ADOTAS – “How can you connect the whole world if you leave out 1.6 billion people?” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asked during a talk at Stanford University last year.
Of course he was referencing mainland China, where Facebook’s presence was turned off almost as soon as a Chinese language version appeared. However, Zuck has been elbowing his way back in through a “social goodwill tour” and a rumored jointly-owned social network with China search king Baidu.
As initially reported, this new social network would be a completely separate entity from the global Facebook network, but now Liz Gannes at All Things D reports that it will be connected to Facebook’s global graph. “When Facebook users outside China connect with users inside China, sources said they will need to click through a warning that any material visible to Chinese users may also be visible to the Chinese government,” she writes.
Facebook partnering with Baidu seems to be more a matter of expediency — the social network wants in ASAP. Other potential partners including Tencent and Alibaba advised Facebook to take baby steps and start with a mainland-only social network. But you know Zuck — he wants everybody to connect with everybody, and was adamant that the mainland Chinese need Facebook.
Similar to a certain American search giant that has had little success in its social endeavors, Baidu needs the Facebook partnership as rival Tencent and its QQ IM service and Qzone social network are growing in prominence.
Gannes’ excellent report goes into the technological, political and business hurdles awaiting Facebook’s return to the mainland, but it sounds like Baidu will be stuck with most of the grunt work — censoring political speech, pornography and other stuff the Chinese government disapproves of. As for blocking content, Facebook argues that it does the same in Pakistan, Italy and Germany — just not to the extent the Chinese government will demand.
The mainland China market is just too large for Facebook to ignore/resist, but the company’s insistence on connecting its Chinese offering with the global social graph on launch sounds pigheaded — it wouldn’t be surprising if that’s the reason the effort fails.