation has disappeared. So has my enthusiasm for playing the game. Or having anything to do with Facebook applications.

To be fair, quite a few friends seem to love these things. What troubles me is that if these applications are so cavalier with well-established norms of non-spamming etiquette, how cavalier are they with our personal data? Remember every third party application requires the user to select this box:

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without ever going into detail about which information. All my information? Just a bit of information? Facebook has a lot of my information — not as much information as it used to, because I deleted a lot of it in a moment of panic (beware if you remove the fact that you’re married from your personal information, as you’ll get messages from people as they see in their status feed a broken heart icon and the words “Jeremy Wagstaff is no longer married” broadcast to all your friends. It is, however, a good way to find out what people really think of your marriage.)

So who is behind ATTACK!? Who are we giving that information to? Well, it seems to belong to a company called Presidio Media LLC. I say “seems” because there is no link to a company web page; the copyright sign includes that company’s name, which also seems to be responsible for games of Poker, Blackjack and Lotto. The company website, however, is empty, and I can’t find any registration information. There are three email addresses on the Facebook page, suggesting from their email addresses that they’re behind tribe.net, a social networking site.

Given Facebook has enjoyed huge popularity with what I would call social networking virgins — those who have not previously explored this online wonderworld of sharing information — I am, like some party pooper, troubled by the implications, even as we all frolic in this newfound social whirl.

But it’s probably just me. Anyway, whoever invited me to play ATTACK!: sorry. Let’s do it offline in the pub.

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Valentine’s Day – A Humbug Approach

It’s that time of year, and the marketing folk are back with lame Valentine’s promotions.

My first is from Audible.com, where I must have registered at some point, because I got an email with the subject field ‘Someone has sent you a Valentine!’ along with the following message: ‘Get a special Valentine’s day wish (and a little gift) from Audible.’

The link turns out to be a pretty dull flash presentation, some annoying music that doesn’t stop when the flash animation does, and the ‘gift’ turns out to be a 20% discount at audible.com. Thanks, guys. No, really.

What is perhaps reassuring is a survey from Avantgo, which reports that the majority of folk prefer social introductions to finding true love. Actually I think they’re missed the point; although the survey focuses on preference for traditional dating methods –  only 4% ranked online dating as the best way to meet their Valentine — the fact that 14% of correspondents ‘claimed to be dating, married or engaged to someone they met through an online dating service or social networking site’ is an extraordinary statistic.

Think about it. Most folk don’t like to admit they use dating services, let alone online ones. So the fact that so many people have ‘fessed up is a surprising shift in attitudes. Second, assume the figure is much higher, because of the lingering stigma attached. So it could be as high as 20%. Now, of course, these surveys tend to revolve around early adopters (it was a PDA-based survey, whatever that is) so it’s skewed, but it’s still a significant proportion. The survey tells us that online dating has become normal.

It also, sadly, tells us that folk are using Valentine’s Day as an excuse to exchange presents:  ‘While men plan to give their loved ones traditional gifts such as flowers, dinner out and chocolates, they are secretly hoping to receive an electronic gadget or CD/DVD. A third of respondents plan to spend more than $100 on their Valentine this year.’ Jeez! Do we really need another commercially exploited occasion to prod us guiltily into buying presents? Heaven help us all.

If you do insist on buying stuff, here are some Valentine Panties with built in Internet error codes: “Our HTTPanties Valentine’s Gift Box comes with one pair of white “403 Forbidden” panties and one pair of black “200 OK” panties, packaged in our lovely “Hearts and Stars” heart shaped box. Makes a great gift!” OhmyGod.

I am beginning to see what folk like Joi Ito are talking about when they talk about corrupting holidays. Talking of Japan, the whole Valentine’s thing has gotten way out of hand, primarily because of the confectionary industry. Joi wrote a few weeks back: ‘in Japan only men receive chocolates on Valentine’s Day and that women receive their chocolates on “White Day” one month later. (This notion was introduced by the confectionary industry in Japan.) People are encouraged to give chocolates widely and these chocolates are called giri choko (obligatory indebtedness chocolates) in Japanese.’ Now it’s the handphone industry getting in on the act: Nokia are promoting their handphones in Japan by selling them in a Valentine’s box, along with some chocolates (Thanks Gizmodo and Boing Boing):

I’m never going to celebrate Valentine’s Day again. Ever. After I’ve bought the panties and phone chocs.