According to comScore, social network Hi5 gets around 35 million uniques per month, putting it at a roughly similar size to Facebook. Alexa ranks Facebook 8th in the world -- Hi5 is 10th. However, Facebook gets all the ink. Hi5 barely registers on Google Trends -- especially for news references, and a search for "Hi5" on Technorati generates only about 1/4th of the posts that a search for "Facebook" returns. So what gives?
The answer is that much of Hi5's traffic originates outside of North America. While Alexa pegs Facebook 5th in the US, Hi5 doesn't crack the top 50. Much of Hi5's traffic comes from Latin America -- Alexa has the site ranked first in the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador, and Honduras, and second in Guatemala and Peru. The site is also popular in many other non-English speaking countries -- first in Portugal, third in Romania and Thailand, for example.
It is with that in mind that we can understand why news last week that Hi5 is planning the launch of its own developer platform caused just a small reaction on Techmeme. Hi5 actually launched a developer API in August to very little fanfare. With 35 million users, though, Hi5 is the 3rd largest social networking site on the web, so perhaps we should take a bit more notice.
Based in San Francisco, Hi5 raised $20M Series A venture round last July to support its growing operation. Hi5 is a "traditional" social networking site, that resembles MySpace or Friendster more than it does Facebook and has more than 60 million registered accounts according to internal figures released to the press.
A look around a typical Hi5 profile indicates a site that is already home to popular social networking widgets from companies like Slide and RockYou (who Hi5 has a close relationship with). But Facebook really shouldn't be worried, in my opinion. Hi5's platform, while likely inspired by Facebook, is gunning for MySpace.
Hi5 profiles more or less imitate MySpace (albeit generally a bit more sanitized in terms of flashy auto-playing blinking doo-dads), to the extent that I believe they can even utilize profile design codes created for MySpace with little to no modification. There is certainly cross over between social networks, but many people initially joined Facebook because it was perceived as the anti-MySpace. It has a clean, consistent design, it has more finely tuned privacy filters, and it seems to encourage contact between your existing social networks more so than the creation of new social connections.
Because Hi5 more closely resembles MySpace, I think MySpace really has more to worry about with a Hi5 platform than does Facebook. We've often argued for a MySpace API, but because MySpace and Facebook have such different cultures, the Facebook platform may not have been much a threat to MySpace. Now that one of MySpace's closer rivals (at least in terms of culture) have plans to launch a platform, MySpace really needs to stop resting on their laurels and start embracing widget developers. Hi5 may have mostly international traffic, but they are still a major force in social networking and are quietly positioning themselves to make a real run at MySpace.