In India, it's been about three years that social networking kicked off , and since then it has been Orkut leading the trail all the way. Hi5 had a good following too but Orkut took over soon. Myspace, in spite of having an office in India, is almost unheard of and Bebo emerged recently but is still a non-entity here in India. LinkedIn is mostly seen as a professional's networking site, and the average Indian will have never heard of it.
One of the reasons for this has been Orkut's simple interface (compare it to the American baby 'MySpace'). The Google-owned site has been dominating the Social Networking scene in India. Indians chose Orkut because they had little other alternatives. Alexa statistics tell us that Orkut is the fourth most popular site in India after Google and Yahoo search sites. Not very far behind Brazil and the US, the Indian mass forms over 17% of Orkut users. Slower internet connections of the general Indian mass also provided an advantage for the peeled-off Orkut. Facebook was unknown in the South Asian regions (at least India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal etc.).
Just when it seemed like "Orkut is gonna stay King" right out of the blue pops Facebook in the 'Desi' scene. Somewhere down the line, Indian users on Facebook got a pop-up saying "Facebook is now available in Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam". And it was evident that Facebook was trying to gain on Orkut in India with the localization stunt. However, only this move will not give Facebook the "King" title as the majority of social networking site users are suave English speaking urban residents for whom English is like a native language. And the majority of them have already boarded Facebook. However, this would definitely be a treat for those from the non-metropolitan smaller town and cities who are on Orkut and would project Facebook as an appealing site to them.
Facebook is indeed catching up on Orkut. As the popularity of Facebook is growing world-wide, even in Africa and Asia, the site's number of active users grew over 70% in 12 weeks. Currently, Facebook has shot up to being the 16th most popular site in India. Considering the fact that previous Orkut users who have tried Facebook are responding with positive feedback, Facebook is well set to becoming the Indian favourite for social networking snatching that label from Orkut.
When Orkut launched, it soon became an Indian craze, and you could find almost every Tom, Dick and Harry on Orkut. The Indian celebrities caught up with the social networking scene a little late, and by that time Facebook had already slowly slided in. In order to preserve there "elite-ness" they decided to sign up on Facebook just to stay away from the general mass. The paparazzi flashed this to the public and now the fans and followers are following their heroes onto Facebook.
Orkut having been around for a while has almost become a 'desi' thing and Facebook is the 'new kid on the block'... 'phoren' (foreign). It's the cool hip society. Also the stagnation of Orkut with few appealing new tools or services are making Orkut users 'jump ship'.
Orkut too is worried with this shift and in an effort to regain its stature, it has switched to a very trendy interface and also extended its internationalization to include Indian regional languages into it;s community. Hindi scraps are possible now on Orkut.
On the other hand, Facebook is trying to getting the cell-phone version edge and is already launching ad campaigns where a cricket star connects to Facebook through a mobile phone. I presume the biggest challenge for Facebook will be its heavy reliance on graphics and the average Indian's slow internet connection.
We will soon find out who becomes the next Indian fever.
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