Image from China Daily… we don’t know who the guy in the sweater vest is supposed to be.
Just in time for Mark Zuckerberg’s rumored China visit (he and his gf travel 2gthr every Dec!!1 ZOMG! lol so romantic) Tech Rice brings us a look at just how Facebook might fare against the local competitors IF (and it’s a big if) the market were free from intervention and there was no censorship or invasive meddling among the internetz by the government. Still, they make some interesting points worth noting, considering most have approached Facebook’s China rumblings with reactions mostly fluctuating between dismissal or disbelief. Boiled down, here’s what Tech Rice has to say:
1. SNS competition in China is brutal, with the big players (they focus on RenRen and Qzone, being the two largest) still fighting to dominate the growing market. RenRen’s just a Facebook knockoff, and Tencent (QQ) totally blows at converting it’s largely blogger platform to an effective social media option.
2. Chinese Social networks totally screw 3rd-party developers. Tencent rips them off (“The joke among Chinese developers is that for every dollar the developers you get ‘Ten Cent’-if you’re lucky”) and RenRen knocks them off by producing in-house copies of games.
By comparison, these networks make Facebook look like a saint. Moreover, Facebook China would have the added draw of high-quality games from advanced international developers like Zynga, Playfish, and Playdom, which China’s platforms all lack.
Good point. We all know how much Chinese netizens love their games.
The rest of the article is a list of case studies showing how Facebook has fared in breaking into new international markets, succeeding in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, and India and still struggling in Japan, Korea, and Russia. There’s a middle-ground case study in Brazil, where although Google’s Orkut still reigns supreme, Facebook members have exploded recently. (I can personally attest to this – Brazilian friends explained the very same thing to me earlier this year: still using Orkut is something akin to an American still using Hotmail – cool only if you kick it with 14-year-old ESL kids… or my grandma.)
The points made concerning China specifically, however theoretical, mostly seem less about the actual strengths of Facebook, and more about the relative weaknesses of Chinese social media business practices. They have, for example, totally failed to maintain a presence in the Hong Kong and Taiwan markets (where Facebook now dominates) while other mainland options like Youku and Tudou have taken off.
China Hush argues the opposite, that services like RenRen would in fact remain dominant because of their tailoring to Chinese tastes. Although RenRen is called a Facebook knock-off, China Hush points out that there are a few key differences, namely page visitor counts (oh the vanity!), a more complex offering of interactions with varying privacy options (the Chinese are just so gosh darn shy sometimes), and true to the Asian way, a plethora of poke-like options complete with emoticons. They conclude:
…Renren is much more complex in interacting with others. I am not saying Renren is better than Facebook but it does suits a Chinese user better. Technologically, Facebook is much better developed with its high revenue, large developing team and years of fighting with bugs. But social network sites are not just about technology, after all it is a product for humans and should therefore suit people’s emotions, habits and preferences. And these important human aspects are deeply rooted in different cultures. Facebook is created and developed by Americans and its functions also showed the Americanness of being simple and straightforward.
We’ll leave you with one last point about Chinese competitors offered by China media expert Kaiser Kuo:
Local competitors are not much younger (i.e., the American companies don’t exactly have decades of experience to draw on!), they’re as well-funded (VC money sloshes around the China tech scene like BP oil on the Gulf Coast), and they’re used to squeezing money out of relatively poor and notoriously parsimonious consumers. They’re lean, scrappy, and hungry.