Some of the best data on the growth of social networks is coming out of the widget startups. People put widgets on their various social network user pages, and traffic is referred back to the widget companies. Other than policy changes that can have a significant impact on widget usage, it is the best traffic data available outside of the social networks themselves.
What I’m hearing from some of those widget companies is that San Francisco-based Hi5, already a big network and rumored to be quite profitable, is surging. “Traffic is up 15% month over month, and Hi5 looks like it’s second only to MySpace at this point” said one executive at a large widget startup. He also said “They are clearly bigger than all the second tier social networks – Piczo, Bebo, Tagged, etc.”
The available third party data is mostly agreeing. Hi5 has a large presence in the U.S., but the bulk of its usage is in other countries. That may explain why Comscore, which puts them at the 79th largest website based on 23 million worldwide unique visitors in December (just ahead of Facebook, which is no. 83 overall), shows a declining U.S. audience. U.S. uniques declined to 3 million in December, down from a high of just over 4 million in July 2006. Hi5 claims to have 50 million registered users, which sounds about right given the 23 million monthly unique visitor number.
Alexa shows significant growth as well, although Compete has a different story, more closely mirroring Comscore’s U.S. data.