Jan. 3, 2013 at 3:40 PM ET
With its billion or so active members, Facebook once again dominates the World Map of Social Networks. As the No. 1-ranked social network in 127 countries out of the 137 tracked, Faceboook seemingly swallows its competition in its march towards world dominance. But Facebook's competitors have over a billion members of their own — you just haven't heard of most of them.
A quick look at the December 2009 version of a social media map, composed bi-annually by strategist Vincenzo Cosenza using info from Internet metrics firm Alexa, notes that while Facebook was on top even way back then, it had 16 competitors that bested it in various countries. Now there are only four that have bigger numbers, and in just 10 countries. Four plus Twitter, that is — did you know that China is one of Twitter's most active countries, even though it's blocked there?
It seems Facebook's planetary ubiquity is inevitable ... until you take a look at the sheer size of those competitors: Total membership of the four major non-U.S. networks is 778 million. Combine that with Twitter's 500 million active users around the globe, and you've got a social horde that eclipses Facebook's. Besides Twitter, who are these plucky social networks standing firm outside the U.S.? Let's have a look.
Qzone - 552 million users
A massive social network that dominates China and South Korea, Qzone is sort of a cross between Facebook and Myspace. Users are encouraged to keep both diaries and blogs, share photos and listen to music, and as such, attracts mostly 18- to 24-year-olds. Qzone is owned by Shenzhen-based Internet portal Tencent, which also operates China's extremely popular instant-messaging service QQ.
The synergy of the social media platforms no doubt aids Qzone's popularity, but of course, it also helps that Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter are among the 2,600 websites blocked in mainland China. (As we noted earlier, however, Twitter's most active users are reportedly in China, subverting government filters by using proxy servers. So if people in China really did want to use Facebook, it seems they'd find a way.)
V Kontakte - 190 million users
Mark Zuckerberg took a tour of Russia last October, meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, but the Facebook founder and CEO has a tough road ahead of him when it comes to establishing a foothold in that country. Unabashed Facebook clone V Kontakte (know these days as "VK") is not only the dominant social network in the Russian territories, it's also the second-most visited website in that part of the world (mostly by men, 35 and younger). And since VK looks and operates a lot like Facebook, with profiles, messages, photo sharing and even a "Like" button, users have little reason to migrate.
Odnoklassniki - 45 million users
VK isn't the only competition Facebook faces in the Russian territories. Odnoklassniki ( "Classmates" in Russian), is also among the top five social networks. Designed to reunite school chums and old friends, Odnoklassniki gets its traffic mostly from 25- to 34-year-olds with kids and graduate degrees. It's also is the 7th most-visited website in Russian, 60th worldwide, according to Alexa, and a two-time winner of the Runet Prize, a mass-media award from the Russian government. Odnoklassniki's focus is largely on sharing photographs, and allows users to interact by rating those photos.
Cloob - 1 million users
Though its user base is comparatively minute, Cloob is the top social network in Iran, where its primary users are men over 65. Cloob is one of several social networks that emerged after the Iranian government blocked the former top network in that country, Orkut (yes, Orkut), along with Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. Cloob states on its site that it operates within the laws of the Iranian government. It is invitation-only and offers many social media features found elsewhere, including email, communities, photo sharing, news sharing, classifieds and resumes.
Qzone, V Kontakte, Odnoklassniki and Cloob aren't the only social networks that challenge Facebook's hegemony. We talked about Twitter earlier, and there's also a little thing called Pinterest, which has about 25 million users. Earlier this week, we learned from Google Trends that "Tumblr" — the short-form blogging platform — recently surpassed "blog" in Google searches. Speaking of Google, the search giant is adding to its social ranks by forcing people into signing up for Google+, even if they just want to use Gmail, YouTube and other services, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.
Even though it often feels like it's all about Facebook, there's lots more going on out there in the social media eco-system. Think of it this way: You know everybody in the U.S. is all "Oh, that PSY with his 'Gangam Style' is just a one-hit wonder blah blah blah!"? In South Korea, he's been selling hit records since 2001. Just because it doesn't happen in the U.S. doesn't mean it's not happening.