Jani Penttinen (above) is the CEO of Xiha Life. Stephen Lee (below right) and Mohamed El-Fatary run Muxlim, a social networking site that taps into the Muslim community.

Despite the overwhelming popularity of major social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, the internet is also proving to be fertile ground for alternative social media.

SOCIAL media websites are undoubtedly the most groundbreaking communication innovation of the modern era. Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are not only means of socialising but also provide a modern, convenient and efficient way of political campaigning, music distribution and citizen activism.

With more than 400 million active users, Facebook boasts more than one fifth of all internet users worldwide. Combined with MySpace and Twitter, the dominance of these three corporate giants is overwhelming. Still, the internet offers plenty of options for those who fancy a smaller, perhaps more customised or localised social media experience. For example, Mixi, a site virtually unknown in the West, dominates the social media market in Japan with more than 19 million members.

Finland also enjoyed an online community long before the launch of Facebook. Founded in 2000, IRC-Galleria initially enabled the users of Internet Relay Chat to introduce themselves to their online peers. The site was quick to attract users not familiar with the actual IRC services, and now claims to reach 70 per cent of Finland’s 15-24-year-olds.

Xiha atmosphere

The world’s first multilingual social network Xiha Life was born out of CEO Jani Penttinen’s frustration at the lack of social networking sites for westerners living in China. The local networks were tailored to their Chinese clientele, while English language sites primarily focused on life in the USA or the UK.

Xiha, the Mandarin word meaning “fun” or “happy”, developed into a network for people all around the globe sharing an interest in different cultures, languages, intercultural communication and travelling. Like many other social media, Xiha Life boasts an international user base; what is unique to Xiha, however, is that it is truly tailored to its diverse clientele.

“For example, our chats include a translation service which allows a Finn and a Thai to chat with each other with their respective mother tongues,” Penttinen explains.

Indicating an increase in the interest in alternative social media, Xiha is expanding daily by 1,000 new members. Penttinen, however, recognises the influence of the likes of Facebook and MySpace. “As a network, Facebook has already established itself firmly. I believe it will increasingly function as a platform for other service providers,” he claims.

“People will become associated with more than one social media. Thus, it is not necessary to register for Xiha. Also, when updating your status in Xiha, it is possible to have it automatically transfer to Twitter and Facebook as well.”

Users are not drawn to a particular service because of unlimited space for photos or flashy design. “The experience as a whole and the user base are what make people log back in to Xiha,” Penttinen believes. “The characteristic underlying Xiha is its friendly atmosphere. The fact that people share certain interests and views also contributes to a safe and enjoyable environment for all.”


The changing face of culture

Muxlim was created by Mohamed El-Fatary out of a genuine need to provide, and have access to, online Muslim content outside the scope of political or religious discussion. Founded in Finland, where Muslims make up a small percentage of the population, the site has developed into a platform bringing together Muslim minorities from all over the world.

“Muxlim is a place about the Muslim culture. It is not necessarily for Muslims only, but also for others interested in the Muslim lifestyle,” explains Stephen Lee, Chief Operating Officer of Muxlim.

“Lifestyle is our main focus, but essentially Muxlim is a platform for open, unedited discussion on all subjects. That does include political and religious discussion, but they are only two of our 26 categories. People have stories to tell, and Muxlim is a place where everything is on display. Muxlim is a brand making the Muslim culture cool.”

The key to Muxlim’s success has been the fact that it was founded in Finland. A similar portal located in an Arabic country, the USA or the UK would be associated with political or religious agendas. “We would not have had the same opportunities,” Lee acknowledges. “Also, the fact that we are business-oriented and our staff consists of both Muslims and non-Muslims distances us from any agendas.”

Market leader

• Roughly 50% of Facebook users log in daily.

• More than 35 million users update their status each day.

• 3 billion photos are uploaded every month.

• The average user spends more than 55 minutes per day on Facebook, has 130 friends and is a member of 13 groups.

The business side of things

With the annual spending power of Muslims worldwide being roughly 170 billion dollars, Muxlim has naturally roused interest from the business sector. “The huge Muslim market used to be very fragmented, but now a service like Muxlim can help companies reach the Muslim community.”

“Marketing is all about building relationships and gaining trust,” he continues. “And the only way to reach people is by understanding their niche.”

First and foremost, though, Muxlim is about providing a service to the Muslim community. “We want to make Muxlim a place where a 13-year-old kid can have a good experience,” says Lee.

“According to an interesting survey, people posting videos on YouTube do not look at the comments because of all the hostility. In Muxlim, the community itself is vigilant and has kept it clean and enjoyable for everyone. It can overpower the abusers.”

Aleksi Teivainen
Marianne Taylor