Rivals say Facebook could be tough sell in China

Facebook may be eyeing a move into mainland China, but web firms there cast doubt on whether the social networking giant can tap the monster market - assuming authorities lift a ban on the site.

China has the world's biggest internet population, with 420 million users and rising. It is a hugely lucrative landscape, but is also peppered with dominant domestic brands, technical hurdles and the threat of censorship.

Beijing has set up a vast online censorship system sometimes dubbed the "Great Firewall of China" that aggressively blocks sites and snuffs out Internet content on topics considered sensitive.

The system currently prevents most of the nation's web users from accessing Facebook. The key role the website played in anti-government protests in Egypt and Tunisia will not have gone unnoticed by China's communist rulers.

But Facebook last week said it had opened a Hong Kong office, its third in Asia, while founder Mark Zuckerberg visited China in December, prompting suggestions that Beijing may eventually welcome the California company.

Blake Chandlee, Facebook's vice-president and commercial director for emerging markets, played down any imminent move into the country.

"We have no plans right now to talk about entering into mainland China and trying to be aggressive in that," he told AFP at Hong Kong Social Media Week, which wrapped up Friday.

Still, Facebook already has an estimated 14 million Chinese-language users - mainly based in Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong - and the figure is expected to keep growing.

But even if Facebook got clearance for a China foray, some observers said it would have trouble adapting to local tastes.

"China is a different market," said Jeffery Zheng, general manager of renren.com, a popular social networking site in China.

"A lot of companies like Yahoo! and Google tried unsuccessfully to penetrate the Chinese market. You have to satisfy local needs."

Last year, search engine Google claimed it was the victim of a sophisticated cyber attack in 2009 that originated from China, apparently aiming to gain access to email accounts of Chinese human rights activists.

Google shut down its Chinese search engine, automatically re-routing mainland users to its uncensored site in Hong Kong, but later ended the automatic redirect to avoid having its Chinese licence suspended.

Zheng said his firm had notched up 170 million registered users by the end of 2010, a 400 percent increase from 2008, because of "unique" services such as letting customers choose their own wallpaper, background music and Chinese New Year-themed emoticons.

"Chinese netizens love to share their emotions indirectly... This is reflected in their profuse use of emoticons," he added of the yellow "smiley" symbol.

"The Internet has become a way for them to communicate in a relaxed way."

Meg Lee, general manager of the Hong Kong version of Sina.com, a Chinese microblogging service similar to Twitter, said her firm has enabled Chinese users to blog by text messaging from their mobile phones.

"In China, people send a lot of SMS to family and friends," she said.

"We provide a unique service in synchronising their SMS messages to their blogs. This is very popular as many people are still using basic mobile phones."

Lee warned that any newcomer to the China market - where Twitter is also banned - would have to wrestle with the country's strict censorship policies, although some regulations have been gradually relaxed.

"Every environment has game rules. Censorship is the policy in China that everyone has to follow," she told AFP.

Added Zheng from renren.com: "I know that the government pays special attention to us because we are a social networking site so we might be considered to be stirring up trouble.

"If a blogger writes strong words against the government on our site, of course we will take it out."

Still, many Chinese web users are relatively unconcerned about government censors - as long as they get their daily dose of entertainment gossip.

"Many people just want to follow movie stars and idols," Lee said.

In fact, the biggest hurdle for Facebook and other firms may be China's less-than-dependable Internet infrastructure and reams of bureaucratic red tape, said Li Lei, head of online start-up Wincasting.

"It is necessary to get approval from many different governmental departments," Lei said.

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Infrastructure Architect

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Infrastructure Architect is ...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

    Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Support - Helpdesk Analyst

    £18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a customer focu...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Development Executiv...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn