Kara Visits hi5 (The Quieter Social Network)

Published on December 31, 2008
by Kara Swisher

With all the attention given to Facebook and MySpace, it’s hard for other social-networking sites to get much attention, unless–like Bebo–they manage to sell themselves off to a big company for an ungodly amount of money.

Still, many smaller sites are chugging along, such as the San Francisco-based hi5 Networks, trying to build strong niche businesses and find other means of making money besides the still unproven advertising space.

In hi5’s case, that has recently meant a push into virtual gifts using virtual money, which is bought with the real kind. The company hopes to let members buy other goods and services in the future in this “coin” system.

The hi5 service, which is much more internationally popular, especially in Spanish-speaking countries (where it is often the No. 1 site), is also testing out mobile efforts, avatars and virtual worlds, all in an effort to set itself apart.

It currently claims 56 million unique visitors every month, with offerings in 27 languages.

Here’s a video of a tour I did of hi5’s offices in San Francisco recently, along with an interview with CEO Ramu Yalamanchi, who founded the company in 2003, talking about all this and more:

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