Long before the Oscar-nominated film The Social Network, Facebook and other internet networks had already become as much an addiction as a habit for many younger Vietnamese, triggering a battle for market share between the global giant and would-be domestic competitors.

ZingMe, currently the leading domestic social network, has already outpaced Facebook in terms of minutes spent online per month, with 1 billion minutes compared to 880 million minutes for Facebook, according to online game producer VinaGame.

But the number doesn't fully reflect the reality of the situation, says Phan Thanh Hai, an online project expert with software firm FPT.

Hai says the growth of ZingMe is due to its online games, not from its networking capabilities, the fundamental value of any social network.

Over the past two years, domestic social networks like Yume.vn, Tamtay.vn or the recently launched GoOnline.vn have mushroomed but have lost users over time, Hai says, adding they failed to upgrade to more modern applications over time, considered a lightning rod to younger users.

"I've tried the new social network GoOnline but it was disappointing, since picture uploading took too long," said 17-year-old user Tran Thanh Huong, who also didn't like the functions for sharing with friends or posting a personal status.

"The problem is that many domestic social networks cannot afford the long-term technical maintenance and periodic upgrades, while Facebook possesses enormous financial backing," said Vietnam Social Media Corporation general director Vu Kiem Van.

But ZingMe still had a chance to compete with Facebook, Van said.

"Facebook is well-known worldwide for its convenient functions, so it will not face a lot of difficulties in the Vietnam market," said Van. "But ZingMe is popular among teenagers, attracting them with Vietnamese music and games. ZingMe should be able to retain these users when their core subjects grow up." Van predicted that 2011 would be a critical year in the competition among social networks to decide who will be number one in the market.

"It would be a breakthrough for Vietnamese companies if they could take advantage of culture understanding," he added. "Otherwise, we'll lose to a foreigner on our home ground."

Facebook, founded in 2004, has become the biggest social network in the world, with over 600 million active users./.