Screen shot of the new social media network site Pheed.com

Courtesy Pheed.com
The new social media network site Pheed.com gives users their own channel to share media. Courtesy Pheed.com

Can new social networking sites Pheed and Zurker ever surpass Facebook?



David Mattin discovers a new crop of sites that hope to challenge Facebook's title as the king of social media. At least two newcomers are willing to pay users to help them do it

Facebook posted an artsy video on its front page this week to announce a milestone. The site now has one billion active users: that is, users logging in at least once a month. That makes the social network twice as large as it was in July 2010, when it hit the 500 million mark.

In a connected world, it's easy to become blasé about numbers such as this. But consider the implications for a moment. About one in every six people on Earth now share a common language of status update, "comments" and "likes". If you were to spend a minute on each Facebook profile page, you'd need 1,900 years to get through them all.

So Facebook's position is insurmountable, right? There's no chance of another social network surpassing it this late in the day?

Don't tell that to the entrepreneurs and technologists behind a spate of next-generation social networks launched this year. Their hope - to gain ground on and overtake Mark Zuckerberg's baby - might sound ridiculous on first hearing, but is it really? After all, there's no law saying that online social networking has to, forever, look like Facebook. And the market clearly isn't so sure: since Facebook's IPO in May, its stock has fallen from US$38 (Dh139.5) a share to $19.

Remember, only for the past six years has Facebook been open to all members of the public. So what might social networking look like in another six years?

Launched this year, amid considerable hype, Pheed (www.pheed.com) is currently the tallest among the new social network crop. Pheed users create a channel on which they can share text, audioclips, video and even live broadcast. What's more, at the click of a button they can monetise their content by setting a subscription fee. The site launched with a clutch of celebrity members, including Kim Kardashian and P Diddy.

Pheed is less online photo album and more 24-hour reality TV docusoap, in which you're the star. For a generation that has grown up with online sharing, Pheed could - and it is clearly aiming to - make Facebook's ecosystem of text, images and "Likes" seem antiquated.

Meanwhile Zurker (www.zurker.com) - currently beta-testing pre-launch - is a new social network whose users will also be its owners. Join the site and you're given "shares", each worth 1/1,000,000 of Zurker, and the option to buy more for $1 each. The plan, says the site's founder Nick Oba, is to grow towards a sale and a payday for everyone, rather than just a few (mentioning no names, Zuck). It's a clear attempt to play on bad feelings around Facebook-as-corporate-megalith and a perception that Zuck and his team are commodifying our daily lives for their own gain.

Taken together, Pheed and Zurker point the way towards a possible future for social networking. It's a future where social networks are more woven through our lives, with every minute of our day made shareable - but more collaborative, too, so that our networks become a shared space in which we all own a stake.

So could Pheed or Zurker prove a Facebook-killer? Unlikely, of course. But not impossible. After all, once upon a time the unassailable lead in social networking was held by a site called MySpace. You remember them? What about TheGlobe.com? Thought not. But you can bet the Zuck does.

David Mattin is a senior analyst at trendwatching.com

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COMPANY PROFILE

Name: SmartCrowd
Started: 2018
Founder: Siddiq Farid and Musfique Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech / PropTech
Initial investment: $650,000
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Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

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Sarfira

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