RenRen claims itself as Chinese Facebook, but as we look closer into the Beijing based company, in many ways, it is not as successful as its U.S. counterpart .  We have discussed these in previous posts, Thoughts On RenRen’s IPO and RenRen is Just a Social Network Not a Chinese Facebook.

Another point worth noticing is that: while both started from university students, Facebook have successfully expanded its coverage, to anyone aged 12 – 60 years old, RenRen is still a predominated university students focus.

“People use RenRen when they are still in the universities, and switch to Sina Weibo when they start working,” said a hedge fund manager invested in Chinese internet stocks.

It seems that as Chinese Facebook (RenRen) is not outstanding enough, Chinese Twitter (Sina Weibo) have a much large room to manoeuver (We’ve reported that the new version of Sina Weibo might come with more social features). But can Weibo be Chinese Facebook? That all depend how people use Weibo.

A major difference between how people use Facebook and Twitter is that: people use Twitter to follow a lot of celebrity, news feeds, etc.  They read those posts, and then re-tweet some of them.  They usually do not add a lot of their own content.  The usual usage pattern is many short intervals a day, e.g. read Twitter 10 times a day, each time for about 5 minutes.

For Facebook, people are communicating with their own friends.  The relationships can be much more intimate.  They post a lot of their own content, such as the family photo, the personal feelings, comments, etc.  The usual usage pattern is once or twice a day, but might last for over an hour.

To advertisers, the more people revealing their own information, they more they can learn about the individuals and the more they can target the users with appropriate advertisements. That is why, given the same amount of  impressions, Facebook ad can be much more valuable than Twitter Ads.

In short, Twitter is still predominate a social media, while Facebook is a real social network.

In China, just like Twitter, Weibo started as a tool to follow celebrities and news, but the absence of a powerful Chinese Facebook makes people start using Weibo to connect with their own friends.  In fact, when people (white-collar) meet new friends in China, they exchange Weibo account. Just like we exchange Facebook account.

In this case, limiting posts to short message only (like that of Twitter), might not be convenient to the users.  That might be why Sina Weibo pretty much allow them to post anything, such as, photo, etc., just like Facebook.

But, can Sina Weibo really takes the role of Facebook in China (a social network for friends)? “We don’t know it right now. We have to track their usage pattern and see when it start to become like Facebook,” said the hedge fund manager.

Currently, the usage pattern of Sina Weibo is still more like a social media (Twitter): Many short intervals in a day and people don’t write much about themselves. But, it is changing.

Besides the usual suspects such as RenRen, Kaixin and Sina Weibo, actually, there is one social network in China, that is very popular among the local Chinese but gets much less publicity in the West. It is Douban. Founded in 2005 by Yang Bo, it is the leading social network in China for book reviews, music reviews and movie reviews.

At the beginning, Douban was modeled after Myspace.  But while Myspace lost its appeal in the West, Douban remains popular in China. According to an industry expert, it has over 50 million users.  Most of them are middle class, literature and art lovers and trendy young people.  Its Alexa ranking is higher than that of Kaixin.  And users spend more time on Douban than RenRen. Its pageview per user is also highest among all major websites in China. (see Alexa stats below) All of these indicates Douban is a very successful social network – something similar to Facebook for Chinese.

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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