The failed “Facebook of China” leaves its future in the hand of users

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After years of struggle, the founding team of Renren, China’s forgotten social network, has finally decided to let go of their efforts to restore the platform to its former glory, leaving the fate of the site in the hands of users and partners instead.

Joseph Chen, chairman and CEO of Renren announced in an open letter that his team would hand Renren’s operation to partners. “Renren is a public platform and we are not the only owner of it,” he said. “The operating candidates and their business plans will be posted on Renren’s bulletin board. We will start an online poll where every user can give their votes.”

“We want to hear the opinions of old users, for example, what’s missing by WeChat, Weibo, QQ, Momo, Tantan, etc and where are our opportunities,” he said. On the bright side, Chen disclosed that Renren.com is expected to turn to profit in Q4 this year or Q1 next year and the profits will be invested in product development.

Monthly active users of Renren in March of 2015 to 2018 (Image credit: 36Kr)

Chen made the announcement in response to a viral post that remembers China’s post-80 and post-90 generations about their college days and youth when they share their lives actively on Renren.

Renren was born out of Xiaonei.com, a pixel-to-pixel Facebook clone by current CEO and founder of Meituan Wang Xing. Joseph Chen acquired the company in October 2006 and rebranded it as Renren. As part of China’s first generation of social networks, the site became immensely popular among Chinese students.

The company went public in the US a year ahead of Facebook at a valuation more than double of its US counterpart then traded on private markets. But the site started to lose traction when hit by the failure to expand beyond college user base. In a battle for supremacy in the mobile age, Renren spent at least $300 million in the war against Sina Weibo and WeChat from 2011 to 2014, according to Chen.

Although the firm tried to catch up with nearly every trend with layouts in short video, fintech, student loan, second-hand car trading and cryptocurrency, it never managed to achieve former popularity. Its monthly active users slumped from 46 million in March 2015 to 31 million in March 2018.