Facebook to Enter China By the End of This Year?


What would Facebook look like in China?

I’ve heard rumors that Facebook is going to enter China by the end of this year, and well, considering I saw this news from sources like BusinessWeek, China Daily, and Bloomberg, I guess I can’t really call it a rumor anymore. But the suspicious part of this news is that all these authoritative media outlets claim the same news source: the popular Chinese online portal Sina.com. Yet Sina.com itself did not give out any detailed information about this either, and only credited an unidentified person as their source. And then if you add the unlikeliness of Facebook entering China at this time point, it totally sounds like a rumor right?

Take a look at China Daily’s report below, which is the most conflicting news I have read in a long time:

Title: Facebook Plans to Enter China

Body: Facebook spokesman Larry Yu said the Palo Alto social media king is “interested in China, just as we are many other countries, and while we are studying and learning about them all, we have no specific plans for China at this time.”

No specific plans? Facebook, are you coming or not? China Daily, could you stop fooling with my and thousands Chinese social network users’ hearts?

Despite the ambiguous quality of this news itself, it got forwarded by many tech news sites in China, and also picked up by many foreign media outlets like the ones mentioned above. After Google’s exit from China, the attention around foreign technology companies’ business moves in China has been very high. Most Chinese tech media and blogs are not very positive about Facebook’s prospects in China, even if they find a way into the market. The current Chinese social network market has been very saturated by the Big Three: Tencent’s QQ , Renren, and Kaixin001. QQ is the most original one that sprang from their pervasive instant messaging service in China, while Renren was a copycat of Facebook at the outset, but has evolved since then and holds a tight grip on Chinese college and fresh graduate demographics. Kaixin001 started from work professionals, and caught fire from their popular embedded social games like Chinese Farmville. Almost overnight Kaixin001 made all Chinese white collar professionals grow corps and steal vegetables during their office hours. Even government policy has played a favorable hand in these local Chinese web companies’ growth, examining eBay’s loss to Chinese eCommerce site Taobao, Yahoo’s loss to Chinese web portal sites, and also Google’s famous loss to Chinese search engine Baidu, I have to say an understanding of the local market plays the most important role in these battles. So, if Facebook is really coming to China soon, they better learn a good lesson from these previous cases and be fully prepared to fight a hard battle.


Privacy: The Price of Being Online?

As much as I wish I could be at this year’s SXSWi, I have enjoyed reading the keynote speech reports from social media scouts like Techcrunch and also the tidbits floating on social media venues from my friends who are there. That is the beauty of this new media world, instant- knowledge sharing, and impact-amplification. Joining this new knowledge-sharing force, I personally feel I have become a thousand times more resourceful and knowledgeable than I could ever be otherwise. That is one of the things I love most about social media.

But there are always pay-offs for the advantages that social media have brought to us. SXSWi’s keynote speaker Danah Boyd’s speech about how social media messes with people’s personal and public lives really struck a cord with me, as recently I have been trying to redraw the line between my personal and public activities on the internet. It is especially hard for me to do so because social media to me is not just a personal space, it is also a professional setting since I want to develop a career within it.

For most of my friends who do not have this dual identity issue with social media, they may probably have easier answers to this problem: purge employer-unfriendly content from their profiles before they apply for a job, or just completely close off their Facebook account and limit the content only to private friends. The pre-requisite here is that people believe and actually do have control over their content online. In Boyd’s speech, she also noted how important this sense of control plays in people’s feelings of their online privacy, and when this control gets breached, people will feel their privacy has been violated.

But do people actually have as tight a grip over their online content as they feel they do? Unfortunately, not all the time. Even though sometimes they do, this control is still very vulnerable and largely subject to a social media platform’s arbitrary changes. In Boyd’s speech, she named the two recent privacy blunders by Google Buzz and Facebook. Everybody has already known about the damage Google caused due to their eagerness to get people immediately Buzzing on their network, and therefore forgot that “you want to help users understand the proposition. You need to ease them in, invite them to contribute their content.”(Boyd)

But for Facebook, I assume even until today most Facebook users still have not even noticed the damage they have caused. Three months ago, Facebook changed the default setting for people’s profile to open to “everyone”. I have been noticing in the past three months, for every new person I have met, though their Facebook profile may be locked, their pictures are totally open for me to view. I’ll bet 90% of these people do not have any idea that their pictures are open to everyone on Facebook. Boyd also noted this unfortunate situation: she asked around and had not yet found any non-techie Facebook users whose actual Facebook privacy settings matched the settings they thought were in place. That is a really terrible breach of people’s trust of their content to Facebook. Whoever is reading this blog post, please go back and check your Facebook pictures’ privacy settings and make the necessary adjustments.

Thanks Jason Kincaid for bringing Boyd’s speech to us, these are other great takeaways from Boyd’s speech:

“Different groups of people think about privacy. Teenagers are much more conscious about what they have to gain by being in public, whereas adults are more concerned about what they have to lose.”

“Most techies think about Personally Identifiable Information, but that the vast majority of people are thinking about personally embarrassing information. People often share private information with their friends in part because it allows them to bond, it makes them somewhat vulnerable and establishes trust.”

Given these findings, there is really a great deal for social media platform designers to think about when they handle the content and privacy people have put into their hands. When they are writing the code for their platform, designers are also setting up the laws for interacting in a digital age. As responsible legislators of the online world, they have to seriously consider if these laws being drafted can effectively uphold the order of that world and can protect their citizens’ security. More careful thoughts and consideration needs to be invested, otherwise these citizens may riot and retreat from that unstable world.

Why Don’t American Teenagers Fancy Twitter?

I recently read an article on USA Today about a survey from Pew Internet & American Life Project that revealed that teens in the U.S. are not as interested in using Twitter as most people expected: only 8% of 800 American teens ages 12 to 17 who took the survey reported using Twitter, while social networks like Facebook have penetrated this demographic with a 73% high rate. These results seemed counterintuitive to me since common sense tells me that teens are usually the first adopters of new technology trends, especially in social media.

While reading about the perception of Twitter by teens in the report, who described it as “lame” and “feeding the beast”, I think this phenomena of teens preferring social networks could be explained by the entry cost, exit cost and voice theory discussed in Professor William’s class last week. The theory states that the higher the entry cost and exit cost is to participate in a community, either online or offline, and the more a participant feels their voice is being heard, the stickier the community is.

For the Twittersphere itself as a community, the entry cost to this community is definitely very low, it only takes a simple registration process that has been simplified to just a user name, email address and password, especially compared to Facebook’s more established profiles that rely on your pre-existing real-life social network to join online. Once you join Twitter, because everybody’s tweets seem to flood at you with little organization, it is so hard to manage any real conversations. Your own voice may be difficult to hear by followers, even if you have hundred followers, they might each be following another hundred people. The exit cost for Twitter is also very low. Twitter is simply providing a venue for public speaking, and people do not leave much information like personal photos and conversations with friends like they would on social networks like Facebook. Twitter’s genes of low entry cost, difficulty in being heard, and low exit cost mean Twitter as a platform can not achieve the same penetration rate as social networks have among teenagers, who prefer tighter, more controlled communication. Twitter does not seem to be as sticky in people’s lives as social networks are, not just for teenagers’ group. It is undeniable Twitter has its own unique advantages; But without addressing these shortcomings, it is not impossible that one day Twitter may be replaced by other newcomers in the real time communication field like Google Buzz or its old foes like Facebook and other social network sites which continue to strengthen this “Twitter”-like function on their sites.

What Makes Ning Different From Facebook and Twitter

Today we will have Charles Porch from the rising social network platform Ning.com coming to our class to share with us his insights about the social media world and also about the unique aspects about Ning. I have heard of Ning and registered an account there couple of months ago. My recent exploration at Ning showed me how convenient and easy to build a social network site on it, and also these very interesting niche networks there that attract circles of people sharing the same interest and passion. To my surprise, it supports Chinese language, so I created a social network for my Chinese friends back home, and I also started another social network site on it called Happy Chinese New Year, for Chinese people living in L.A. to share their experience living oversea, and celebrate the Chinese New Year that is coming along next weekend.

While Ning exhibits its strong point by providing people a intimate social network experience, many people like me might also be curious what the difference between Ning and other popular social network platforms like Facebook and Myspace is. According to a recent interview of the Ning’s CEO Gina Bianchini from Tech Crunch, Gina does not view Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn as their competitors, instead, she thinks that these social network platforms have developed their own edges and are dominant in their own areas. Compared to the experience provided by Facebook and other social platforms, the features of Ning deliver a more in-depth and immersive experience with the brands and things centered in Ning’s networks; thus Ning can integrate the service of other social platforms like the Twitter as the distribution channels, and at the other end, Ning would be the destination of the interest and passion where people settle and engage with the each other in a deeper level.