PengYou.com is the newest entry in Tencent’s long line of SNS evolutions. Yet it has a number of qualities that are not common among Tencent’s other services and I strongly believe PengYou will be the competition for other established social networks in China (including RenRen and Kaixin001).
What is PengYou?
PengYou means friend (朋友) in Chinese. Earlier on Tencent had attempted an update of QZone, leaving the previous generation of designs behind and revamping towards the “Facebook look.” Then in early 2009 Tencent took the big step in launching XiaoYou (校友), a school based SNS site following the success of RenRen. But the site was never a hit and a year later it was scrapped and became PengYou.
- July 2010: Tencent redirected xiaoyou.qq.com to pengyou.qq.com, and begun internal beta testing of PengYou (XiaoYou ceased to exist)
- September 2010: Tencent launched the first wave of public beta testing of PengYou. 2500 employees of publicly-listed Chinese companies, including some of the Fortune 500 companies, were invited
- December 2010: PengYou open to the public and Tencent also launched its Open API: opensns.qq.com
- Currently still in internal testing is a social tool for office workers: office.pengyou.com
Tencent was intended for the elite users right from the beginning–beta invites were sent to testers from top companies. This is actually a different demographic than the students most mass-market social networks first target (including Facebook and RenRen). Kaixin001 has had some success by first targeting white-collars and employee networks.
PengYou’s Competitive Strength
PengYou is a sign of Tencent’s new development strategy, its kryptonite against competitors like RenRen, Kaixin001, and 51.com.
1) Real personal information: Tencent’s QZone was always regarded as an amateur player in SNS because of its nickname-based user profiles. It wasn’t serious enough for most users to truly build strong social networks with. With PengYou all that has changed: real name, education and work backgrounds are required when opening account.
The truthfulness is enforced, not a choice. I was surprised to see my Spiderman profile picture deleted and the site asked me to upload a real photo of me, until which my profile picture remained as a giant question mark.
2) QQ Connections: There are an estimated of over 620 million QQ IM users in China. PengYou still offers users the choice (though not a requirement) of using their QQ accounts as login (like Facebook Connect). The user can then automatically add all QQ contacts in PengYou as friends, but the catch is that the first time a user logs in, he is required to update his profile with real personal information.
3) QQ Sync: One of the most interesting functions for me is how the synchronization works between PengYou and Tencent’s other services. In the status update, users can choose to sync with QZone, QQ IM, and Tencent Microblog (t.qq.com). Statuses can share up to 200 characters and the user can also be select which social circles will receive the update. For example, a user could send an update to only others in her company (which means that it has some of the functionality of Yammer too).
4) Facebook Connection: When a user indicates a university outside of China, a Facebook login pops up and users are required to login to their Facebook account for verification. It doesn’t seem to work yet, but it’s an interesting development.
5) Independent URL: for once Tencent is not rolling everything into qq.com, which creates speculation that Tencent is serious about building up PengYou as a strong, independent service.
6) Healthy 3rd Party Ecosystem: In PengYou’s apps page, the developer’s company is also named, showing that Tencent is becoming more open-minded. It remains to been whether Tencent will be able to win the trust of developers for its Open API. RenRen, China’s current leader in real name social networks, has an open API but also develops its own apps in-house, which is disconcerting for 3rd party developers.
7) Simplicity: Personally I believe the strongest point of all is how simple PengYou is so far for its users. The site’s services can be easily accessed without seeing numerous ads.
In 2010, we saw countless ad campaigns on networks such as RenRen and 51.com. The companies behind these social networks are turning these social media platforms into MEDIA channels, often neglecting the social aspects of development.
By design, PengYou looks impressive to me. It’s developing in the right direction, especially when compared to the 2011 development strategies of other social networks, which focus mostly on selling ads.
If PengYou doesn’t play out as well as I am anticipating, then Tencent can always take another shot. The company’s image suffered during its fight with 360 anti-virus, but Tencent is still strong and determined to dominate any internet sector it enters.
In addition to local SNS providers, Facebook should watch out if it ever gains re-entry to China. Tencent’s PengYou will be there as a real competitor.
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