The social networking trend has taken off in SA, with cellphones predicted to be the next platform for the local social networking explosion.
However, industry players disagree on the popularity and definition of social networking in SA.
According to Mike Stopforth, CEO of Cerebra and founder of Afrigator, excluding users on international sites and those without broadband, the uptake of social networking in SA has been no less impressive than overseas.
"It's expanding rapidly with local sites like MyGenius.co.za, Muti.co.za, Amatomu.com and Afrigator.com, and international sites like LinkedIn.com, Facebook.com, Digg.com and del.icio.us steadily growing in popularity on the back of faster and cheaper Internet connectivity," he says.
While there are no reliable figures for user adoption in SA, Stopforth believes the litmus test for the social networking phenomenon is Mxit, which recorded around 2.5 million downloads within 18 months of its launch date, "a global benchmark".
He says: "South Africans are progressive and risk-prone when it comes to technology; we are always willing try something new."
However, Angus Robinson, founder of Brandsh, a mobile and social media company, says the local industry is still in its infancy. "It will take a site that changes the social networking game entirely for the phenomenon to really take off in SA.
"Sites like Blueworld.co.za are trying to get it right, but for people to move from international networking arenas to South African ones, they need to have some incentive to invest the time," he adds.
Stopforth says people would definitely migrate to local sites if they provided a comparable or superior service.
"There is obviously value to the relevancy and focus of content or communities on local sites, which is why Zoopy.com, MyVideo.co.za and Twac.co.za have every opportunity to do well. However, some hardcore geeks are only loyal to functionality and will stay with established international sites."
He says this is not surprising, because the Web is geographically agnostic.
Robinson says it is difficult to gauge the popularity of local initiatives, because generally people are not making the distinction between social media and social networking.
He says networking requires some sort of user profile and a common interest and interaction.
"Some people consider Mxit a social networking platform, but really it is only a chat application. There is definitely interaction, but people can't create and share profiles that socially link them to a common interest."
"Social media in SA is definitely a maturing market," says Louis-Marc Germishuys, founder of ITWeb's social media site My Digital Life. "The statistics we are seeing show South Africans are moving towards and appreciating local content."
Germishuys says the site has almost reached the 200 000 hit mark since its launch just over two months ago, which is beyond initial expectations. "While it is still early days, we have 966 individual blog posts, 1 783 comments on those blogs and 1 146 registered users on the site."
Love it or hate it
Robinson says the mobile phone is the next most likely platform for the South African social networking explosion. "Mxit has the potential to expand into the social networking arena using WAP or USSD."
He believes the prominence of the mobile industry in SA will drive the future of social networking. "For some people, the cellphone is the only Internet they know."
However, he says there is still some time before the mobi-network takes off.
"The social networking trend has taken off for countless South Africans," he says. "The South African network on Facebook has just over 100 000 members and the site is now starting to be used as a business networking tool."
He says many organisations use the tool to maintain relationships with clients, as well as friends, and companies need to find a way to embrace social networking.
According to Gartner research published in December, internal MySpace social sharing sites will explode in popularity within enterprises before 2010.
The report expects 30% of enterprises to openly sponsor internal MySpace-like social sharing spaces to help employees find others with similar interests, skills, backgrounds and experiences. According to Gartner, these social sites will be businesslike but not restricted to business.