This is my second piece, in the “what?!” series.  In the “what?!” series, we try to discuss something really ridiculous about the China internet sector, something most foreigners will find totally bizarre, weird yet funny about China internet. (Note: the last piece is about: Chinese Gov’t Says Shanzhai is Also Innovation – What ?!

I recently found out that if you have more than 1,000 friends over Chinese leading social networks, such as Renren, Kaixin or QQ, you have to pay a fee.  For Renren, you have to upgrade to VIP services, paying RMB10 a month, to have 1,001 friends in your account.  Similar for Kaixin and QQ. Only Sina’s Microblog service (the Twitter of China) is exception to this rule.  

I double-check with a blogger friend of mine (a Chinese girl) and she said that is true and in fact she is paying for such a service, willingly.

First of all, it shows that Chinese internet users are really the most easy going consumer in the world!! No question ask, just pay.  No wonder, Tencent and all the game developers make tones of money.

Secondly, it shows sometimes Chinese internet companies have no clue what they are doing.  Facebook or Myspace will never ask their users to pay if they have a lot of friends.  As this is not making any sense!! As a social network operator, you will want your users to be as active as possible.  The more friends a user has, the more traffic you will get, and that help you to sell ads.  So, why limit your users’ friend network?!

I asked a friend who runs an online marketing firm in China, whether this will create a problem for them.  He said no, because they always pay Renren / Kaixin to setup marketing campaigns for their clients. (Maybe some kind of professional services.)  “Once you pay, you have a lot more options and can use a lot more features (e.g. do a poll) to help you to manage your marketing campaigns,” he said.

So, the rule is purely set up for individual users. Even my marketer friend thinks it is totally ridiculous.  Probably, Renren and Kaixin are under pressure to get some revenue to show to their investors.  So, they try everything possible.

That’s my view about it.  Any idea ??

Author of Red Wired: China's Internet Revolution, the first book to completely survey the nature of China's internet. ( She previously was the lead China technology reporter...

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  1. This certainly doesn't show that Chinese Internet users are irrational. If they believe it's valuable to pay for the service, they'll pay.There's more than a few examples in which Chinese Internet companies are making money when their non-Chinese counterparts are not. They certainly must have their reasons for this. Anybody with over 1,000 friends is probably using the system for marketing purposes. So, perhaps they think that if the user is making money via their marketing they may be willing to pay a small fee. That might be the reason, or maybe there's another reason.There are plenty of people that think the Western Internet business model of 'always improving user experience and never thinking about how to make money' is silly. I can understand their arguments.

  2. I run a kaixin account 1 year ago which has more than 4000 friends at that time, but additional payment needed, maybe the rule just come up recently? Never heard about it. As for SINA microblog, I don't that works (need pay for friends number), lots famous people has more than 1 million followers, that's not for a marketing purpose, fans just like know what they are saying and doing, this really a ridiculous rule if finally happens, but again, I don't think that will happen in SINA weibo

  3. Shanzhai is innovation = I agree wholeheartedly. I have on my desk two phones shaped as ferraris, and I have one that doubles as electric shaver. I did not find them on the catalogs of Apple, Nokia, Ferrari or Gillette. Brand usage aside, it IS innovation. Otherwise, I'd be curious to know your definition.Paying for a service? What a strange concept… It shows how out of whack users and VCs fueling non-existant business models in the US are. No wonder Tencent makes more money than Facebook! I hope you did not tell your friend too directly what you thought of her paying ^_^;Chinese easy going = aren't they actually more discerning in evaluating the value of what they get from an online service? People grinding hours online to avoid paying a few dollars can't put a price on their time, maybe some Chinese can? To get revenue, isn't the basic thing to understand what people would pay for?

  4. I am not saying Chinese internet users are “irrational”. I am saying they are very easy going. Willing to pay for a lot of things.I agree that Western business model is not the best in the world.

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