20 December 2010 — Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has built his company to over 500 million users without the Chinese market that’s been blocked by the government censors’ Great Firewall since 2008. Changes may be in the planning stages as Zuckerberg is seen with Robin Li, head of China’s largest search engine Baidu.
It seems both these Internet giants are holding private talks at Baidu’s Beijing headquarters where Kaiser Kuo, Baidu’s director of international communications, is not privy to the details. “As far as I know, this was two nerds comparing notes,” he said.
A blurred photo taken by a Baidu employer of Zuckerberg and Li spread across Chinese social networking sites and the English side of things. Speculation is that the two Internet power-players are planning to cross the great divide.
Zuckerberg has been clear about his desire to expand in China. Why? China has a bigger Internet population than any country on earth. Expansion into China could add a nice chunk of users to the existing 500 million on Facebook.
In a recent speech at Stanford University, Zuckerberg mentioned the company’s interests in China by first cracking Japan, South Korea and Russia. “How can you connect the whole world if you leave out a billion people?” asked Zuckerberg.
Li has big plans for Baidu. In an interview with the Guardian, Li said Baidu would one day become an international rival to Microsoft and Google.
Zuckerberg and Li met in Palo Alto in 2009. Today is the third time they meet and they’re obviously comparing notes but to what end? The potential of these two Internet leaders forming some sort of partnership is simply huge.
There are Facebook-like social network sites in China: Kaixin (with 80 million users) and Renren (with 150 million). The companies lack the reach and clout of Facebook but they have the protection of the Great Firewall and the cultural awareness.
If Facebook wants to take on China, it must accept more censorship and obey Chinese regulations, outside of understanding Chinese culture. A good start would be a powerful ally. Robin Li fits the bill perfectly. Let’s see what comes out of this hush-hush meeting.