Social-networking sites seem by now cyclical by nature -- everybody's on one, then they lose interest, or something better comes along, leaving the previous one to be taken over by Brazilian drug dealers. So if the tales of sites like Friendster are anything to go by, the likes of MySpace and Facebook will eventually falter -- and plenty of companies are lining up to knock them off. While many of the new sites they create are little more than me-too knockoffs, some are based on different ideas and business models, such as Wallop, which is getting a fair bit of attention this week. Wallop has all the usual stuff you'd expect in a social-networking site, but instead of trying to subsist on advertising, its model is to sell users stuff to put on their personal pages, like games and videos and backgrounds, with the company justifying the approach by saying it's like kids buying ringtones to express themselves. On one hand, the imploding ringtone market may not be the best thing to aspire to. On the other, people pay for ringtones to broadcast that they're cool, or that they fit in, but Wallop is basically asking users to pay to entertain other people -- making it more akin to ringback tones, which haven't been received particularly warmly outside South Korea. And while Wallop may not be a MySpace copycat, it's pretty similar to -- but at first glance, looks a lot less cool -- some other social-networking sites that sell users content for their online space, like CyWorld, which is immensely popular in South Korea (sense a pattern here?), and recently launched in the US. But Wallop, CyWorld and other sites using similar business models face a significant challenge in getting users to pay for something other sites are happy to provide for free. They're asking users, essentially, to pay to entertain other people, without appearing to add in a whole lot of additional value over free sites. This may fly in South Korea, or other cultures, but it's an idea that seems awfully out of place in the US.
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