Yes, that was our reaction when we saw these pictures, but sorry to disappoint all you Facebook whores (that includes ourselves!) out there, the image on the right is just a Facebook clone, Xiaonei.com (校内网). It looks like the portal was started around 2005 (less than two years after Facebook was born), and since then, it has grown exponentially to cover around 2,000 university campuses in Greater China. They have just recently started to pan out their services to cover high schools and companies (though one wonders how they would do it with a name like that because “校内“ literally means “in school”).
So, it is confirmed. Mashable reports that Facebook has just registered the domain name facebook.cn, and while facebook.com.cn was registered by some other Chinese guy, the domain actually points to facebook.cn. David Feng of Blog Nation discusses the chances of Facebook China:
Sucking away folks from even the “copycat” version of Facebook will be no easy deal. Xiaonei easily has the lion’s share of users (in particular if compared to Chinese users of Facebook), so to get them over to Facebook China (if it does indeed launch) is going to be one big coax. (The Chinese, like the Swiss (as 12 years in Switzerland have no doubt told me), like “local stuff”; they’ll ask themselves why should we switch?.)
But it’s not impossible. Long story cut short, if Facebook China can become the whole Facebook but in Chinese (we’re talking about most, if not all, Facebook add-on apps in Chinese), if Facebook China can use local servers (which at the same time would have to get these guys removing “unhealthy stuff” as deemed by our ubiquitous, at-a-loss-to-take-the-right-pills Net Nanny), if Facebook can start a good awareness campaign here in China… that’ll pretty much see them succeed.
In the social networking world, China is becoming a magnet for these Web 2.0 sites. Just sometime ago, the traditional and simplified Chinese versions of Friendster were launched, so Facebook making this move is not totally out of the blue.
Well, who knows? Facebook may simply buy over Xiaonei, but they should be warned. Simply buying over your mainland copycat is not a shortcut to success. Just look at the case of Ebay/Eachnet. It turned out to be quite a disaster, and even with TOM Online on board since earlier this year, the joint venture still appears to be a bit lost in the woods.
MySpace China has been criticised for being too much of a virtual translation of MySpace International and ignoring the need for localisation. Being somewhat late to join the party, Facebook will have the benefit of learning from the experiences of MySpace China and Facebook China. It will be interesting to see how all this pans out.