Facebook dislodges Orkut from top position in India

The number of social networking users in the country is booming

Social networking site Facebook has overtaken Orkut in India for the first time to take the top place, digital market data firm comScore said on Wednesday.

Facebook had 20.9 million unique visitors in July, up 179 percent from the same month last year. Orkut had 19.9 million visitors in July, up 16 percent year on year, comScore said.

BharatStudent.com, a social utility that aims to bring together young Indians living across the globe, took the third place with 4.4 million visitors, followed by Yahoo Pulse with 3.5 million visitors.

Twitter is growing fast in India, at 239 percent, but still only had 3.3 million visitors in the country, putting it in fifth place.

Facebook has taken the lead over Orkut in India because of a combination of factors, including its intuitive user interface, the variety of games on the site, and the perception among young users that it is a "cool" place to be, said Asheesh Raina , principal research analyst at Gartner.

The popularity that Facebook enjoys in key markets like the U.S. is also likely to have influenced younger people in India to try the site, Raina said.

With many young users moving from Orkut to Facebook, it is likely that there will be a segmentation of users with younger people primarily on Facebook, while older users focus on Orkut for social networking, Raina added.

The comScore survey covered visitors from home and work among users aged 15 years and above, and does not include visits from public computers such as Internet cafes or access from mobile phones or PDAs (personal digital assistants). Mobile phone users are significant in that they set trends, but mobile phones are not used by many people in India to access social networks, Raina said.

A spokeswoman for Google, which owns Orkut, said on Wednesday that it does not comment on competition. The company is satisfied with the growth trajectory of Orkut in India, and continues to innovate around the social networking site, she said.

Orkut added new features to its social networking site on Tuesday that allowed users to share scraps and photographs with select groups from their friends list on the social networking site.

Users maintain different groups of friends or "social circles", and the Internet is not able to reflect that, Orkut product management director Victor Ribeiro wrote on the Orkut blog on Tuesday. Citing the example of a fictitious user, Sarah, a 21 year old girl, Ribeiro said that the plans for Saturday night and the photos of the parties she went to should be seen only by her party friends. Sarah does not want her boss or her young cousin to see those, he added.

Facebook's high profile in India has come at a price. At the request of the Indian government, it had to agree earlier this year to block access from India to Facebook pages considered offensive to Islam. It did a similar deal in Pakistan to get the country to remove a ban on its website.

Orkut, at the peak of its popularity in India, was also targeted by a number of groups, and even taken to court in India, for content that was considered offensive to local leaders.

Facebook may run into privacy concerns at a legal level in India, as in some other countries, Raina said. But users in general in India are not particularly concerned about this issue, and are not likely to stop using the site for privacy reasons, he added.

More than 33 million Internet users aged 15 and older in India visited social networking sites in July, representing 84 percent of the total Internet audience, comScore said. India now ranks as the seventh-largest market worldwide for social networking, after the U.S., China, Germany, Russia, Brazil and the U.K. The total Indian social networking audience grew 43 percent in the past year, more than tripling the rate of growth of the total Internet audience in India, comScore added.

Recognizing India as a growing market for its product, Facebook opened an office in the country this year, which houses online sales and operations teams, and also supports the company's users. Google and Yahoo already have large development and sales teams in India.

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