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Friendster to generate revenue from virtual gifts

Micro-payments to support social networking

Friendster will soon implement a micropayments platform for virtual gifts and games, seeking to bring in new revenue from southeast Asian countries where the social-networking site is popular.

The partnership with MOL AccessPortal Berhad (MOL) will let Friendster's users buy items with a so-called Friendster Wallet that enables payments using prepaid cards, mobile phones and online payments. It can also handle credit cards, although most Asian youths don't have one, according to Friendster.

Along with the Friendster Wallet, the site will begin to offer virtual gifts and games, which have traditionally been popular with Asian users. The US market for virtual goods, however, is expanding and is expected to be about US$1 billion in 2009, according to a report from Prophetic Media released on Wednesday.

Friendster will implement the payments platform first in Malaysia and then in other southeast Asian countries and around the world "within weeks".

Close to 60 percent of Friendster's users are in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, according to statistics published by Alexa. Friendster says it has 115 million users.

The prepaid cards will be sold in outlets such as 7-Eleven in Malaysia and the Philippines, the mobile phone store Oke Shop in Indonesia, AXS in Singapore and cybercafes in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines, Friendster said. The cards have a unique code that puts credit, called Friendster Coins, into the virtual wallet.

Friendster Wallet is compatible with mobile payments from Singtel GX Credits and Indosat iPay. Online payments will be supports from banks such as Maybank, CIMB Bank, RHB Bank, Citibank Singapore, UOB and DBS. American Express, Visa and MasterCard payments can also be processed, the site said.

Similar to other social-networking sites, Friendster is going to offer the payment APIs (application programming interfaces) for Friendster Coins to application developers. MOL's platform will handle the virtual wallet, transaction management, fraud control and integration with other payment services such as PayPal, Friendster said. MOL processes about $200 million in transactions annually.

The site also plans to implement a kind of "marketing currency" which it calls Friendster Chips, which can be used for incentive or loyalty programs.


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