Saturday, 11 September 2010

SOCIAL NETWORKS IN CHINA

I've just come from Beijing where I was talking about social networks, only to discover that the Chinese are in many respects ahead of the rest of the us.

1. Size of their social networks

QZone the largest social network in China has over 567M registered accounts.Larger than Facebook, which has almost 500m but is spread out across the world.

Other notable networks are Renren - targeting young people (last estimates put users at just around 50m), and Kaixien - a professional network (around 30M). Most of my colleagues in China were on these two networks.

51.com is another one - which they hadn't heard of - but is reported to be the second largest and used by people who live in "lower tier cities" and rural areas.

International giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Google are banned and are consequently missing out on the hundreds of millions of Chinese online users.

2. The world's most lucrative social network

Qzone is owned by Tencent, inc which has revenues that are larger than Facebooks. Tencent hails from Shenzhen, near Hong Kong. Founded in 1998, it had revenues of $1.8 billion in 2009. Although best known for QZone, its real innovation is its revenue model. Much of its profits come from online games and a virtual currency, called Q coins. Users purchase this with real money and use it to buy digital wares, such as virtual weapons to increase the powers of their avatars. Virtual goods and other “Internet valued-added services,” like avatars, dating services, online memberships, music and community sites are smart and lucrative revenue streams.

Social games, like Farmville, can trace their roots back to China. This is an interesting example of how the direction of innovation has started to change.

The one key thing that sets them back is the absence of open conversation. State control means that open community based conversation is out. The government appears petrified of open conversation, and the power of social media. Remember Iran, and how the protesters used Twitter and YouTube to fight state owned media control.

There is, however, a side of this argument that brands in the West can learn from. Brands see social media as open conversation, and are fearful of it - when actually social media has many components that are open to differing degrees. It shows that brands can use “Internet valued-added services,”, and tools as first steps and even alternatives to the cliche of open conversations - they are still social, and still very much on social platforms. Social media is broader than talking to a community manager on Facebook or Twitter.

8 comments:

Charles Frith said...

I' not sure I get your last point. If you're suggesting that the conversation can be 'framed' in the way that China does then that's a poor analogy.

What is interesting is that within the remit of topics that can be discussed there's an awful lot of sociological phenomenon to be observed in Chinese social media. If politics is kept out of it things like the human search flesh engine are way ahead of us because it's an immediate outlet for frustration though it's interesting that local politics is beginning to emerge as fair game for whistle-blowers of corruption though the conversation is always shut down the moment Beijing's authority looks like it will be questioned.

But yeah. China & Digital? It's their first public forum this century and it's an exciting arena. Though it can be a frenzy.

Tony Effik said...

Kind of agree my last point wasn't clearly articulated, but I wasn't referring to politics.

I was making the point that social is a broad discipline with lots of features. Most brands think going social is about having a Wall on Facebook or hosting a conversation. This is what I mean by open conversation - which I think is critical but is only one feature of a social brand. There are many more things you can do, which is what the Chinese networks have had to do through these other services they have pioneered.

I'm in Singapore now and talking to people from South East Asia, what are the social networks here like?

Charles Frith said...

Well the Facebook Juggernaut is dominating the arena this year so for example here in Thailand hi5 has been taken over recently but the income profile is still different so I don't see it dying. Singapore was an early Friendster champ but of course they lost the plot by trying to operate their most profitable market in a different country.

I believe Indonesia is still big on Friendster.

I heard Plurk (quirky twitter platform) had quite a user base in Singapore but again Twitter is getting bigger as ever. Here in Thailand after the coup Twitter became a de rigeur political comment channel. Very reassuring given that mainstream media is very restricted.

I think the most interesting observation about Singapore for me is literacy. I know girls who were buying netbooks years ago and stripping Windows out to load LINUX. Something I still haven't attempted in case I screw it up.

Singapore has no real population to make it important. It punches above it's weight but it's more interesting as a bridge or satellite city for Malaysia and Indonesia.

Skype is big here in Asia. Broadly speaking my deepest social media immersion is talking to people so while it's not considered strictly social it's all part of the mix and lots use it for chat. The other elephant in the room is Microsoft. People forget they are huge and everywhere. They are embedded with Microsoft Live even though it's very clunky. It's also China's only social overlap with the rest of the world, Microsoft Live aint cool but it matters.

I agree with your view on pluralism in digital but there's an interesting question in my head about digital screen real estate. Ideally I want one aperture/click area for social, one for permitted advertising (with variable control over distraction or intrusion) one for information (text), one video etc. I haven't thought it through fully but I wonder if we're going to be smart about a very limited square of pixels.

The last point is digital facilitates the quickest defection ever. I see a day when 2015 hipsters will move en masse back to Myspace just because it's cool. Cool isn't about biggest. People should remember that.

Charles Frith said...

Well the Facebook Juggernaut is dominating the arena this year so for example here in Thailand hi5 has been taken over recently but the income profile is still different so I don't see it dying. Singapore was an early Friendster champ but of course they lost the plot by trying to operate their most profitable market in a different country.

I believe Indonesia is still big on Friendster.

I heard Plurk (quirky twitter platform) had quite a user base in Singapore but again Twitter is getting bigger as ever. Here in Thailand after the coup Twitter became a de rigeur political comment channel. Very reassuring given that mainstream media is very restricted.

I think the most interesting observation about Singapore for me is literacy. I know girls who were buying netbooks years ago and stripping Windows out to load LINUX. Something I still haven't attempted in case I screw it up.

Singapore has no real population to make it important. It punches above it's weight but it's more interesting as a bridge or satellite city for Malaysia and Indonesia.

Skype is big here in Asia. Broadly speaking my deepest social media immersion is talking to people so while it's not considered strictly social it's all part of the mix and lots use it for chat. The other elephant in the room is Microsoft. People forget they are huge and everywhere. They are embedded with Microsoft Live even though it's very clunky. It's also China's only social overlap with the rest of the world, Microsoft Live aint cool but it matters.

I agree with your view on pluralism in digital but there's an interesting question in my head about digital screen real estate. Ideally I want one aperture/click area for social, one for permitted advertising (with variable control over distraction or intrusion) one for information (text), one video etc. I haven't thought it through fully but I wonder if we're going to be smart about a very limited square of pixels.

The last point is digital facilitates the quickest defection ever. I see a day when 2015 hipsters will move en masse back to Myspace just because it's cool. Cool isn't about biggest. People should remember that.

Charles Frith said...

I went over the comment limit so I will split it in two.

1. Well the Facebook Juggernaut is dominating the arena this year so for example here in Thailand hi5 has been taken over recently but the income profile is still different so I don't see it dying. Singapore was an early Friendster champ but of course they lost the plot by trying to operate their most profitable market in a different country.

I believe Indonesia is still big on Friendster.

I heard Plurk (quirky twitter platform) had quite a user base in Singapore but again Twitter is getting bigger as ever. Here in Thailand after the coup Twitter became a de rigeur political comment channel. Very reassuring given that mainstream media is very restricted.

I think the most interesting observation about Singapore for me is literacy. I know girls who were buying netbooks years ago and stripping Windows out to load LINUX. Something I still haven't attempted in case I screw it up.

Singapore has no real population to make it important. It punches above it's weight but it's more interesting as a bridge or satellite city for Malaysia and Indonesia.

Charles Frith said...

2.

Skype is big here in Asia. Broadly speaking my deepest social media immersion is talking to people so while it's not considered strictly social it's all part of the mix and lots use it for chat. The other elephant in the room is Microsoft. People forget they are huge and everywhere. They are embedded with Microsoft Live even though it's very clunky. It's also China's only social overlap with the rest of the world, Microsoft Live aint cool but it matters.

I agree with your view on pluralism in digital but there's an interesting question in my head about digital screen real estate. Ideally I want one aperture/click area for social, one for permitted advertising (with variable control over distraction or intrusion) one for information (text), one video etc. I haven't thought it through fully but I wonder if we're going to be smart about a very limited square of pixels.

The last point is digital facilitates the quickest defection ever. I see a day when 2015 hipsters will move en masse back to Myspace just because it's cool. Cool isn't about biggest. People should remember that.

Dhiren Shingadia said...

Compelling insights Tony. What's the condition of the Blogosphere within each of these states? How does blogging culture and citizen journalism vary?

Gaming is huge in Asia and I think this is what makes us culturally very different. I'm keen to see how social networks in Asia are used to communicate and coordinate real-world social interactions. With user numbers as high as you state, there must be many other ways in which people using social networks.

Charles, I was on Hi5 back in 2003/4ish. I was still studying and we were marveled by Edge and WAP. We had no idea what the hell we doing and I when look at back at my profile I can see people, friends, had written character references for me. In hindsight I guess we were using our profiles as social CVs and points of reference as opposed to a means to communicate, share and network.

Asia's digital eco-system is fascinating. Baidu dominates search and many of the most successful online properties are practically unknown in the west. I think there's lots we can learn from them and because they started before us, in many respects, their current state of use, again in some cases, indicate signs of things to come.

Tony Effik said...

Great discussion guys. Thanks for comments and insights Charles and Dhiren