When Yahoo360 was on the verge of closing in 2009, Nguyen Thi Hong Trang had to look for another social media networking site.
"My friend knew that I was bored and she introduced me to loveme.vn," Trang said.
Launched by BadaBu Media Inc. in 2007, Loveme.vn is one of many home-grown social networking sites born that year. Its slogan: "helping you find the other half."
Trang said she prefers the site to Yahoo360Plus as it allows her to meet the friends offline, receive gifts from the organizers and be a member of a close-knit online community.
"There are so many people on Yahoo. With loveme.vn, most of the users are Vietnamese and you get to make a lot of friends," she said.
Even with the dominance of Facebook, Trang is among a growing number of Vietnamese users preferring Vietnamese social networking sites as they're more localized and cater to the country's youngsters and professionals who want to enlarge their social circles and business networks.
There are about 311,000 users registered at loveme.vn, 1 million users at Cyworld Vietnam, about 1.5 million at clip.vn and nearly 870,000 at tamtay.vn.
Vu Kiem Van, CEO of Vietnam Social Media Corporation, said his company had launched two social networking sites in 2007 but had to shut them down because the technology and functions were "very immature."
Now, VSMC is running acc.vn, a social network connecting those who love reading manga, cartoons and films, with about 800,000 registered users and 50,000 active a day. It's also looking at launching social networking services on users' mobile phones.
"Investment in a social networking site could be very risky and it would take you quite awhile to see a return," Van said. "In recent years, many sites closed in Vietnam and elsewhere because creators couldn't keep up with the constant changes in users' needs."
Compared to 2007, Van said Vietnam's social networking sites were catching up with the world's big names as local users get more familiar with the Internet and companies pour more money into such online ventures.
Ha Quoc Khanh, deputy director of Babuda Media, said the company targeted a very specific group with the launching of its loveme.vn. The company is now planning to announce bancunglop.vn, which allows users to find and connect with their classmates at schools and colleges.
"Vietnamese social networking sites have entered a fierce battle with big names such as Facebook or Twitter," Khanh said. "I believe that we're not so far behind in terms of technology but we need to bring our own Vietnamese flavors to these sites."
Ngon Pham, who frequently blogs about Vietnam's IT issues and currently works as a technical director at skydoor.net, said the country's market still had a lot of potential to develop made-inVietnam networking sites.
But he said it would be a very long time before one could come close to the popularity of Facebook.
"I think the biggest weakness for Vietnamese sites has to do with having professional site architecture and building up supporting systems that can handle things when the number of users reaches the millions and millions," Ngon said.
And there are also questions of marketing and advertising, he added.
However, Ngon said that with Vietnam's young population of Internet users, localizing services by organizing offline meetings or setting up dates could make Vietnamese sites more appealing.
Any social networking site has its strength and weakness, Van said. Even with Facebook, some Vietnamese want to change the colors, but can't, he pointed out.
Van predicted that within one or two years, there would be a Vietnamese social networking site that "would make one think of Vietnam once you hear its name."
"A social networking site is technically an online society," he said. "Some Vietnamese users would prefer living in a Vietnamese online society. It's somewhat like you're entering your home, not a foreign one."