We are still talking about Facebook and try to learn from every change it made; but in the meanwhile, we don’t really care about Facebook anymore as some of Chinese do think Facebook is 非死不可 (in Pinyin: FeiSiBuKe which pronounces similar to Facebook) which means Dooms to Die. With fast growth of Chinese Facebook-likers including Xiaonei and Kaixin001 etc and new comers operated by the portals such as BaiShehui by Sohu, Pengyou by Tencent, Taojianghui by Taobao etc, if you asked those Chinese students or those do not pay attention to the web industry, they even don’t know who is copying whom.
I was sitting in a panel with former Facebook senior in Tencent MIND summit 2009, Guangzhou and we together talked a lot about China web as well as Facebook. The million-dollars question is what’s the best strategy for Facebook in China, and the conclusion I want to tell you here is, it might sound a bit aggressive but I think it does make some sense, Forget About China.
If you are not ready for China, don’t come – I was leading Netvibes in China but it did not work out in the end. The product itself is one thing as Netvibes’s personalized page is just too good (advanced) for Chinese web. And Netvibes was not ready too. We actually had a very good start, e.g. together with Sohu, we launched the first Open Platform in China in Jan 2008; We also signed the agreement with Maxthon, the leading Chinese browser; We were discussing with Monternet (China Mobile), Yahoo China, Comsenz, CSDN etc which are looking into Netvibes’ widget technology; We have reached tens of leading Chinese services providers (medias, video-sharing, image-sharing, sns, music, blog services, rss players,etc). All these sound super great, but caused the trouble: we did not have the resource (money, team etc) to handle them. No matter how strong you are in western market, once you are in China, things can be totally different. Do not assume your good Chinese partners want you badly, in most cases they can live well without you (and with local partners), so sit closely to them, push them on the projects instead of waiting for them; China, in general is cheap, but cheap does not mean you don’t need money. Well, in web 2.0, Word-of-Mouth (WOM) is brilliant, but do remember sometimes WOM is driven by money, especially in China. Did you see Facebook officially runs any promotion campaigns in universities? At least i did not know any in UK. But in China, offline promotion in campus is quite common and costy.
If you believe your global strategy can work, don’t come – In other words, if you neither understand Chinese Internet culture nor listen to your local advisers, it is almost impossible to succeed in the end. Myspace China is a good example, and Censorship could be an interesting topic too. OK, I know most of people think censorship in China is a bad thing as they do believe in User Generated Content (UGC) in web 2.0, i.e they ‘respect’ whatever users generated. Then the decision makers who are sitting far far away from China will tell you, NO! we are not going to compromise with local regulation. But do not forget, censorship as far as I know, it is everywhere not just in China. If you have double standards, do not complain on other things when your business fails.
Back to 1 year ago, the rumor about Facebook in China is everywhere, which local social network Facebook would acquire, who might be appointed to be the CEO of Facebook China etc. Too much buzz about you but nothing become real, which will do no good for your future plan: The young Chinese users do not know Facebook still, and the worst thing I heard is some of them who know Facebook are saying, hm… Facebook looks like Xiaonei, Kaixin001 etc.
My former Facebook friend thinks Facebook will eventually come to China, but not in near future. So Mark, until you make a clear decision, please forget about China. And most importantly, this strategy, I think it applies to other web companies who wants the China cake too.