August 12, 2008

Friendster to Focus on User Growth for Now

By Jeeva Arulampalam

SOCIAL networking group Friendster Inc, plans to list but only once it has optimised growth potential in its networking service, said its top official.

"We will look at going public in the medium term but the business focus for now is on user growth," Friendster's newly appointed chief executive officer Richard Kimber told Business Times.

Kimber said the primary focus will be on Asia Pacific, as Friendster is now almost double the size of any other social network in this region. More than 70 per cent of the 75 odd million registered users worldwide come from Asia.

Friendster's growth strategy includes using its recently raised US$20 million (RM66.4 million) to build on human capital and monetising new services, with close to 80 per cent of the sum to be invested in Asia. The financing was led by new investor IDG Ventures, a global network of venture capital funds.

"The building of human capital will come in terms of engineers, sales and marketing people and individuals who will be analysing markets," Kimber said during a phone interview from the US last Wednesday.

To remain ahead of its competitors Facebook and Myspace in Asia, Friendster now comes in multiple languages and has new features such as a mobile site and the creation of fan profiles for celebrities or even non-profits.

Friendster is the ninth largest website and the third largest social network in the world in terms of traffic. Last year, it gained more than 30 million registered users and 18 million monthly unique visitors.

"We currently operate in ten languages and that enables us to be very local, especially in Asia," said Kimber. Asia is regarded as the largest market of Internet users as it has 38 per cent of the world's Internet users compared with only 22 per cent from the US.

"Innovation is also key - we believe that the mobile site is a new frontier for social networking," he added. The site enables users, who subscribe, to receive network alerts in selected countries via mobile phones.

Friendster also allows developers to build and deploy applications globally via the Friendster platform, said its marketing and public relations director Jeff Roberto.

Roberto added that Malaysia was a key advertising market in Asia, with over a quarter of all domestic Internet users visiting Friendster monthly. This works to Friendster's advantage especially since it has a low overlap with other social networking sites in Malaysia.

According to comScore, only 17 per cent of Friendster users visited Facebook while 19 per cent visited MySpace in May. This is relatively low compared with 70 per cent of Facebook users and 80 per cent of MySpace users having visited Friendster.

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