Some interesting new data from our friends south of the equator proves that social networks can still rise -- and fall -- with remarkable speed, when a newcomer’s utility (and publicity) outweigh the incumbent’s many advantages including, well, incumbency. In an American setting, the story is a cautionary tale for Facebook, which faces a determined challenger in Google+. In an ironic twist, however, in Brazil Facebook is David and Google is Goliath.
According to comScore, Facebook finally surpassed Brazil’s dominant social network, Google’s Orkut, for the first time in December 2011, attracting 36.1 million unique visitors compared to 34.4 million for Orkut. This occurred in a broader context of continued growth for social networking in general: Facebook’s figure is an increase of 192% over December 2010, while Orkut’s represents a 5% increase over the previous year.
Brazil is an interesting case study because it is a large, fairly self-contained Internet market: the largest Portuguese-speaking population in the world and the only Portuguese-speaking country in South America, in Brazil the average social network user is mostly using these services to communicate with other Brazilians. Therefore Orkut (which is used mainly by Brazilians) enjoyed a certain amount of insulation and protection from outside competitors, while Facebook faced an even harder task in establishing a bridgehead. In short, mass and momentum both favored Orkut in Brazil, just as they continue to favor Facebook in the U.S.
But Orkut, once seemingly unchallengeable, is now the underdog, as its share of the overall Brazilian population edged up from 16.8% to 16.9% over the last year, while Facebook soared from 6.4% to 17.7%. It’s all rather reminiscent of Facebook’s sudden triumph over MySpace in the U.S. in the middle years of the last decade. Is another such upheaval possible -- but this time with Google+ unseating Facebook in the U.S.? Food for thought for Facebook as it celebrates its Brazilian success.