Facebook, MySpace make way for homegrown Spanish networking sites
Young people in Spain are turning to Wamba and Tuenti because their sites are in their own language.
The dominance of MySpace, Facebook and Hi5 is increasingly being challenged by smaller Spanish counterparts such as Wamba and Tuenti.
More than 80 percent of young people in Spain use social networking sites. And while the quality, experience and leading position of Facebook and MySpace in the competitive US market gave these social networking sites a huge advantage when they entered Spain, Spanish companies have responded quickly.
Tuenti has only been around for two years, and is now the leading site of its kind in the country.
A survey by internet auditors ComScore showed it had more than 2.8 million unique visitors in June 2008, more than double MySpace or Facebook. So how important is the local factor? The experts are in no doubt.
"Spaniards think it is very important that sites are in their own language, says Victor Pimentel, who edits the GenBeta blog on new technology.
"As a user, you don't just pick a site for yourself, but for all your friends, and the common link tends to be language," he adds.
Aware of this, the US sites have included Spanish-language content through links with magazines, music competitions and other initiatives. MySpace opened an office in Madrid a year ago, and Facebook is in the process of doing the same.
Tuenti isn't the only competitor facing off with the US companies. Wamba, based in Palma de Mallorca, is another Spanish social networking site that's currently on the up. Nielsen Ratings gave it a total audience of 6.9 million unique visitors in July.
Wamba founder Enrique Dubois admits his inspiration was MySpace. "I discovered the site during a trip to the United States. I was very impressed by its innovative way of communicating and I knew that a similar service would work here," he explained.
The success of sites such as Wamba isn't based on the total number of visitors, but rather the amount of registered users - those who have bothered to create their own page.
The market potential is vast: Xperience Consulting and Findasense report that 83 percent of Spanish young people use social networking sites.
The most effective way to capture new users is for an already registered user to send a personal invitation to a friend to join. There are two ways a registered user can do this: either by sending the invite directly to a specific address, or by accessing their contact list in a messaging service such as MSN Messenger. The system then sends out an invite to everybody on the list.
But while networks such as Tuenti make it clear that the invite is only to friends and family, others, such as Hi5 make no such distinction, and send out the invitation to the entire contents list - many of whom are not necessarily your friends. Those on the receiving end of these emails often complain that they are being spammed.
Enrique Dans teaches at Madrid's Instituto de Empresa, and is a well-known blogger. He is highly critical of the latter approach. "These types of sites are looking for growth at any cost, and they take advantage of users who generally have little technical knowledge."
The top four social networking sites in Spain are fighting to set themselves apart from the competition. MySpace is sometimes seen by its critics as dominated by the arts, particularly music and musicians.
"MySpace has allowed my work to be seen by people all over the world, and thanks to that I have been invited to events at home and abroad," says Charuca, a Barcelona-based illustrator.
The company says that far from being elitist, it is well connected to the mainstream. "We have launched several initiatives with Spanish artists, such as Angy, Mónica Naranjo and Melendi. We have also taken part in the voting for Spain's Eurovision candidate, which really put us on the map," says content director Borja Prieto.
But even as the battle continues to attract internet users, Google, and its next-generation technology Android, along with leading cellphone manufacturers such as Apple, Nokia, and Blackberry, are already ahead of the game. They know that the phone is the future. Pimentel of GenBeta agrees: "The interactive aspect to cellphones needs to be improved so that we can add content more easily."
Most social networking sites already have a version that has been adapted for use on cellphones - the current problem with this is that they don't use the same tools as the original web format.
Tuenti and Facebook allow photographs to be seen and comments to be made, as well as permitting messages to be sent. MySpace Mobile has a full range of features, but doesn’t allow videos to be uploaded directly from cellphones.
These and other technical hitches look to have been largely solved by companies such as United States-based Zannel and Spain's Cocoloop, which have been set up with the aim of boosting the potential of the cellphone. Aside from uploading videos and photos, these networks use geo-positioning to allow users to know whether other users are close by, and let them find where the nearest free Wi-Fi hotspots are located.
text: El Pais / Jose Isaac Mercader / Expatica 2008