Windows Live Spaces at a crossroads: will the US catch up to the world?

One thing the LiveSide Stickers Around the World project really brought home, for someone who lives and breaths a US-centric life, was how much goes on in the world that is not neccesarily happening in the US.  I watched Robert Scoble whiteboard the Techmeme phenomenon recently, and noted his comments on how Techmeme in particular, and A-Listers in general, were English speaking and US centric.  Over here, its been all Facebook all the time lately, but when I ran across some ComScore numbers on Social Networking sites around the world, it got me to thinking, and to digging a little deeper.

Now before we get started it may be a good idea to talk about terms a bit.  Of course some would argue that Blogger or WordPress or even Windows Live Spaces aren’t “Social Networking sites”, and if you mean that they’re not like Facebook, then you’re probably right.  However these are sites that people use to connect with their friends, to share their thoughts and ideas, and to learn more about each other.  That all of them don’t have a development platform (yet), or that Scoble doesn’t maintain 5,000 friends in Spaces or Blogger, really is part of the issue here.  For now, let’s let the users define what a Social Networking site is by what they actually use.

ComScore was good enough to provide me with a very interesting set of numbers:  Social Networking sites, by unique visitors per month (all ages 15 and over), broken down by region.  I fired up Excel 2007 and knocked out some charts of the data, which Sarah from Comscore was kind enough to provide in a spreadsheet.  Let’s start with the North America numbers:

(click on any of the graphs for a larger image)

Social Networking Sites – North America: Unique visitors per month (000)

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As expected, MySpace is in a runaway lead, Facebook is coming on strong, Blogger is hanging in there, and Spaces pretty much brings up the rear.  If you read the blogs and follow Techmeme, TechCrunch, and Scoble, these numbers aren’t anything surprising.

But take a look at the Worldwide numbers, and a somewhat different story emerges.

Social Networking Sites – Worldwide: Unique visitors per month (000)

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While Facebook is growing steadily worldwide, here the numbers tell a far different story.  Windows Live Spaces is battling it out with Blogger and MySpace for the top spot.  Just for reference, we can see that the Worldwide usage of Social Networking sites is growing steadily:

Social Networking Sites: Total Worldwide unique visitors per month to the top ten sites (000)

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(note also here that for clarity I took the top 6 sites for each region, but the totals above represent worldwide numbers for the top 10 sites)

So 800,000,000 unique visitors in the month of September 2007 to the top 10 Social Networking sites around the world.  Not an inconsequential number.

In Europe, Spaces and Blogger again are leading the pack:

Social Networking Sites – Europe: Unique visitors per month (000)

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And in the Asia Pacific region, similar numbers for Spaces, but a whole new set of competitors, MySpace and Facebook not among them:

Social Networking Sites – Asia Pacific: Unique visitors per month (000)

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Lots of talk about Orkut in Latin America (well, Brazil):

Social Networking Sites – Latin America: Unique visitors per month (000)

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but Orkut is still not anywhere close to Spaces and Blogger. And to round out the numbers, in the Middle East and Africa:

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where again it is Spaces and Blogger at the top, with Facebook definitely making a move.

Fun with numbers

So what does it all mean?  For one thing, the future for Windows Live Spaces does not appear to be as bleak as US pundits make it out to be.  If anything, the competition with Blogger may be much more of a challenge worldwide for Spaces than Facebook or MySpace.  Certainly the market seems lucrative, with lots and lots of people blogging and posting pictures and sharing.  Spaces just upgraded its photo storage and sharing capabilities, already has the basics of a friends network in place, and all indications are that it will soon begin a migration of MSN Groups into a new Windows Live Groups to complement the recently announced Windows Live Events.  Spaces also offers tight integration with Windows Live Messenger and Windows Live Hotmail, and Messenger integration is something both Blogger and Facebook lack, or at least not integration with some 300 million Windows Live Messenger users.  Certainly Spaces has had its share of growing pains.  The old way it handled photos was unacceptable, really, but that has been addressed if not totally fixed.  Although Spaces has been out of beta since April 2005, it is only just coming into its own in feeling like a complete product, but there is a lot of work left to do. 

Mary Jo Foley wrote recently on Microsoft’s seeming reluctance to promote Spaces within the US, and indeed if you read the press in the US or follow the blogs, Windows Live Spaces is not much more than an also ran.  From looking at these numbers, though, and the discrepancies between the US numbers and those worldwide, my US centric colleagues and mentors may be a little premature in crowning Facebook king of the social network sites.

A note on Comscore

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The numbers used in preparation of this post were provided free of charge from ComScore, with no strings attached, and for that we thank them.