News Corp.'s (NWS) popular Internet social Web site, MySpace, plans to more than double the number of countries it serves by the end of the year, a senior executive told Reuters on Wednesday.

The target expands News Corp.'s initial goal for MySpace to operate in 11 markets over time, compared to the current 10.

News Corp. leader Rupert Murdoch has expressed deep interest in launching MySpace in the potentially lucrative China market through a local joint venture partner.

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"In every country we've launched, we've seen incredible growth ... without doing any real marketing of the site," MySpace senior vice president for international operations, Travis Katz, said in an interview.

He said MySpace has test-launched services in Mexico, in addition to Italy and Spain. Other markets it is already operating in are the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, France, Germany and Japan.

Katz declined to say which new markets were top priorities for test launches for the online teen hangout, among the most visited properties on the Internet.

Since launching in the UK market last year, some 25 percent of MySpace's 325,000 daily new registrants now come from outside the United States, Katz said.

In Australia, where it attracted more than 2 million unique visitors in December, according to Nielsen NetRatings, MySpace said it has more page views than Internet rivals including Yahoo Inc. (YHOO).

About a third of MySpace's 90 million global unique visitors in December 2006 were from international markets, according to comScore Media Metrix data.

GROWTH CHALLENGES

Entering new regions is typically executed in three steps, beginning with a test-launch phase, where MySpace builds a local version of the site, but does not alert users of its existence, such as the Mexico site.

MySpace declined to discuss which markets are currently in a test launch phase, but Katz said it typically works in several markets at the same time.

After ironing out initial kinks, MySpace proceeds into a "beta" launch phase where it invites users from a particular region, who already visit the English-language site, to use and give feedback on the local language version.

About three months later, MySpace will officially launch the site with a launch party and press interviews. It officially launched its French site this month.

But market expansion is not without its challenges. Executives and experts in Asia, where local cultures differ greatly from Western customs, say MySpace competes against incumbents with a keen understanding of local tastes.

Katz agreed and said international versions of its site, whose design initially appear similar to the U.S. version, will likely change over time.

In Japan, for instance, MySpace's joint venture with Softbank Corp. faces incumbent social network Mixi Inc.

"From a cultural perspective, the countries ... most different from the U.S. are the Asian countries," he said. "It's our belief that while we've launched in Japan ... the final final product will probably be very different than what it looks like today."

He added, "We have to adapt."

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