Like all social networking sites, Facebook is banned (others say it is blocked which I guess is the PC way to talk about censorship) in China. No surprise there. What is a surprise, however, is that a visit in December of last year by Mark Zuckerberg to the Chinese search giant Baidu may have turned into a bit of a coup for Facebook.
Facebook has struck a deal with Baidu, the biggest Chinese search engine, to open a jointly-owned social network in China, according to reports in the Chinese press, citing inside sources.
These sources said the new venture wouldn’t involve Facebook.com, which is blocked inside China like many more social networking sites, but a jointly owned, new social networking website. It’s unclear when the site could launch: joint ventures need to be approved by the Chinese government and that can take a while, and they have to staff it up with experienced executives that both sides can agree on.
Even the fact that this is being discussed shows just how powerful Facebook has become. Google continues to struggle with the Chinese and there are doubts about the search giant’s future in the world’s largest potential marketplace. Facebook, though, has the freedom to strike this kind of deal which could bring some serious revenue to the company.
Baidu has seen the threats to its search dominance by Chinese social player Tencent. This mirrors the situation between Google and Facebook. What Baidu is apparently settling on though is tapping the knowledge and resources of the established Facebook machine rather than build something from scratch themselves. Probably a good play although I wonder what the brand recognition of Facebook in China since that culture is very different in its Internet use and loyalties because of the government ‘oversight’ of the medium.
According to Bloomberg Businessweek both sides are staying mum on this
Kaiser Kuo, a spokesman at Beijing-based Baidu, declined to comment on the report when reached by Bloomberg News. Stephen Dolan, Singapore-based commercial director for Asia at Facebook, also declined to comment.
Well, as we all know, a ‘decline to comment’ is as good as a “Yup, we’re doing it, alright!” in the Internet space. And what’s the irony in a spokesperson for a Chinese company with the name Kaiser?
I wonder if such a huge undertaking of trying to create a brand new social network and working with a foreign juggernaut like Baidu (consider egos, government concerns and more) would be a huge distraction to Facebook’s core business? Facebook though, is one of the few companies that could pull this off because of its power and available cash. It could be that the current Facebook and this new entity never cross paths or create issues for each other since the Chinese model is probably going to look nothing like the current Facebook the rest of the world uses.
So what are your thoughts on Facebook teaming up with a Chinese company to create a new social network? Will the vaunted Facebook ability to enact social change be completely washed out of a Chinese social network? Will people see Facebook as selling out to a government with a record of oppression that doesn’t play very well around the world? If it looks and acts much different that the current Facebook will this just be seen as a cash play and not one that is designed to make the world a little smaller?
So many questions and so little information. We’ll have to keep an eye on this one as it develops to see just what a partnership looks like between a company hell bent on openness and over-sharing and a government equally hell bent on controlling data and free speech.