Tencent recently announced an international social network, with a beta version coming in early 2011. This follows the launch of QQi, the international version of the QQ instant messenger. So is Tencent going international?
Not really. As with QQi, the focus of the new social network is to connect Chinese and foreign friends, with a focus on expats. It’s more “China-plus” than it is international. So please no articles on “Tencent to Compete Internationally with Facebook.”
But nor is international a top priority for Tencent. The release of QQi, a multi-language version of an instant messenger with some added 3rd party services, took nearly 2 years (one year light experimentation, one year international beta). The QQ International team, headquartered in Shanghai, is staffed with only “10 to 30″ employees out of tens of thousands of total employees at Tencent.
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Yet a social network to connect China and the world does address a niche need. Facebook is blocked and China’s largest networks, RenRen and QZone, lack English-language versions.
Just be warned, your connection is on the Chinese government’s terms. Content on QQi and the new social network will be censored as it is on all Chinese social networks.
The Intended Killer Feature: Groups
Tencent already has a strong QQ Groups product and intends to leverage some of these functionalities in its new international social network.
For example, a Chinese school could set up its own site, connect foreigners to tutors, ask and answer questions, and upload large files at fast speeds. “Every group page will be able to store any kinds of files online,” says Marc Violo, a Product Manager at QQ International.
We could have chosen to provide a simple translation of QZone or QQ Groups, but we’re dealing with a completely new audience. So we started something from scratch. The focus is groups rather than individuals.
Of course, users will still have a personal page, but we’re pushing users to represent themselves in all the groups that they belong to in real life.
Hopefully Tencent will find the right format to build groups into this social network, as it’s been a struggle for others including Facebook.
A More Mature Image
Pengyou, Tencent’s real-name social network, seems to be a more mature version of QZone, Tencent’s nickname-based social network.
Slow, Steady Progress Towards Internationalization
QQi has traction addressing this niche. It claims over 2 million registered accounts, with an average of 170,000 daily active users. About 60% of users are inside China and 40% outside. And about 45% of users are Chinese, who want to communicate with foreign friends or simply prefer the international version.
A user’s QQ (or QQi) account will of course be able to synchronize with the new international social network. And users will eventually be able to view the QQ chats they’ve had with friends on the network.
Silos within Tencent
The social network space also reveals silos within Tencent. There are several different teams working on social networks, largely independently: this is Tencent’s third social network property after Qzone (nickname SNS) and Pengyou (real-name SNS). Earlier failed social networks by Tencent include QQ Campus and Xiaoyou.
All of these networks connect to QQ, Tencent’s flagship product, but it’s unclear if they will otherwise connect to each other. I’d always envisioned Tencent as a top-down, tightly-integrated firm, but in the case of social networks, they’re operating multiple parallel products. Marc Violo notes, “We’re quite separate, we’re like mini-corporations within one corporation.”
The new social network’s name is not yet public, so for now we can only speculate: Qsocial or Qbook?
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