Do Network Effects Span Geographies?

Three years ago most western european countries had a local social network that was the most popular social net in the country. Today Facebook is dominant in most of western europe and those local social nets have largely been bypassed.

It would seem that Facebook leveraged the size of its network (approaching 500mm people worldwide) to beat its competition in social networking. But what's interesting to me about that is that it also means that it leveraged a network that was larger out of country to beat an incumbent who initially was larger in country.

For the sake of this argument, I am assuming network size and network effects was the cause of Facebook's success internationally against local competitors. It could be that it was not network, but instead features that won the market for Facebook. Certainly it was some of both.

I come to this "argument" with a deep respect for the power of networks, particularly online, and so I believe that in fact Facebook was able to leverage the size of its out of market network to compete in market against a local incumbent who had a stronger in market network.

And why exactly would that work? Well first of all, many people have social networks that span geographies. And those people tend to be influencers who are important in the value of an overall social graph. I think it is also true that in many parts of the world, big american brands are powerful in local markets. And so its probably also true that there is an allure of being part of a big american social network. I've been told that there are only four countries that are mostly impenetrable for a US internet company; russia, china, japan, and korea. We will see if that is true in Facebook's case.

I was thinking about this yesterday as I was making my way around Paris, checking in on Foursquare. In every place I went to in Paris, there was an existing mayor and plenty of tips. But it was rare to check into a place and find someone else checked in as well. By contrast in NYC, I rarely check in these days without finding at least one other person checked in.

In talking to some local parisian web entrepreneurs, I heard about a local Parisian company called Tellmewhere that has 500,000 users, mostly french. Read Write Web has a good post up about Tellmewhere right now. So maybe the reason I found the usage of Foursquare in Paris to be light compared to NYC is the presence of a strong local competitor.

And thus my question that started this post. Do network effects span geographies? Does the fact that Foursquare is approaching 1mm users worldwide make a difference in Paris or will Tellmewhere, with 500k users who are mostly here, continue to dominate locally?

If we can use Facebook as a guide, it seems eventually the largest network wins. But can we use Facebook as a guide and is that universally true on the web? Let the discussion begin.

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