Are our largest search and social networks dominating the world?

We may think that our search and social networks are dominating across the entire world, especially with their huge database of users:

Monthly unique Google searchers: 1.17billion

Monthly active Facebook users: 1.23billion

Monthly active Twitter users: 241million

These search and social platforms aim to connect people across the world, but they still lack presence in certain countries. For example, North Korea, Iran and Cuba have blocked most social media sites including Facebook. However, there is a huge market still untapped, pulled out from or avoided by these search and social giants. That is China.

China has a population of 1.351 billion people, and 618 million internet users at the end of 2013. With its huge number of internet users, it serves as a huge potential market for Google and the likes. Unfortunately, Google has once tried to serve the Chinese population but pulled out of China in 2013 to avoid censorship issues. The competition within China is extremely strong too, as China’s native search and social services such as Weibo and Baidu have already amassed massive user bases.

LinkedIn

While it seems like the China market is out of reach to most non-Chinese search and social giants, LinkedIn has penetrated the market and quietly accumulated 4 million users in the country (Read more). This is an interesting move by LinkedIn that may attract the search and social giants’ attention, as it fills up the gap in professional social networking within China. Will LinkedIn go for a more domestic strategy to focus on localization within China specifically? Will it face similar censorship issues? Or will one of China’s native social giant step in to compete in professional publishing platforms too?

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2 thoughts on “Are our largest search and social networks dominating the world?

    • Hi Prof. Adrian,

      I believe that the global search and social giants stand a chance in entering the “impregnable fortresses” as they tailor their products and services more to the local market, as what LinkedIn is achieving to do. LinkedIn has aimed to fit into the gaps of the search and social landscape of China while familiarizing itself with the Chinese regulations, laws and licensing issues. Although the nature of LinkedIn is less susceptible to China’s censorship issues (as mentioned in the article on Quartz, “LinkedIn’s users don’t typically debate politics or organize protests, activities that censors target”), other search and social giants may “decentralize” certain parts of their operations to tailor to the China market. E.g. Google may enter with purely e-commerce search to build up its dominance first while avoiding sensitive segments, before expanding to more types of searches.

      With Google having moved out of mainland China to set up a HQ in Hong Kong, it is still expanding its Chinese community, from a city with less censorship restrictions and regulations. Google is probably collecting more information about the Chinese without its self-censorship on searches. With greater customer intelligence, Google will be able to provide more relevant information to its Chinese users and build up its local presence.

      These search and social giants may one day acquire or form strategic alliances with the Chinese native tech companies to enter China market. But for now, Baidu, Sina, Alibaba and others are too strong to be acquired and they do not need global giants’ help to further establish themselves in China. Another possibility that we cannot overlook is that the tech giants within China may even expand globally to overtake our existing search and social giants.

      Above all these mentioned, the political and legal landscapes within China play a huge role in shaping the industry. Changes in political leadership or censorship laws and regulations may provide the opportunity for global giants to make their way into the China market. Regardless, the huge Chinese internet community is still out there for the firms to fight for, and whether they continue to support their native services which have been dominating for years will depend on how well the global giants perform in China.

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