Netlog gets a major makeover, now growing at 500,000 users a week

Today, Netlog – the ‘European MySpace’ as they’re often referred to – is hosting a Partner Day at and around their global headquarters in Ghent, Belgium. The most important thing the company will be sharing is a look at their redesigned website, which has been in the works for about a year and is today being rolled out to a number of key countries. I got an exclusive preview of the revamped website from co-founder Toon Coppens, so here’s an impression of what it will look like and where they’re going with the social network.

Netlog currently sees about 250 million visits from 56 million unique visitors on a monthly basis and is handling half a million new sign-ups every week. Its main target has historically been young people (65% of its user base is between 14 and 24 years old) and with the redesign the company is clearly catering to that particular demographic, making the homepage much more visual and far less cluttered. You can see some screenshots of the impending new version below, along with a screen capture of the ‘old’ homepage.

Netlog is dropping the white background for a dark tint, and has significantly cut down the number of options available in the top menu. Aside from a link to the homepage, there’s now only 3 options: Profile, People and Play. The latter option directs to a page where the games that can be played from inside the social network are presented in a number of categories. Unsurprisingly, playing games is one of the most popular activities on Netlog and now that it is adding more and more games from major players like Playfish this will continue to be one of the focus points for the company.

The Profile page is now home to the sub menu that was featured more prominently on the homepage before. It’s where users will find links to their blog, videos, applications, etc. and where they’ll be presented with a notification stream from their friends. These pages can be personalized with custom themes, including those coming from partnering brands (sponsored presence is one of Netlog’s biggest revenue drivers).

Also new is a menu bar at the bottom, which houses notifications of new content from your friends and a brand new chat feature for on-site IM’ing with friends.

The People page is the most interesting change. On this page, users can go to discover new users to befriend, which unlike Facebook doesn’t necessarily mean it’s driven by their friends’ social graphs but rather that people can filter down other users with public profiles to find others who match their profile (e.g. same hobbies, living in the neighborhood, going to the same school, and much more). Users can even ‘advertise’ themselves on this page by putting themselves in the so-called Spotlight, which is aimed to aid users in expanding their contact list on the network – I reckon it’s also perfect for online dating.

Overall, I like the new design a lot, as it makes it far easier for users to discover new people to ‘follow’, consume content shared by their friends and play games. The changes have largely been driven by user feedback, says Netlog, but it will still be giving users the option to use either the old or the new look for the time being.

Netlog started out as an online community in early 2000 and was relaunched as a one-stop shop social network in 2003. In 2007, the company rebranded under one unified name and raised €5 million from Index Ventures. So far, they haven’t been acquired, but I was a betting man I’d wager they won’t make it till the end of 2010 as an independent company.

For your reference, this is the ‘old’ homepage: