The List

Social Networks in Exile

The $100 billion Facebook juggernaut is going public. But remember Friendster and LiveJournal? They never died. They just fled overseas.

 

Social networking giant Facebook debuted on the stock exchange on Feb. 1with an initial public offering of $5 billion, a small fraction of the up to $100 billion the company is thought to be worth. With over 800 million users, Facebook is (at least in the English-speaking Internet) the undisputed king of social networking.

But the ascendance of the site Mark Zuckerberg launched only eight years ago in his Harvard dorm room was not guaranteed. It has vanquished a number of competitors along the way. Some, like Myspace, are fading into obscurity. Others, like Twitter, have settled comfortably into a more specialized role. But some of Facebook's onetime foes have found an unlikely second wind in some unexpected places. Like aging American rock stars who can still pack the house in Kiev or Yokohama, the sites have attempted, with mixed success, to reinvent themselves for their new audience.

FRIENDSTER

Popular in: Southeast Asia

Founded two years before Facebook, Friendster was how many users first experienced social networking. Within months of its launch in 2003, the site attracted 3 million users and became the darling of the tech media.

But being first doesn't necessarily mean best. Over the course of the decade, the site was eclipsed by the more user-friendly MySpace and Facebook. (Turning down a $30 million buyout offer from Google in 2003 wasn't a great decision in retrospect.)

Luckily, the San Francisco-based site caught on in a major way with Asian-Americans in the Bay Area and then spread quickly to Southeast Asia. By 2008, the region was the source of 89 percent of Friendster's traffic and was the most visited website in the Philippines and Indonesia. It was acquired by the Malaysian-based web payments company MOL Global in 2009 and is now headquartered in Kuala Lumpur.

Last year, the site shut down its original social networking format and relaunched as a gaming site aimed almost exclusively at the Southeast Asian market. Today's Friendster is basically unrecognizable to the U.S. users who set up their first profiles in high school or college, but the new site does seem to be gaining in popularity.

LIVEJOURNAL

Popular in: Russia

A predecessor of both MySpace and Blogger, the social networking and blogging service LiveJournal was founded in 1999 by a University of Washington computer science student. The site quickly exploded in popularity due to its ease of use, and the "friending" function that soon became an inherent feature of social networking sites.

Though it's fallen out of favor in the United States today, LiveJournal boasts almost 2 million active users worldwide (plus almost 33 million accounts that are no longer active) but the site remains wildly popular in Russia and Russian diaspora communities. With over 2 million users, LiveJournal is by far the most popular blogging platform in Russia. It was sold to Russian internet company SUP in 2009 and now -- except for a handful of U.S. employees -- operates from Moscow.

President Dmitry Medvedev is an avid LiveJournal user. So is leading dissident Alexey Navalny. Last year, the site suffered a massive denial-of-service attack that many believe was targeted at Navalny and other opposition leaders who use the site.

ORKUT

Popular in: Brazil and India

Before there was Google+, there was Orkut. The social networking site was developed by Google engineer Orkut Büyükkökten and launched in 2004 as a competitor to Friendster. (Yes, I know it sounds weird now.) The site, which differs from Facebook by making profiles viewable to all users and allowing members to rate their friends in categories like "cool" and "sexy," never really made waves in the United States, but caught on massively in Brazil, and to a lesser extent India. Within months of its founding, Brazilian users outnumbered Americans four to one. Google moved all Orkut operations to Brazil in 2008.

Today, the site has over 60 million users worldwide. 60 percent of its traffic comes from Brazil with nearly 25 percent from India.

But the good times may soon be over. Last summer, Facebook overtook Orkut to become the most popular social networking site in India. Orkut is still the leader in Brazil but Zuckerberg's unstoppable juggernaut is gaining fast and, according to some metrics, may already be more popular.

For now, Orkut is coexisting with Google+, but the company seems to be leaving its options open about merging the two services in the future.

Hi5

Popular in: Latin America mostly

Few sites have had a stranger journey than Hi5. Launched in 2003, it was originally meant to be a matrimonial social networking site aimed at the Indian diaspora in the United States, but quickly converted to an all-purpose social networking site complete with friending, photo-sharing, and status updates.

While rarely mentioned in the same conversation as Facebook and MySpace, Hi5 was the world's third most-popular social networking site in 2008, shortly after receiving $20 million in venture capital. The site was most successful in Spanish-speaking Latin America, leading its competitors in Peru, Colombia, and Central America, and a few seemingly random countries such as Mongolia, Romania, and Tunisia.

The site has focused its efforts on the Latin American market, but once again proved no match for Facebook, and rebranded as a gaming site in 2010. It was acquired last year by the U.S.-based social network Tagged. As of today, the majority of Hi5's users are in Thailand. As Gawker put it in 2008, it truly is "the most international of all the social networks." Which is not to say the most successful.

BEBO

Popular in: Britain

Founded by a British-American couple living in San Francisco in 2005, Bebo, which stands for "Blog Early, Blog Often" tried to position itself as a less crass, more creative alternative to MySpace and Facebook, with tight privacy controls and quirky features such as allowing users to draw pictures on each other's profiles.

In the United States, the site is best known for what has been called "one of the worst deals ever made in the dotcom era" -- its $850 million purchase by AOL in 2008. It was sold to a private equity firm for a fraction of that price two years later. (Of course, the sale was later eclipsed by even more dubious business decisions by AOL.)

But Bebo really hit its stride the British Isles. It was, for a time, Britain's most popular social networking service and the most popular website of any kind in Ireland. But since its peak in 2007, Bebo has been trounced by Facebook, falling to .2 percent of British web traffic in 2010 compared to Facebook's 6.2 percent.

On Jan. 30, 2012, the Bebo website went down -- prompting users to speculate that the site had finally met its demise, with many taking to Twitter, ironically, to share memories of the site. It's back up now, with a spokeperson blaming the outage on a "technical clusterfuck" and promising new products launched at its niche audience in Britain soon.

KIMIHIRO HOSHINO/AFP/Getty Images

The List

The Harvard of Hong Kong, and 8 Other Great International Schools

Didn’t get into the college of your dreams? Don’t want to bankrupt your parents? Here’s where to go.

It’s the nightmare of every high school senior: You applied to Harvard, MIT, and the University of Chicago, and now your only plans for the fall are extra shifts at the local Starbucks. But as FP's Charles Kenny writes, before you send Mom and Dad to the poor house for the $40,000 per year tuition at a middle-tier U.S. school, broaden your horizons to some of the world’s best bastions of higher learning -- available for a fraction of the price. Why languish in Comp. Lit. 101 at a university that doesn’t thrill you when you could be roaming the halls of the Harvard of Hong Kong? Here are some of the best schools abroad, tailored to whatever clique you belonged to in high school.

The All-Around All-Stars

University of Hong Kong: As the territory's oldest university, HKU has more than 20,500 students from 80 different countries, and over 45 percent of the staff comes from leading universities overseas. Ranked above renowned American universities like George Washington and Notre Dame at a fraction of the price, HKU’s students tend to end up in the upper echelons of their chosen field. Almost 80 percent of its undergrads and 85 percent of its post-graduates are employed within a year of graduating -- figures that should make many U.S. university deans green with envy.

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The Next Alan Greenspans

University of Melbourne: The University of Melbourne is consistently listed at the top of world rankings. Its staff includes a prestigious roster of international scholars, and its location and international focus gives its graduates access to emerging Asian markets and industries. Recently, the university's research programs have partnered with IBM to create a new development lab that will allow it to develop better responses to natural disasters.

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The Free-Thinkers

University of Cape Town: Let’s say you want a school that nurtures creativity, allows you to design your own majors, and gives you the freedom to pursue your own interests -- but don’t have the GPA to get into some of New England’s more free-wheeling liberal arts colleges. South Africa's University of Cape Town, where "each person contributes their unique blend of knowledge and thinking," may be the place for you.

With students from more than 100 countries, Cape Town keeps an emphasis on social engagement and democratic citizenship. UCT has a leading African Climate and Development Initiative that focuses on building research capacity in Africa, as well as numerous student-led activist groups. It also apparently boasts quality local wine and views of the picturesque Table Mountain.

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The Tech Geeks

Zurich Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich): Sure, 76 Nobel Prize laureates have been affiliated with MIT, but ETH Zurich has a pretty good trump card: This is where Albert Einstein started his career. Consistently ranked the top university in continental Europe, ETH Zurich focuses on research and development in engineering and natural sciences. The degrees ETH offers range from architecture to neural science to nanosystems -- recent projects include the invention of an infrared cocaine detector and the exploration of oceanic anoxic dead zones.

And there’s no doubt that its graduates are well-trained: Amid the economic turmoil of the past five years, ETH grads have founded 110 successful spin off companies. Given the situation in Europe these days, that’s no small feat.

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The Tree-Huggers

University of Tokyo: Can you list the names of islands already in danger from global warming? The University of Tokyo's Asian Program for the Incubation of Environmental Leaders can help you learn to save the planet. The program, which emphasizes holistic understandings of environmental issues, includes hands-on field research time. Recent workshops have included the discussion of appropriate environmental education, innovative water recycling uses, and transboundary resources sharing.

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The Party People

University of Barcelona: There may not be any jobs in Spain, where the youth unemployment rate is over 50 percent, but the night life is still alive and well. Located in Spain’s second-largest city, the University of Barcelona belongs to a culture that appreciates 11:00 pm dinners and afternoon siestas. Students live near some of the best luxury shopping in the world in the country that invented tapas. Barcelona is also one of the oldest universities on the planet, and the library holds about 2 million volumes, in case you want to do some reading in your spare time.

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The Cowboy Scholars

Co-op at University of British Columbia: For some students, the classroom itself is just too restricting. Co-operative education represents a formalized program that combines academics with relevant work experience. The Vancouver-based school has an extensive network for the students to draw on, as these British Columbia students alternate study and work terms in the field of their choice. UBC specializes in forestry, kinesiology, and engineering, but every student's experience is different -- the common denominator is that all co-op students have the opportunity to graduate with demonstrated hard skills. Sheena Bell, for example, spent four work terms with a wide range of organizations, but landed a job upon graduation as a researcher at the UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

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The Artistes

Cardiff School of Art and Design: Maybe you’ve already earned a reputation for berets and other artistic frippery, but the Rhode Island School of Design’s yearly tuition of more than $57,000 would break the bank. You can head to Cardiff, one of Europe's best art schools, for only about $15,000 per year. Whether you're interested in furniture design, welding, or textiles, you can find it here. Cardiff’s degree programs, the school boasts, "will take you to amazing places." Few other schools include among their official opportunities the chance to "maybe even fall in love – who knows."

The Jocks

University of Sao Paulo: Located in a city of more than 20 million people, USP is almost a city itself -- it boasts four hospitals and four museums, and welcomes half a million visitors a year. Its 86,000 students are best known for their skilled research -- comprising 45 percent of all research published in Brazil -- and true to their South American roots, a passion for fútbol and a successful soccer team. USP is located in a city that has even invented its own form of the beautiful game, known as Futebol de Salao, a faster-paced contest played with a smaller ball, to build technical skills.

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