What Facebook can learn from its Chinese counterpart?

| November 9th, 2010

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I used to introduce Renren.com to my foreign friends simply as “Chinese Facebook” usually with a self mocking smile admitting in my heart that it is just another product of the Chinese ripping off American innovations. Back then I was only using Renren and occasionally visiting Facebook to see my handful of foreign friends’ updates.

My blind admiration for Facebook and contradictorily judgmental view of Renren started to change after I got a chance to study in the US and used Facebook on a daily basis. Months later I found out I prefer Renren than Facebook.

To me, what Facebook can do Renren can do better, and Renren can also do what Facebook can not do.

Let’s first see what Facebook can do. Facebook is essentially about interaction with real people and has provided us with a lot of tools to make these interactions. We can use the “like” button on basically any kind of updates:

1

You can like friends’ photos of wild parties which may suggest what kind of person you are;you can like your ex’s changing relationship status from “single” to “in a relationship”, which can either indicate that you have let it go or you just don’t care so much. Different information can be communicated or miscommunicated by simply pressing this small button. The action which requires slightly more effort is “poking”.

2

Couples in a fight can use the exchange of pokes to break the ice without the fear of losing one’s self-respect by initiating the talk; guy can poke the girl he met at last night’s party to see whether she is interested or not. Compared with the “like” function, poking adds the element of direct action towards someone and also the involvement of someone else’s response. The final tool is writing on one’s wall.

3

It requires the effort of actually knowing the person and coming up with something to say to him. The message itself as well as the readers’ response creates a dynamic and sometime messy social interaction which involves wording, expectation, saying one thing and mean it or saying one thing but mean the other.

Now we have the three tools Facebook armed us with: like, poke and message. I ranked them by the amount of effort each requires. Like requires the least amount of effort while messages require the most. But of course the effect of an action is not necessarily consistent with the effort it requires. As we expected, Renren has these three functions too and more other functions. And Renren has developed the tools in a new level of complexity.

Let me introduce a few of Renren’s exclusive tools. They are: visit count, like, share, repost, poke, slap, kiss, pat, wink, shake hand, specific reply, message and whisper.

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Visit count: Using Facebook you don’t really know who’s visiting your page besides those people that leave you message constantly. Renren not only records who and how many have visited you and posts the visit information on your profile page. There is a section called “recent visits” on the right side of your profile which shows the profile photo of people who recently visited you. On the right side of your name there are parentheses in which reads visited by XXX people. Visiting some one’s page takes even less effort than poking him, and by peeing who visits you can tell who’s interested in you or stalking you or just addicted to checking random profiles. You may argue that this is a violation of privacy but I am grateful for this function. It helps a lot with girls! Having a girl visiting you often on Renren is far from enough to know her but it gives me the confidence to ask her out and a kind of familiarity which smoothed away the typical awkwardness of the first date. We visit some one’s page for various reasons: love, like, care, curiosity or we just clicked his name by mistake. These information can be understood or misunderstood by the visited. To avoid misunderstanding Renren users tend to visit less people and that can be judge as a taking away social network sites’ fun of knowing others or as a good way to save people’s time from random checking others’ profile.

6

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Like, share and repost: The like function is just like the one on Facebook: Click like the “button” on someone’s post and he will be notified that “Someone liked your post.” The share function is little bit different; you can share anyone’s album, note and video, but the owner will not be notified. Renren keeps a record of what you shared and this little library of your sharing can be seen as a showcase of your taste and interest. The repost is like the retweet function of twitter which allows you to “retweet” others’ status updates in your status. It also will not notify the owner of the reposted status. The main difference between this three is whether the owner of the content you have liked, shared or reposted knows or not. If you just like the content, hit share or repost; if you like the content and the owner, hit the like button.

9

Poke, slap, kiss, pat, wink, shake hand: The list can go on with a dozen more. Apparently poking is too simple for Chinese people. We need specific actions for specific attitudes. But in reality, making various option of actions is still not going to send the right gesture. Kissing someone on Renren does not means it is something one would do offline; shaking hands can be a gesture of initiating a friendship or as simple as of saying “I agree with you” and slapping can be interpreted as hated or the completely opposite attitude. Nonetheless it is much more fun than simply poking.

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Specific reply and whisper: In Facebook you will be notified whenever someone has posted something on a conversation you engaged in and that post may or may not be intended for you. It also means that your post to others will be seen to a larger audience. Facebook’s approach certainly better promotes new communication and helps expand networks but it neglects the fact that not everyone wants their message to be seen by others. Chinese are generally shy and hold their feelings to themselves, using the online platform to communicate with others is already a big step forward. Facebook is not only taking conversation online and encouraging more people to engage in it, that, to a Chinese, is too much. Renren had made its own adjustment. It allows you to reply a message to a specific person in a conversation and other person engaged in it will not be notified. If you don’t even want others to see your reply, you can hit the “whisper” button, which will make this reply exclusive between you two.

In another word Renren is much more complex in interacting with others. I am not saying Renren is better than Facebook but it does suits a Chinese user better. Technologically, Facebook is much better developed with its high revenue, large developing team and years of fighting with bugs. But social network sites are not just about technology, after all it is a product for humans and should therefore suit people’s emotions, habits and preferences. And these important human aspects are deeply rooted in different cultures. Facebook is created and developed by Americans and its functions also showed the Americanness of being simple and straightforward. When Facebook goes international the thing needs to be modified is not just language. Renren tailored its function to users who prefer indirectness and complexity. Although Facebook is banned in China, I dare to say Renren can still overthrow Facebook if it does not make adjustments to meet Chinese users’ need.

So all the features of Renren I mentioned above are not necessarily to be adopted by Facebook, but definitely should be by Facebook China (If there would be one). If there is really something Facebook as a whole should learn from Renren, it is that product should be adapted to meet different groups of people’s need.

Jack Liu is student at City University of Hong Kong and author of Wenkenan.com

91 Comments | Leave a comment | Comment feed

  1. senkay says:

    Allowing FB to have something as shallow as “view count” would turn it into Myspace in two seconds.

    Who actually cares about something as trivial as who looked at your profile page? This is not supposed to be a popularity contest. It’s for people to stay in touch with each other.

    FB’s absence of “kiss, fondle, shake hands, wag willy at” and so on is just proof that Facebook is taking itself a little more seriously and is targeting itself towards those who have moved beyond the age of 12, and that’s saying a lot considering at times FB’s users seem like the leftovers of Yahoo! Answers.

    That being said, I would expect nothing less than a myriad of confusing terms like “kiss, slap, shake hands” and so on when dealing with Chinese internet users, who already are so confounded when it comes to picking up women that “poke” with its astronomically broad interpretation is simply not sufficient.

    • Exok says:

      I agree….

      I used both on regular basis for different purpose. facebook is my social network, renren is ….well…a platform to keep updated on actual chinese stuff…

      on the part of the view count and visitor tracking. That’s the only thing that annoys me from using renren. I mean, c’mon, VIP users or users beyond level 15(yea….add this user level section into the article, please?) won’t be recorded when he/she is visiting other ppl’s profile.

      Nowadays, I see renren as a site that shares everything (that is not against the usual “chinese” policy….for they stil got river crabbed when someone is posting an issue that the government hate).,instead of a social networking site.

      Oh…add that lover space feature into the article please? the lover.renren.com ….I got invites from lots of ppl for their “popularity” request and I’m still….awed by how much of an attention whores that ppl created those stuff…

      The worst part of the site,imo, is that…there’s no privacy, not even a bit. you need REAL chinese name to get approved, seriously. you also need to have a *real* picture of you to get it through. It’s a good rule to some extend, for the sake of being REAL. But, C’mon…you even need to state which dorm u r living on the campus?

      That being said, there a lot of “fancy” perks on the site that does “kinda” appeal to the chinese youths, ie : the lover space thingy. But, for us, foreigners….I don’t know… it certainly doesn’t appeal to me. And I’m pretty sure that it won’t appeal to a larger audience than a middle/high school students.

      but,truth be told, the “reply to who” button is neat, but FB covered it with the subtle @ function.

      In conclusion…. FB appears, xiaonei cloned FB(early stage are identical,as I remember), FB booms with lots of perks, so does xiaonei that eventually merged into renren, FB took the more casual direction , renren took the “more perks,more profit” direction.

      FB :
      -cleaner interface
      -an actual networking site.
      -built for everyone
      -Blocked in china…. probably a conspiracy to let the local stuff grow.

      renren :
      -too many flashy ads, FB got them, but they stay minimalist and not distracting.
      -more post 90 gen audience
      -built for chinese
      -VIP user or lv 15 user > lower lv user
      -popularity contest

      • Jack Liu says:

        Thanks for pointing out features that I missed. I didn’t write about user level because it is actually pretty hard to reach that high level and I don’t want to pay renren any money. I didn’t write about lover space because I haven’t had a chance to use this function yet. You have summarize the two sites very well and this “renren direction” can be called “Chinese direction”.

    • Back in the day I’d always appreciate the simplicity of chat programs lik MSN Messenger, and was annoyed by QQ’s unlimited growth in features that I don’t really need, until Microsoft realized their stupidity and started to follow suit.

      The same thing will eventually happen to Facebook. They will keep adding more features and force users into adopting them. It’s just a matter of time.

    • Jack Liu says:

      I am not trying to persuade westerners to like renren. It is fine if you do not like renren’s features. But you cannot tell Chinese users’ preference right?

      • senkay says:

        I think that China needs to step up its game and stop advertising to the lowest common denominator.

        It certainly doesn’t want to follow the west’s examples of NASCAR, Monday Night Football and the cult of ignorance, so I don’t exactly understand why all Chinese media panders to that same strain.

  2. Eason says:

    Hasn’t this article been posted here three times?

  3. Brandon says:

    I like the ability to post home-made videos, and even record videos on the spot using Facebook. Renren won’t allow it.

    I like the ability to post links. It isn’t as easy to do on Renren.

    I like the ability to include “politically sensitive” words on my status. Renren won’t allow it.

    I don’t like the idiotic photos of celebrities, models, and otherwise ripped off photos that consume my news feed on Renren. Facebook has a policy of not allowing its users to post photos that aren’t theirs.

    Renren is like Facebook would be if Facebook were geared toward U.S. middle school students. But hey, that’s probably why Renren is so popular in China — it’s university students’ mindsets are more like U.S. middle school students.

    • Jack Liu says:

      video post: You can upload your videos to other website and post the link on renren.
      post links: You can just put the link in your status and post it and on your profile it will appears XX has shared a link: http://www.xxx.com
      sensitive stuff: It is China’s problem not renren’s
      fake photos: renren also requires real photos and renren stuff would actually check your profile photo before approve it.
      chinese mindset: we lived very different lives I agree american university students are generally more mature

  4. Kedafu says:

    Facebook 100%

    QQ 110% get it ?

    人人 is totally shanzhai!

    just like you Voice of China!

    http://www.tudou.com/playlist/p/a2298.html?iid=62850265

    is where you can watch social network…..

    my comments were river crab-ed

    五毛 forever

    and if you cant hear the Voice

    你不在China!

    • Tong Long says:

      Kedafu,

      You said Voice of China, 不在China, please tell me 他在那裡/which country?

      Thanks,

      Tong Long

      • Kedafu says:

        hahahhah I mean to say, something poetic and metaphoric, “if you cant hear the VOICE! you are not in China!

        speaking of…. I will put that on QQ and FB under the option, What’s on your mind?

        perhaps VOC is in China, dont care….

        is he worthy of a fleshsearch?

        五毛党

        • Tong Long says:

          Very witty Kedafu!

          Can people in China actually access this site?!! Talking about Facebook…

          • Kedafu says:

            no, people in China cannot access Facebook,

            before we could, but in 2009 I remember it was river crab-ed

            but like google, Facebook represents a threat to the great chinese people,

            because our glorious, yet sometimes stupid leaders cannot control 非死不可

            also more people will go to QQ and 人人

            comment 69!

            五毛党

        • Tong Long says:

          Well, he calls himself the VOC, and if he isn’t in China, it would be very hypocritical of him to use that name, no? Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised!

  5. Carl says:

    Ok, I say this probably just because I use Renren more, but despite the early cloned version, renren and facebook are definitely different and equal as opposed to renren being an inferior clone.

    Someone said something about privacy, I say, if you are trying to promote communication and networking, how does it help if you have no idea who the other person is. “Whatta Gee, Imma Gangsta and 400 others liked this post” I mean come on. Oh and by the way, facebook stopped allowing stupid names being registered and suspends accounts in some cases. url=http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=4348051274#!/group.php?gid=4348051274&v=info

    Two things I find specifically superior about renren: the sharing and the blog, which are competely downplayed in facebook. In renren, people would write blogs (much like the notes things in facebook) and sharing is much more facilitated in renren than in facebook.

    And ads, did someone said something about ads? I say facebook is worse in that respect. On renren yes, but you can scroll it away, and they are not literally everywhere. Not on facebook, ads there are designed to be everywhere, in your face and irritating. In comparison, ad don’t appear in renren anywhere except around the game applications.

    Speaking of applications, whereas renren streamlined most of what facebook would make you go through lengthy “would you allow” process. For example, every one of thoses quizzes your friends share to you is a separate application, every time you use it you spend those annoying couple of second selecting the same options. And if you refuse some of thoses the application won’t work.

    Again, I say all this probably just because i use renren more, maybe things i said had been fixed already, but all the nitty greety things that turned me off from facebook.

  6. nitro says:

    “To me, what Facebook can do Renren can do better, and Renren can also do what Facebook can not do.”

    After reading your explanations I still don’t get how this is supposed to be better. It’s basically different packaging of the same thing.

    I’d like to compare it to a washing machine. You have various brands, a bunch of models available and therefore a whole set of options you can choose from. Now if you take a user’s perspective you can study which kind of people prefers what sort of features and let’s say … depending of the gender of the user change the colors and the overall size of the devices.
    A pretty stupid example would be a small roundish pink device for girls and a brushed-metal finish for boys. That’s basically customization but the underlying product is the same. I personally view your feature listing the same way. There is absolutely nothing innovative in the features listed above: it’s just cosmetic changes.

    The thing which I don’t understand is why you say “more features” is necessarily better. If you look at the actual usage of a typical user (feature usage coverage) it’s usually pretty low as people tend to do only a few things with a device or service. Now if you give explicitly too much freedom to users there is no doubt they will get quickly confused and it will just reduce the overall satisfaction.

    “But social network sites are not just about technology, after all it is a product for humans and should therefore suit people’s emotions, habits and preferences.”

    Here comes my 10$ question: what makes China particularly different than the rest of the world in this matter?

    If you look at ANY Chinese website you’ll be astonished to see how the web pages are very badly designed (news portals, e-commerce, banking, …). I always found that horrible and I even studied how some of my Chinese friends were using these websites. My goal was to try to grasp why these Chinese companies decided that their websites would be much better on a 10-pages scrollbar with weird/inconsistent layouts instead of making it clear, readable … well … simple.

    The bad news is that I still have no answer on this day. All these friends were unable to understand most (or any) of the logic and even myself I had hard times to find the right navigation path to reach the targeted information. My feeling is that the people designing these websites don’t think about the user at all or not about the right kind of users.

    My current guess is that these companies have the impression it’s better to have a huge list of things to show to the user as explained by the little dialog below:

    – A: Wow!
    – B: That’s an impressive website: look at at!
    – A: So many things there.
    – B: Yeah! They have all the features of Amazon, E-bay, Facebook and Tweeter in one! You can even order a pizza!
    – A: Exactly. There is no way we can compete with that.

    It might be that they feel more confident that the website rocks because it looks it has a lot of content. Of it might be that Chinese user prefer when the information is buried over tons of dirt and actually like the artificial challenge of finding/understanding what they want. There might be quite a lot of explanations but I didn’t find any rational one.

    Anyway that’s not exactly how you roll out a new valuable service which differentiate itself from the competitors.

    Facebook is not for IT professionals which like to try all the buttons in weird locations and every combination of features just for the fun. Of simply type complex commands on a black and white screen 😉

    Facebook does one thing and does it well; same goes for Apple products and many successful companies. Of course they might have a broad selection of well-designed products to target different needs.

    Now the Chinese market requires a few modifications, this I agree. But I refuse to hear that what we see today from these knock-offs are the result of intense study of what the typical Chinese customer want. They just didn’t know how to differentiate themselves, they had less accurate algorithms (technology) and therefore chose to add quickly a bunch of small options which in my sense only complexify the user-experience without adding any tangible value.

    The funny thing is that these approaches are prone to failure in a free-market economy: it’s a process of natural selection. The only reason why the international competitors are not doing better is because there are quite unfair advantages given to Chinese players (or in reverse higher constraints for the competitors).

    • nitro says:

      Actually I’d like to extend a bit my last sentence to “other competitors” because it’s pretty hard too for local companies to enter in competition due in general to unfair barriers set by previous players (these would be regulated properly in a more balanced economic system).

    • Carl says:

      “It’s basically different packaging of the same thing.”

      so… is every website for that matter. You are going down a slippery slope there. What the hell is “it’s basically different packaging of the same thing” even suppose to mean? If renren and facebook are merely different packages, then so are facebook and amazon, both are websites, they are just packaged differently to sell you the same product – an Internet experience. And what would differenciate a dog from say.. bacteria, different packages of organic matter whose meaning of existance lies in reproduction.

      You get my point there?

      • Lay Low Moe says:

        Carl
        I think you just don’t understand that RenRen clearly copied the idea and structure of Facebook, they even the page colors too!!!
        This is exactly what typical Company from China does, buttering up on other people idea and claiming as innovative from them-self.

        • Carl says:

          Have you ever used a personal computer before? That’s redundant.. But guess what, you’re using a IBM copycat!

          • Lay Low Moe says:

            if you theory is correct
            i guess Apple and the Chinese government should of not shoot down Meizu for selling a phone that looks 80% like the iPhone and there is no such thing as intellectual property.

            • Carl says:

              it’s not a theory, it’s a point of view.

            • Carl says:

              Hahaha, what intellectual property right. That is.. I’m assuming you are currently reading this on the Internet.

              • Lay Low Moe says:

                wtf are you talking about?
                so you are saying RenRen wasn’t a clone from Facebook and it look nothing like Facebook?
                they designed all them-selves?

                • Carl says:

                  No.. I didn’t say it’s not a clone, I said there’s nothing wrong with using a good idea.

      • nitro says:

        I don’t get your point, so far it’s flat hills to me 😉

        What differentiate fundamentally Facebook from Amazon is that the first uses graph theory to leverage complex community relationship in a way to stimulate and reinforce the trusted interactions between the users, the second is well know to be one of the first to have put into practice the collaborative filtering (ie. “you want to buy this, users having bought this also buy that in general, so here his some product recommendation for you”) and sells and ships products to end-users.

        That’s two completely different services.

        Both of them have used a break-through to put themselves ahead of the competitors. They are clearly leaders in their respective fields because they have a strategy which make sense and they stick to it.

        Renren vs. Facebook is basically the same service but with a different layout, visuals and a few small “goodies” that set them apart.

        In return I agree with you that “an Internet Experience” means absolutely nothing concrete. It’s as fuzzy as saying “what you have here is an electronic device”: fine, but do you speak about a lamp, a mixer or a dvd-player? These devices have clearly not been made for the same purpose.

        Simplifying the websites as “some content that shows in browser” is a bit simplistic.

        I will never think about finding and buying books or a tv on facebook as I will never try to find friends on Amazon.

        • Carl says:

          You might want restate your point I guess, I’m responding according to my interpretation here but I clearly missed your point or something… but I’ll restate mine since it wasn’t well stated either.
          See… there you are drawing an arbitrary definition of what is ‘service’. You are saying Amazon and Facebook are not competitors, well duh, but that definition is an arbitrary one, in that the two are only different under the assumption that the ‘web experience’ can and are differentiated by the product they provide.
          “it’s basically different packaging of the same thing”
          I might as well change the categorization around a bit and now websites are separated by each separate specific emotional experience they provide. And suddenly Facebook total lack of blogging service made it separate from Renren. An essential service which to me and many others to have a fuller experience on a social networking site.
          That would end my response to this point you’ve made.

          • nitro says:

            I understand you like renren better than facebook. But my point was not to say which one I like better. My point was neither to establish a general categorization of websites.

            That’s fairly easy business wise to compare companies when you look at the structure behind: if you went to spend one day with each, you’ll see that facebook and amazon have strictly nothing in common when it comes to daily operations.
            I argue that despite facebook is based in America and renren in China, their daily operations are very similar. You can take another exemple like amazon and dengdeng, ebay and taobao, google and baidu or youtube and yukou. The list is long.
            That’s how I would define they are competitors. Not by the look’n feel of their product or a few side features but by how their business operates.

            You tend to limit your comprehension to the web front-end only. That’s only the tip of the iceberg. You should also consider the cogs which make everything fit together.

            I was more arguing that renren has mixed a bit of facebook, a bit of a blog system, some tweeter aspects and who knows what else. I was just saying that too many features kill the feature. And that’s not an isolated case among Chinese websites.

            Hence my question and my quest to find out acceptable answers.

            • Carl says:

              I still can’t fine a coherent central point being expressed here. What is it that you are trying to prove?

    • Jack Liu says:

      Pleas don’t let your frustration over poorly designed Chinese websites affect your views on other things. You agree social network site need to be modified for China but you think renrne’s modification as experimental and superficial. So in your opinion, what kind of modification is good?

      • xmq_jpm says:

        Please explain more why a social network site should need to be modified for China when the same social network site works in umpteen other places from Russia to Bolivia, Japan or Taiwan with only language translation? I am trying to understand just what makes Chinese people so unique that they can’t use the tools that the rest of the world uses.

        • Jack Liu says:

          maybe reading this article may help you understand?
          Just one example. We don’t like showing our interaction with others to the public. That’s why renren has secret message function that allow you to leave message on one’s wall which can only be seen by the people you write to. But on facebook, aren’t every bit of conversation openly shown on the wall?

          • AnneAlyne says:

            Hi from France,
            There are situations I want to send an information to a Facebooker in Private.
            It seems to be as like your ‘secret message’.
            For that I use ‘send a message’, on the left side of FB.
            In this situation only the owner of the FB account reads the message.
            In Fine, it’s as like your ‘secret message’, isn’t it?

          • Lance says:

            Come on man! Why are you posting on somebody wall if you don’t want other people read it? Message them, Moron!

  7. Lay Low Moe says:

    I love it how they copies the layout of Facebook, fix a few things on what people don’t like about Facebook and just name it not Facebook
    I wonder how creative their team is?

    • Jack Liu says:

      Renren did copied a lot and I am not proud of that. But they have also fixed quite a few things. I can’t say renren team is creative but it understand Chinese users better.

      • Jazzman says:

        The fact is that Facebook is blocked in China. Why do Taiwanese and HK people continue to enjoy facebook? Because it is not blocked. If facebook had not been blocked in China, than it could have adapted to the market as renren has. This entire argument over “Which is better” is moot, because the websites are competing in the Chinese way: no competition, just a shanzhai of the concept with a few changes that make it “better” to chinese users. Here’s a question: if facebook had not been blocked in China, what would their respective useer bases be right now?

        In your argument you underscore everything that is wrong and unfair about the chinese economy – and why China will never be a real leader on the global scale.

  8. Lay Low Moe says:

    Carl
    in the work world i could picture 2 type of person:

    Someone who don’t mind others to take credit from your work or idea
    or
    you are too stupid and only able to leech off idea from others

    from looking at RenRen, it really shows the world how smart mainland people is
    too bad their talent not located in innovation field

    • diaohua says:

      it doesnt show the world anything because mostly only chinese people use/know about ren ren.

    • Carl says:

      Now nice of you to generalize. Not only did you just now generalized a whole fifth of the world, you also generalized the entire working population of the world. I guess I just can’t argue with that.

      • Lay Low Moe says:

        i guess you just don’t know the level of effort between inventing an idea vs modified other people’s work
        i don’t know why you are giving so much credit to the plagarist
        this is not like Facebook vs Friendster vs Hi5 along with other
        they are not social network but Facebook invented great structure and layout…
        you don’t just add some orange juice into Pepsi and call it your own drink

        i have received recognition for great idea in my life
        and i like that feeling
        i could not want anyone to take that recognition away from me
        and i am betting on anyone including you would feel the same

        • Lay Low Moe says:

          typo
          instead of “they are not social network”
          should be “they are all socal network”

        • Carl says:

          I also don’t get how you are so comfortable generalizing everything. Anyways, maybe you should stop doing that. Just a thought.

          Did you think facebook was a completely novel idea? Well it isn’t, there were online social networks before facebook was created.

          Granted facebook took it to a new level with its structure et al, but Zuckerberg would never declare he created the concept of social networking online. Zuckerberg surfed the right wave when it came, built on existing technologies.

          Oh credit should be given for sure, but calling everyone else who comes after, taking up the idea – plagarist… please. I tried to make this point earlier, but clearly it’s too hidden for you: had the series of early innovative web technicians patented every single thing that was invented, believe me, there would be no Internet the way we have it today.

          Intellectual property clearly has its benefits, but it is overvalued for its contribution to technical and just about every other trade’s innovative capacity.

          You have a great idea, well good for you, but allow other people to build on it, improve it, and you can improve on those improved ideas after. Holding on to it like a in a way 5 years old girl holds on to a doll and the idea will get nowhere.

          ===

          The above was a discussion geared towards just the theoretical. Clearly renren had not given explicit credit to facebook by stating “this is a copycat”, but neither has it staked a claim to being the creator, nor has facebook done that for that matter. I don’t see a problem if facebook is not constantly complaining. The only people i see complaining are those IPR diehards. As a case study, StudiVZ was sued by facebook, but only because the owner of StudiVZ was filthy rich.

          I can certainly see renren made improvements aimed at a certain target audience, stated by the article, and those improvements made are reasons enough to be considered as a positive contribution to the whole online social networking industry.

          • lay low moe says:

            Carl
            i do realized there was bunch of other social network before Facebook
            like Friendster, Hi5, AsianAve, MySpace, LinkedIn along with other social network but Facebook was not a clone from others and their page layout doesn’t look like of any social network
            hmmm… i really wonder why RenRen had to make it look like Facebook
            Oh that’s right because Facebook is popular and RenRen uses their fame to market themself
            honestly change the page layout is that hard
            RenRen just choose not to do so in the beginning

            to me RenRen, Geely, Meizu along with other Chinese copycat companies just another shame that Mainland Chinese are so proud of

            i am sure there are people here that understand what i am trying to point out

  9. xian says:

    Meh, imitation is the quicket and easiest way to learn. It started out very similar to Facebook, but RR is pretty different now. Either way, social networking is a blight on society.

  10. Curren$y says:

    Renren and fb both sucks

  11. Ernesto Z. Gutierrez says:

    The main difference between the two systems is that in the States social networking (facebook, twitter, 4 square, etc) provide a way for users to gather information that will lead to some sort of action; “Starbucks at 42nd and 5th in NY giving away free coffee.” via mobile twitter. Jenny Jones is now single (via facebook).

    All these networks are just that, networks of information about individuals who use that information to do something. Our Chinese counters parts use it quite differently, not to say that it does not drive action but the majority of action is done through these networks rather than in real life. Why do you think so many people still have an online farm, or spend hours on CS, or WofWC. They use it as a substitute for actually going out. That’s the difference.

    Everything else about both facebook and renren is that about business model and how easy it is to start a blog direct from renren is just a difference in business model and how people use blogs. Most blogs in the states are geared to make some sort of money rather than just expressing feelings. BIg generalization but you all get the point.

    If any of you want to keep talking lets meet up somewhere and talk in person, how about that?

    • nitro says:

      I am not too sure about this online farming stuff. Who actually started it? It looks that it was on facebook since 2009:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farm_Town and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FarmVille

      What about the Chinese version that they play a lot here? When was it first released? Is the Chinese site a clone of the English one or is that the opposite?

      I actually saw a documentary once on the author of the English game. He was saying that basically it was an original idea. And it looks like the English one is more refined than the Chinese but I didn’t play any of them so it’s just the impression I had from the various screen captures. Also I found the graphical style is quite western in both cases and pretty much similar.

      Maybe someone could compare these two similar web-site games and do the same analysis. Maybe this time the English version was inspired by the Chinese one, maybe not.

      I like your insight about a cultural difference which would push Chinese to do more things online. I am not sure it can explain a lot of what we observe though because in Japan for instance they do much more things online than western people and yet they have their own dedicated services which you cannot find anywhere else in the world (innovation). They also use many popular international website without much customization except for the language translations.

  12. golf trolley says:

    En, I like your article. And I believe that this is one of the most important thing lies in China. Maybe Chinese is not good at creation, but innovation is her strengths. And I believe that this is also a good characteristics.
    As to the character you point out of Renren, QQ space is also good, don’t you think so?
    ps, 360 and QQ is still fighting fiercely.
    What a damn world, maybe I could say?

    • Jack Liu says:

      Chinese is not good at creative…That hurts.
      I do admit Chinese haven’t contribute to the creative world as much as other country. But I wouldn’t say it is because Chinese are not good at being creative. I think there are too much cultural, social and political constrains against our creativity.

      • john digmeme says:

        I think, this might be racist (don’t know/care), but I think Chinese people in general have high levels of artistic talent. But in terms of original ideas, there’s something missing. Like, Chinese replicas of classic paintings are sometimes better than the original!

        • oversizedmonster says:

          if you dont really know anything,why dont just shut up?
          chinese are not creative?You are not ,thats for sure.

  13. henry says:

    Facebook does not report who visits your page, not because they cannot do it or they haven’t thought about it. In fact, proposals for this feature have often been discussed. But it is not provided as a matter of principle. The act of visiting is considered private. Others don’t need to know what pages I am visiting.

    • lay low moe says:

      thats true
      this feature was on Friendster long before age of Facebook i believe, not sure about now
      i believe many users would like to stalk on their hot friend’s page anonymously

    • senkay says:

      It’s actually an app you can add to Facebook, for all the drama queens who require it.

      • henry says:

        No, there is no apps you can add to Facebook to keep track of who comes to your page. Such apps are not allowed by Facebook. It is a matter of principle, because that type of function is against privacy.

  14. henry says:

    By the way I am wondering about one thing. In discussions above, you said several times that what you mean by renren is better is that it fits chinese users better. But how do you know the chinese people in general prefers those renren features you describe above facebook features? Perhaps it is only your personal taste, and not the majority of the chinese? If that is the case, you cannot even say it is better for the chinese. It is only better for you.

    • Jack Liu says:

      I didn’t conduct any survey so it is OK to doubt my view. I hope the following can back my conclusion a little. First, I personally prefer Renren and I am a typical Chinese guy whose view isn’t too different than others’. Second I have talked to my friends about this issue and many of them have the same view. Third, according to my observation as a overseas Chinese student, my friends all have Facebook but they still use renren as the main social network site and use facebook to keep in touch with foreign friends.
      Does the above make sense to you?

      • lay low moe says:

        My feedback from few of my co-workers came from mainland China was
        All of them told me
        The people in China uses RenRen because they have no access to Facebook nor knowing the existence of Facebook
        Therefore it made some of Chinese from oversea uses RenRen because their buddies in China uses it
        Nothing of my co-workers pay attend on which meat market is better than the other
        Facebook Collaborate with Blackberry and iPhone so well that
        Which made people love it so much that
        They are willing to paid over $50USD per month for their mobile phone service just because of Facebook

      • henry says:

        Two comments about this.

        First, as someone already mentioned, since facebook is not availabe in China, people cannot really make a comparison.

        Second, I know that many of my friends, overseas Chinese students in the US, still heavily use renren even after they get to know facebook. However, by the time they came to the US, they already made a lot of connections in renren. Of course they cannot discard that. So of course they still use renren for their main social networking. But it could be only because they have already invested lots of efforts in renren before starting to use facebook. It still doesn’t show they think renren is better.

  15. nojap says:

    renren and 51 same, but renren own by japanese. red in logo for japan. red sex part. want chinese girls for AV model. use website to find young sex friends.

  16. Jay says:

    what Facebook can do Renren can do better, and Renren can also do what Facebook can not do

    i used facebook for 3 years and renren only for 3 months, i totally agree with you, renren is much better.

  17. henry says:

    It is perfectly fine if you just want to point out some nice features in renren as a comparison to facebook. But I think the problem is your title, which says “what Facebook can learn”. It gives the impression that you think renren is definitely better, and Facebook somehow didn’t think of or cannot implement those functions, so renren can “teach” Facebook a lesson.

    But it wouldn’t be hard to add all those features you mentioned. In fact, similar suggestions have been discussed in Facebook forums, but there were objections. Facebook chooses not to implement them.

    For example, extensions of “like” has been discussed in Facebook forums. But if you have so much to say, why don’t you just write it? If you start adding actions, how far do you want to go? Everybody can suggest even more types of actions. So perhaps we can just keep it simple, and if anybody wants to say something complicated, he can write it as a comment. I am not saying which approach is definitely better. But it seems to me it is just a matter of free choice. Not something that one has to learn from the other.

    • Jack Liu says:

      Sorry if left the wrong impression. Facebook needs to learn something from renren but that doesn’t mean renren is better. I am simply suggesting social network sites should make functional change to meet the need of different users.

  18. Ethan says:

    Very shallow comparison, and the most forgiving way to describe the conclusion – “In another word Renren is much more complex in interacting with others” – is to say that it has very little to do with the examples provided. I use/d both and am keen or not keen on various features, but I’m not under the impression that they mark sophistication or lack thereof.

    • Jack Liu says:

      The example I introduced provide more ways of communication, right?

      • Ethan says:

        In a word, no.

        1. Your visits to friends’ pages publicly displayed whether you like it or not: not a form of communication.
        2. Share/repost: difference between these and the ‘Link’ feature on Facebook is marginal. The ‘like’ feature is the same on both platforms but seems little used on RenRen.
        3. Whisper: a more convenient way to send an in-site message/mail. Specific reply: Also exists on Facebook.
        4. Proliferation of actions: Is it relevant whether I type “*hug*” or click a button to send you what 校内 calls a hug? A ” 😉 ” or a 校内 smiley? My methods of communication feel… very much the same as before I learned of this feature.

        On a more basic level, in my original comment I used the word “shallow” because tit just strikes me as silly that you take the above factors to be more important than, for example, common interest groups (“new” on RenRen), events, and fan pages in determining that one platform is “much more complex in interacting with others” than the other. Not to mention the other standards that you haven’t brought up – ease of use (Facebook wins; why do I end up with 8 windows open every time I go on RenRen?), privacy settings (RenRen wins on some points, Facebook on others), general technological effectiveness (Facebook; RenRen’s chat function is abysmal), or perhaps aesthetics. (Admittedly this MAY be put down to culture; perhaps Chinese people do enjoy the little crazy headshots and smileys that crop up everywhere.)

        And finally, as to your dismissal of the idea that RenRen is just ‘the Chinese facebook’… well… it really is. Whatever they do, it seems, RenRen just can’t escape the 山寨 feel – a revamp of the logo and color scheme would go a long way, but core functionality just screams ‘Facebook’.

  19. She says:

    Agree with Ethan that the comparison is superficial.

    However, I think that a social network tools should be simple to use. Sufficient is enough. Too much is too complicated. I like Facebook.

    • Jaxk liu says:

      I agree Facebook is for people like you who prefer simplicity and efficiency. But many Chinese don’t just use renren as a social tool. It is also a plaece to have fun. We cannot say which is better. We can say which is suitable to a particular grouop.

  20. Alex Miller says:

    Hi Jack,
    First, as a product manager who actually works at renren.com, I’d like to thank you for covering us fairly and providing interesting analysis. Second I’d like to verify that you don’t work at Renren, is that correct?

    Also, I’d like to say a word about how web designers create fun websites: they usually look at other successful websites and copy what they like, and change the rest. Thats what Wang Xing did in 2005 when he created Xiaonei. Since then Renren has evolved hundreds of new features. Sometimes we look to other SNSs for great product ideas, sometimes we come up with them ourselves – but whatever we do there is a strong debate about how to do it best and “such and such an SNS did it like this” never wins a debate here. Currently Renren has approximately 150 million users – they are who we build our products for and it is making their lives easier, more social, and more fun that motivates us. Thank you for noticing this.

    In addition we also have some great marketing products, products that I believe compare very favorably to facebook’s simple ads and pages – I’d love to show them to you if you are interested in doing another comparison. You can check out facebook brand pages and compare them to ours – take Nike for example – we really work hard to build great products for them to fully engage users as well.

    Send me an email or get in touch with me on renren (阿里克思), twitter (@fotoflo) or sina weibo (阿里克思), and lets talk. I think you have some great product vision and I’d like to hear how we can make Renren better 🙂

  21. Jeff says:

    Youtube-Youku, facebook-ren ren, qq-msn. Whatever the types of social networking there are in the world, there will be chinese version of it. And IMHO chinese tends to prefer using their product more is because : 1. peer pressure, most chinese doesnt even know what facebook is, so they use ren ren, so if most of your friend is using ren ren, would you sign up a facebook account? 2. cultural difference, look at chinese bar, who play dice when they’re in the club? or mix hard liquor with green tea? they just have their own way of doing things. 3. The law in intellectual copyrights in china and most developing country are simply too “weak”.

  22. A Chinese says:

    Localization is not just picking the English words and translating them into a local language. You can’t call a company localized while the site celebrates Veterans Day, hiring mostly American and only randomly, say, acclaim that Chinese market/language is important. This is especially true for social networking type companies. How many times you hear any foreign social network company having campus events or info sessions in a Chinese university? A lot efforts have to be done on the non-technical aspect, where Facebook has zero in China (let me know if I missed a fact). Don’t blame the Internet censorship – Google has a good reputation among Chinese new grads even many its services are currently blocked – people outside China think censorship is death penalty but that’s hardly true since most time the officials who are ruling censorship department are not the same as those in charge of commerce. Chinese Prime Minister even got censored himself, but that has nothing to do with his popularity among Chinese people.

    And I don’t understand why some folks here such as ‘lay low moe’ are so defensive. I guess for these China-bashers their daily job is to put every possible negative light on China, and when someone said others could learn a bit from China, they have a knee-jerk reaction. Seriously I’m very disgusted by such behavior – how does that inspire any meaningful discussion – and I think anyone who are genuinely interested in China affairs should feel the same.

    • Lay Low Moe says:

      you are moron
      inspiration does mean using others fame or work to profit for yourself
      there are reason’s why RenRen are being named Chinese Facebook
      China has been practicing your so call inspiration since the day I came into this world, for the world outside of China this is consider counterfeit
      Seriously what have China came up with? they have been inspiring LV, Rolex, Nike, even cars for years now
      i guess that’s why China are so good at manufacturing

  23. A Chinese says:

    The biggest technical challenge for social network companies is to efficiently scale the web applications to serve hundreds of millions of users. That’s not as simple as putting more web servers online or running more data centers. The platform has to be designed to drag pieces of data from different places, to cache them in a large amount of memory such as memcache and to return the generated pages to users in a speed of millions of hits per seconds. There are existing half-baked open source software solutions out there that one can use, and Facebook uses them extensively (search ‘Facebook Open Source’). However, a web app as large as Facebook and Renren usually hack these available software extensively to serve its own purpose. These hacks and optimizations are the true part of novelty (and secret) and every company has a different way to accomplish it. Facebook has it. I’m sure Renren has it too. In one sentence, the real innovation is not the web design on the surface but the mechanism to drive it in a large scale.

    I’m not going to argue with you on Chinese companies/institutions’ capabilities to innovate. There are plenty of them if you care to search a while online instead of spreading your nonsense and calling others moron without reflecting on yourself.

    • A Chinese says:

      This post is an answer to ‘Lay Low Moe’ above.

    • Lay Low Moe says:

      are you blind?
      i am not an IT expert and is many people here
      but visually, why does RenRen look almost the same as Facebook?
      i just had problem with the way they presents their product
      as i said already there are reasons why RenRen is call Chinese Facebook

    • Lay Low Moe says:

      hmmm i actually searched “Chinese Facebook” on Bing and Google
      guess what which social network is on the 1st page of the result???
      sad but true the winner is RenRen!!!

  24. Lay Low Moe says:

    Since RenRen is run by Japanese now
    all y’all China pride fuck would probably stop using it
    and start making a RenRen clone

    • Renren is not run by Japanese. Get your facts straight. Renren is run by a Sea Turtle named 陈一舟 Joe Chen. The Japanese company Softbank bought 35% of Oak Pacific Interactive, which owns renren.

      • lay low moe says:

        So Japanese is the major shareholder
        it is just they don’t do day to day operation
        but they do have control and saying right for the company
        SAME SHIT

  25. Visit count is so old school. hi5 has for years now, actually I like the fact there’s not visits count on Facebook, why people should know I passed by their home even when I didn’t want to get noticed?

  26. mrnightcat says:

    From the looks of it and making comparisons, RenRen looks closer to a clone of Japan’s Mixi social network rather than Facebook – by layout, features, etc.

  27. Jeremy says:

    I can’t disagree more with what you stated. Letting a user know when and how often I visit their profile will discourage me from visiting their profile. Not only do I want to visit other profiles anonymously but more so I don’t want others discouraged from visiting my profile and learning more about me and my endeavors.

    Your assumption at that end that Facebook would make a unique version for each country is impossible. My Chinese friends who get on facebook do it because they want to connect with me and other foreigners. In order to create a facebook with a different interface than what is used by others would mean making a essentially different facebook just for Chinese under the facebook name. This new interface would not be able to connect with the facebook used by most other countries and defeat the reason Chinese get on facebook. Renrenwang and other chinese social networks like QQ and others will never gain traction outside China because they don’t how to compete. Ultimately they are only successful inside China because Facebook is blocked inside the mainland. I personally believe it is only blocked because corruption that is trying to reduce the saturation it has inside China. No offence to China but because of the corruption in business in China the competition for most areas is very weak. In side China it is not “the survival of the fittest” “it is the survival of the best connected to government officials”. Business succeed and fail not because they create the best product but because they have the tightest government contacts. This only weakens the quality of actual products and services thus weakening the actual competition. Until this type of corruption ends in China, few true multinationals will come out of China. Lenovo and Hai’er are some of few exceptions. It is only by true unfettered competition that will create true innovation in China. I will be very happy when if ever that happens and the Chinese people will benefit the most from a truly free market.

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