China and the US are in a relationship and let’s just say, it’s complicated. I’m not an economist by any stretch of the imagination but I know a thing or two about changes in technology and human behavior and what that means to business models. It’s kind of what I do.
Six months ago, to the day, as part of my annual Top 10 Predictions, I predicted that, in 2011: “We see a social network that started in one of the BRIC countries take hold in the US & EU. Everyone calls it a Twitter killer.’
While I called out BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) I really meant China. We had already seen Chatroulette out of Russia, gain a lot of attention in the western world but it was pretty obvious it wasn’t going to catch hold. Brazil and India are both very capable and socially active but they still seem to be reliant on US based systems. China on the other hand has millions of power users and does it in their own way. Yes there are plenty of fast follow Twitter and Facebook clones but to dismiss them as clones would be a serious mistake.
Not Just A Clone War
This morning I woke up with an email in my inbox from @nathanmisner. Nathan was the nut that hired me here at @WEStudioD. After working for him for a year he left to go run our digital team in APAC. The email he sent me was originated by one of our APAC digital rock stars @juanmarketing (yes I just called him a rock star, so what). The article in question was one many of you may have seen from The Next Web: Sina Weibo preparing English site, to go head on against Twitter.
Then I also read a very well written argument as to why the US has had it’s reign at the top and our own bloated decadence will lead to our inevitable toppling. As a proud American it’s hard to think that we won’t always be the top dog. But to deny this would be to deny all of history. No one stays on top forever. No company ever remains number 1 forever and neither does any country.
I don’t think our fall is inevitable and I think that if any country ever could break the well set pattern of history it is the US. I also think that we have a long way to go before that day comes and I know we won’t go down without a fight. But should we remain the reigning empire?
The first shots of the new revolution will be fought in 140 characters.
The coming battle between Sina Weibo and Twitter is crucial to watch. Very few US social networks have found even a small foothold in China. There are two big reasons for this:
- Culturally China (and the rest of Asia) engages with social networks in a decidedly different way that the western world. As one example, forum’s and bulletin boards are still huge in China. Much bigger than they ever were in the US.
- The Chinese government impedes the growth of US companies and aides the growth of foreign (esp US) companies. Now this may sound unfair to us, and from a capitalist perspective, it is. But from an imperialist/pseudo-communist perspective it makes perfectly, logical sense.
But if a Chinese social network is able to make it in the US then that means that we are more easily able to adapt to a Chinese approach than they are to a US approach and it means that the government backed, pseudo-communist business model provides a strategic advantage against capitalist companies. Are either of these definitive? Not at all, but they would be significant indicators. Really significant.
While it may seem silly to fret so over something as trivial as microblogging but many influential people – like every major Silicon Valley VC – will be watching this with great, great interest.
Even if Sina Weibo is successful, one social network does not an empire make. But China has a billion potential entrepreneurs watching. Their culture doesn’t encourage entrepreneurialism the way ours does, but with those numbers, it may not have to. And when the other BRIC countries see China being successful, we won’t just see Chinese competitors, we’ll see every major emerging market attacking the US market.
And I hope they do. I want a global economy. I want Facebook and Twitter to fight global competitors. I want the kind of disruption, creativity and innovation that brings. And honestly I want the US to be the last nation empire. I want the people to be the next empire not any nation or government. But I’m a bit of an idealist.