Online socializing in the downturn

I was surfing Alexa and Compete to see how the recent economic downturn (that we are not calling a recession) has impacted traffic to the popular social sites and saw some interesting trends.

Orkut traffic has gone down 36% over the last year while Friendster has lost over 20%. Unlike the latter, Friendster seems to inching upwards but Alexa shows traffic for Orkut  plunging over the last year. It’s interesting that neither of these sites has a major following in the U.S., Orkut’s traffic is mostly from Latin America, with Brazil accounting for over 50% of the traffic, while Friendster’s domain is Asia.

Friendster has been actively courting the Facebook developer community as well as expanding its  text alert  feature to several Asian countries, which no doubt helps increase site engagement. Orkut team on the other hand, recently introduced Orkut for iPhone but it’s not clear how many among its target audience use iPhone. Also, the site hadn’t opened access to third-party apps until this year to users outside Brazil and Asia (and Estonia??), which limited the possibility of engaging new users outside of the select countries.

Looking at the two dominant players in the N.American market, Facebook still seems to be going gangbusters with 70% YOY growth, thanks to a combination of user-friendly interface and new engaging features, while growth for the chaotic MySpace is leveling off.

I would assume that more people are socializing online during these interesting times, probably because there are more topics/issues to socialize over and thanks to the flurry of layoffs recently, more time on their hands to devote to it.

Google introduces YouTube Insight for video publishers

I recently ran into someone who’s interviewing for some marketing-type position at Google/YouTube in a few weeks. One question, I would love to ask the execs there is how are the brilliant minds (at Google/YouTube) planning to monetize the hugely popular site? I am not too envious of anyone who is stuck with the ultimate responsibility for monetizing this site. I mean, think about it – how easy is it to make people pay for something they’re used to getting for free?

That’s when I noticed this MarketingVOX article announcing Google’s free new analytic tool, YouTube Insight for the video publishers,

YouTube has debuted YouTube Insight, a suite of analytic tools that provide audience trends on videos that publishers have uploaded. YouTube already offers comments, ratings and a ranking for each clip. Insight adds context to where viewers come from and when they watched a given video.

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I think this is a great way to boost retention/loyalty of its video publishing community. It also gives the search giant, the demographic insights needed to provide more targeted advertising. Some revenue-sharing type model perhaps may also be in the works? 

Tracy Chan, Product Manager for YouTube Insight suggested that YouTube could be used for testing of movie trailers by studios and it is already being used by music bands to plan future performances,

Chan described how a Hollywood studio marketing a movie to YouTube viewers might put up several trailers designed to appeal to different users….He described how bands testing the new service have discovered pockets of their fans they didn’t know existed and have begun planning future music tours based on this data.

The major flaw with this plan, however well-intentioned, is the assumption that the YouTube (free-loader) demographic is typical of the movie-going (paying) audience and the results from any test on the YouTube audience is a good behavioral indicator of the offline movie-going audience.

That being said, the analytics tool is definitely step in the right direction. But I can’t help but wonder what on earth took them so long? Especially given that they could have easily leveraged Google Analytics backbone for this, couldn’t they?!

PS: Here’s a NY Times article rationalizing why companies ‘acquire’ innovation and why the acquisition still makes sense even if these companies are unable to monetize or gain any synergies from their acquisition.

Friendfeed, the next big thing?

This has been a week of new discoveries, first it was Flock, and this morning, as I was looking at my feed stats, I noticed traffic coming through Friendfeed. Started by some ex-Googlers, Friendfeed has taken the blogosphere by storm over the last month. Everyone’s talking about it – Louis Gray, SHEGEEKS, TechCrunch and many others have blogged about Friendfeed in the last month.

So, the curious ‘twit’ that I am, I signed up for it. It looks like a feed aggregrator, acts like a feed aggregator, so it’s definitely a feed aggregator. (Check out Steve Rubel’s post on how the ‘Imaginary Friends’ feature can be used as a master aggregator). But it’s not just an aggregator of blog feeds, Friendfeed lets you follow your friends/favorite bloggers around the net, so you get feeds of their posts on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and any other application that Friendfeed supports.

I like Friendfeed but it can get very overwhelming very fast, especially if you’re following someone like Robert Scoble who is reknowned for his incessant twittering. Over all, it’s a neat tool to keep all your feeds organized, but whether it will help reduce the insanity of over-abundance of social sites (that I’ve ranted about in the past) or add to that madness, remains to be seen.

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First Friendster and now Google goes east

In December 2007, Mashable announced Friendster’s expansion to Korea and Japan. Time.com also reported on how Friendster found it’s sweet spot in Asia,

Thanks largely to an accident of geography, it’s become Southeast Asia’s top social networking site. Asia is home to three-quarters of Friendster’s 58 million users, compared to 17% in the U.S., and it’s the source of 89% of the site’s traffic, compared to just 8% from North America.

Now it’s Google’s turn to ‘go east’. Mashable reports that Airtel and Google have partnered to offer Google apps like Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, etc.

Airtel Telemedia Services, India’s “largest private broadband and telephone service provider,” has announced its launch of a new Web portal (airtellive.com) in partnership with Google, who will be co-branding the effort. The company’s customers “will receive free access” to the software solutions held within the Google Apps suite, according to UNI.

I think this move makes all the sense in the world for Google, who faces intense competition on its home base and not to mention, it hasn’t been successful in monetizing any of its applications. By tying up with Airtel, it can increase the penetration and usage of its applications in the world’s second-most populace nation.