If you’ve ever visited the Vancouver Night Market in Richmond, then you’ll be familiar with its maze of stalls selling various “just like the real!” items for much cheaper prices. China has become infamous internationally for its penchant for copying just about anything in order to make a fast buck. One such copy was of one of the biggest names on the Internet, but unlike those fake purses and wallets, this knockoff has grown to rival the original and to even outperform it within its homeland.
Social network Xiaonei was originally a plagiarism of Facebook when it first began a few years ago right down to the color scheme and logo; however it has quickly taken over the Chinese social networking landscape under its new name, RenRen (“everybody”). The premise is exactly the same as Facebook – you have your profile, friends list, and newsfeeds, photos and there are even games! In fact, the super popular Facebook game Farmville actually originated in China! Not to be outdone, several other social networks popped up, each with their own niches targeting millions of users.
If you thought social networking in Canada was ubiquitous, in China it is 10 times worse (or better). A 2008 survey by MTV Music Matters found that China was unique in the world for its young people having more online friends than offline – and many by sites that started as basically knockoffs of their Western originals.
So just why are the Chinese so open to spilling their lives out online? For many, their online persona is an escape from their physical lives and is a place where they may express themselves freely. Via these social networks, isolated, or alternative groups such as the Chinese homosexual community, reach out to connect, and families with relatives working in distant cities can stay in touch.
As well, social gaming is highly popular, with some young users even instructing their parents to “tend to their farm” while they are at school, or in the office.
While RenRen and others like it currently remain centered in China, it doesn’t seem unlikely that they could soon spread out as China’s position in the world rises. Who knows, maybe you should be ahead of the curve and join now!