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Does Facebook Have Seoul? (Or Osaka? Moscow?)

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As status reports buzz about The Social Network, the movie, and it's reportedly superior counterpart, Catfish, playing in theaters, the Japan Times brings us heartening news that there remain corners of the world where Facebook has yet to dominate -- namely Japan, South Korea, China, and Russia.

According to the newspaper:
More than 60 percent of Internet users in the United States have signed up with the site, and its presence has reached into almost every country on Earth. You might think that Facebook is taking over the world . . . if you speak English.

There are, however, a few regions where Facebook has not been able to penetrate the market as it has in the West. China, Russia and South Korea have all developed their own popular variants of the idea. Japan also has its own social networking sites and the top three: Gree, Mixi and Mobage Town, are currently in a battle that has become so fierce that Facebook might not even stand a chance.
The article goes on to report that some Asian sites may soon join forces to form an alliance, which would help users feel connected to an international community, mainly across Asia, and make Facebook even less relevant. Two of Japan's large social media sites earn their money by selling virtual products and upgrades directly to users, which gives them a sizable market worth protecting.

So how has Facebook missed out on the Asian market?

One clue may lie in the glaring difference between Japan's big three Facebook-like sites and the original Facebook. Many Asian users prefer to depict themselves with cartoon faces (anime) rather than webcam head shots or portraits from the dance floor at last weekend's wedding. Perhaps AvatarBook would have been a better sell in Asia?

In Russia, meanwhile, the biggest social media site is Vkontakte, which translates as "In Contact." In design, however, it appears to translate as "Facebook":

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