You would think that the Chinese would be grabbing hold of Facebook and Twitter as fast as they have with our sports, clubbing, and other Western-style decadent cultural influences. They love American-everything. Yet Facebook and especially Twitter are but Pinto cars to China's fast growing Social Networking giants, RenRen and Qzone. Kaixin001 and 51.com round out the four social networking giants in China.
I've spent much of the Christmas holiday chatting with friends from all over the world on dozens of social networks. Nearly every week I find another social network, never mind the games found on those networks. Sure, you could use a select few to connect to virtually everyone around the globe, but just about each country has their own networks that often cater in special ways (language being the primary) that simply aren't offered on others.
RenRen in China is particularly an interesting case. Originally called 'Xiaonei', it's almost a virtual copy of Facebook. That's not really surprising in itself, considering that China copies quite a bit of Western technologies and ideas. They split off from the core technology and get rather unique in how they market the product, considering it a way to restore long-lost friendships and discover the true inner core of one's person through connecting with strangers in nearby cities.
Kaixin001 has been marketed more toward white-collar works and social games than RenRen's friend factor. For the past few years, Qzone has connected closely with QQ, China's primary instant messaging service, and has become a major social network for young teens and particularly rural users that may have spotty internet connections (which isn't a surprising element in even China's urban centers). 51.com used to be more popular than all the others, but has since begun a rapid decline back in 2008.
If you want to hook up with someone from China, Qzone is the way to go, for now. It has the largest social network by far and a great way to hook up with those already using the QQ instant messaging service. However, don't expect it to be an all-in-one service like Facebook that provides a lot of interesting games on the side. It is also weak on more in-depth search capabilities for university students looking to share information. Go to RenRen for that.
Much like Facebook is fast becoming an all-in-one giant in the West, RenRen is increasingly becoming popular for a wider range of users in China and nibbling at Qzone's market share. It may not be long before RenRen encroaches on Facebook's territory and an interesting international social networking war begins. The irony is that Facebook started as a university networking tool, while RenRen is becoming one in the end.