The Chinese didn’t sit around doing nothing in the face of the success of western websites. They built a sort of Great Firewall of China, to stop the western sites overrunning China. That way, they could take their time to develop their own networks in their own way – the equivalents of Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, and so on. Chinese websites grabbed their share of the internet advertising revenues. And, as the press reported, in May 2011, Renren was floated on the New York Stock Exchange amid a blaze of publicity, in a 743.4 million dollar operation. The offer valued the business at over 7 billion dollars. It is the first major social network to be floated on the NYSE, beating even Facebook which will not go public before 2012. The Chinese might have been slower than the west in entering the online social networking race, but they have rapidly taken the lead, not just in terms of taking the companies public, but of refining the whole concept of social networking.
Instead of having one network for discussing your personal life, another (like Linkedin) for work, and yet another one for microblogging or sharing videos or chatting, they have integrated all these functionalities into one single network. Some Chinese websites have even integrated a dating website function in the hope of overtaking Meetic. In fact, the Chinese have applied to the web the same concept of “one-stop shopping” so beloved of western supermarket chains. Renren does this: at the same time it offers a messaging service, microblogging, "friends" and "photos" sections and much else that’s available on Facebook as well as lots of games. You could almost say that Renren is a Mash up of Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Meetic and MSN with added games: Plants vs Zombies. Mark Zuckerberg has every reason to be worried!
Many of the Chinese social networking sites are claiming to be the "Chinese Facebook", which for them is still the benchmark. The strongest contenders for the coveted title are Kaixin or some of the big news websites like Sohu and Sina. But with its stock market flotation in prospect, Renren went all out in terms of communication to establish itself as the Chinese Facebook, especially for the benefit of westerners who would not otherwise know about it because of the language barrier. The success of the flotation commands respect: it also shows how Renren has managed, at least where westerners are concerned, to eclipse Kaixin, a website that was modelled from the start on the lines of Facebook. This deft piece of market manipulation ought to serve as a reminder to us to do our homework before investing in Chinese websites. We should also take care to apply the same critical faculties to them as we do to the western variety, if we don’t want to invest in sites that do a brilliant job of advertising but lack any solid base. That said, even if the jury is still out on whether Renren or Kaixin or any other website is more deserving of the title of the “Chinese Facebook", Renren is clearly a very strong and dynamic network. And that should be enough to banish all doubts on the part of the many Renren investors reading Mynetwords.