China’s Facebook: RenRen.com?

Often dubbed China’s Facebook, RenRen.com is vying for social networking supremacy in the crowded Chinese marketplace.

With Facebook shut out of China for now, a number of Chinese companies are vying for social networking supremacy in a crowded marketplace, and the crown seems to belong at the moment to RenRen.com. Founded late in 2005, RenRen.com started as XiaoNei.com – a near carbon-copy of Facebook. The site so closely resembled Facebook that it even labeled itself a “A Mark Zuckerberg Production” at the bottom of its pages, according to TechRice.com.

As XiaoNei blossomed across college campuses throughout China, it proved that the Facebook model can work just about anywhere it’s planted. Soon, it spread to high schools and middle schools, and its now in tens of thousands of Chinese cities, towns and villages.

[Related: Five reasons to invest in the RenRen.com IPO]

In 2006, the Chinese holding company Oak Pacific Interactive took note, buying XiaoNei and soonafter changing the site’s name to RenRen.com. Three years later, RenRen is a true social force in the country with 160 million registered users (per Techrice) – all of whom use their real names on the site. That factor helps separate the site from rival Tencent Holding’s Qzone, which claims more registered users (although many Qzone users signed up with usernames rather than their actual names).

“Between October 2009 and October 2010 RenRen’s user base increased by 60 million, with a total of 160 million registered users out of a total 420 million internet users in China,” Techrice reports.

That’s helped RenRen.com become the 17th most visited site in China. Still, RenRen hasn’t yet distinguished itself as a truly innovative website. It’s innovations come from slight modifications of the enhancements that Facebook has already made in the U.S.

Late last year, for instance, the company announced the launch of RenRen Like, RenRen Places and RenRen Public Pages. Ring a bell?

There are at least two enhancements that might be foreign to Facebook users, though: Renren Aiting, which allows users to listen to music and share radio stations with other RenRen users and a Groupon-style couponing system for local advertisers in China.

Slowly, it appears the company’s experimenting with its own ideas, and, if they’re successful I suspect Facebook will return the favor and start borrowing some ideas from RenRen.com.

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