Contrary to common perceptions, Facebook is not the only social networking service (SNS) in town, especially in the Asia-Pacific, where local, gaming-based social networks receive strong support. While Facebook claims over 750 million active users, this represents only half of the estimated 1.5 billion social network users in 2011, a figure expected to exceed 2.5 billion by 2016.
Senior analyst Michael Inouye says, “Facebook has had tremendous success, but select markets such as China, Japan, and South Korea remain challenges to the veritable social networking juggernaut. In addition, even in countries where Facebook leads, the differences between market shares are often not as dramatic as they are in the US.”
Further barriers are erected when the casual gaming element is added. Tencent, Cyworld, and GREE, for instance, are among the market leaders in their respective countries (China, South Korea, and Japan) and each company operates in both the social networking and online gaming markets. In addition, partnerships have formed between these companies to facilitate game development across developers and countries, which could further heighten the barriers to entry: e.g. GREE and Tencent, and Mixi (Japan) with RenRen (China) and Cyworld. The social networking value chain also extends beyond the SNS alone, impacting a myriad of content providers, device manufactures, and platform developers alike.
In fact, social networking is starting to diffuse to all facets of the connected world – although computers remain the primary social networking tool. According to digital home practice director Jason Blackwell, “Mobile devices in particular will prove an essential ingredient to the development and evolution of social networking. This is especially true in developing markets where mobile broadband is expected to help drive Internet connectivity – although this is applicable to some developed markets like Japan as well.” Mobile devices will also play a key role in the connected CE market, working in conjunction with fixed devices for interactive features like gaming, polling/voting, content sharing, and general user interface applications. Despite the attention to a few operators, both Blackwell and Inouye stressed that while Facebook may be the largest SNS in the world, it is only one part of the greater social networking ecosystem.
ABI Research’s new report, “Social Networking and Consumer Electronics,” focuses on the social networking market, with an emphasis on services and users.
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