What’s up with all the Chinese FACEBOOKS?

Written by Uln on November 24th, 2008

Last night I was out for a little dance with one of my Shanghai friends. My performance must have been pretty good, because as we were leaving she invited me to join Kaixinwang, and added that she would buy me straight away if I bought her.

Now, I didn’t know what to make of all this. But I was quite curious, as I had read about all these Chinese Facebooks recently on Danwei. So, as soon as I got home I thought I might as well open an account and let myself be bought. A bit of a hassle to deal with all those Chinese characters on a Sunday night, but anyway, it’s not like you can say no to a Shanghai girl.

So I went and googled Kaixinwang and opened an account and tried to find my friend there, only to find out that I was in the WRONG kaixinwang. And I had to start the whole process again. Further googling confirmed that there are 3 different kaixinwangs, apparently unrelated except that they bear the same name: kaixinwang, kaixinwang and kaixinwang. In the same time, I also found out that there are at least 2 other Facebooks: Xiaonei and Zhanzuo

So, what is up with all these Chinese Facebooks?

There seems to be a fierce struggle for power among them. Like the links above show, they are all almost exact copies of the original Facebook, but over time they have been introducing some Chinese characteristics to appeal the local users. Still not the Chinese “Wall of Characters” format, but definitely doing their best to cover up the blank spaces that Chinese users seem to hate so much. See above my (wrong) kaixinwang account.

I remember when I was in Business School, one of my classmates did a Business Plan with the title: “How to beat Ikea in 3 years”. It was a good laugh for the teacher, and my friend got extra points for “audacity”. But it is amazing to think that now for any random Chinese entrepreneur it is possible to do “Beat Facebook in 3 years”, and they don’t even need a BPlan. Is this the land of opportunity or not?

In case you think I am exaggerating, see what I got from Alexa global, with 2 of the kaixinwangs taking a huge leap in less than 6 months:

OK, probably Facebook will stay at the top because of its worldwide support. But in the Chinese market it doesn’t stand a chance. The Kaixinwangs have started and will continue to adapt the concept to Chinese preferences, and Facebook, unlike other global companies, has not moved in this direction. Perhaps Mark Zuckerberg might have had a chance if he thought of selling  “sweet and sour Facebook” before.

To be fair, it is true that the Chinese censors are doing a good job at slowing down Facebook here, while not affording any protection of Intellectual Property. And the same rumours that spread in the West about the Book - giving data to the CIA, etc- are very present among the young and nationalistic Chinese internet users, and surely not discouraged by the local competition.

Now, let’s see the key points for future developments:

  1. The lack of IP protection in China means that all these startups can just copy the essential from Facebook, and concentrate instead on adding some extra games and gadgets that appeal the Chinese. In fact, for this very reason it doesn’t make sense for Kaixinwangs to innovate. Wasting resources in coming up with a new platform is a loser move, when any newcomer can just copy.
  2. This seems to be an unregulated network market, which usually evolves into a Winner-Take-All situation. So it is to be expected that pretty soon one of the Kaixinwangs will take the whole pie.
  3. Only at that point, with the local market secured, the winning Kaixinwang will find a reason to start developing some really new stuff.
  4. This is a phenomenon that applies to many industries in China. They are in a race to capture markets while the economy grows, and can’t afford to stop and rethink right now. This is what I mean when I say the fast pace of Chinese economy for the last 30 years has left many holes behind.

From the selfish point of view of an expat in Shanghai: I can’t wait for all this kaixinwang competition to get  settled and every Chinese to get an account in the Champion of the KaixinWangs. (开心网王)

For many Westerners here Facebook has become part of our social reflexes. When we meet someone new - which happens everyday in Shanghai- it is the easiest way to keep track. With the Chinese, the simple social question: “what is your Facebook?”  results in a complicated discussion, often involving the CIA, James Bond and Her whole Majesty’s Secret Service. In the end, you always end up stuck with another fancy visit card that quickly gets lost in the overflowing 名片drawer.

UPDATE: I found another 2 kaixinwangs just now: kaixinwang and kaixinwang. There must be dozens of them out there if I can find these 5 so easily on the first page of google results. What a mess! It reminds me of the times when WangDonalds flourished right next to the real place. Perhaps the Chinese Net Nanny should spend her time trying to sort this out instead of wasting it with us.

2 Comments so far ↓

  1. Nov
    John the Pirate - arrrrr!

    Good post, I like your writing style! I’ve added http://chinayouren-free.com/ to my feed reader, and will be reading your posts from now on. Just a quick question - did you design your header image yourself, or have it done professionally? If you had it done by a professional, who was it?

    [Reply to comment]

  2. Nov

    Hi! Er…too good to be true… you are just automatic spam, right?

    Anyway, you are the first commenter on this blog that is not a personal friend, so even if you are a machine I’m so happy that I’ll answer your question:

    The header is from a WP template called “Urban Grunge” by DesignyourWebpage (see updated footer). The rest is based on the WordpressHacker Theme with some modifications painfully done by myself using a “HTML&CSS for dummies” website. I spend so many hours working it out that I thought I would give some credit to myself on the footer. A bit cheecky I know, but its my blog, anyway…

    [Reply to comment]

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