Facebook vs. Xiaonei + a lot of questions

Nicholas Guan did an interisting test on the popularity of Facebook compared to other market leading SNS in Asia. He based the popularity on the amount of times the SNS were searched for in Google. As Nicholas mentions this could possibly result in a less representative outcome since not Google but Baidu is market leader in China.

There are several spikes in the graph of Facebook users in China. Especially at the end of May there seems to be a sudden interest in Facebook. Also at the end of June of this year it seemed that Facebook was catching up fast during that time. It would be interesting to do a more thorough research on this while taking the popularity of the search engines in a country into account.

Furthermore according to the graph Xiaonei is becoming less popular. So according to this graph it would mean that Chinese netizens are losing interest in both SNS Facebook and Xiaonei! Is there another Chinese SNS that is growing in popularity (51.com, QZone?) or is Social Networking in general becoming oldfashioned in China?

I wonder how much these numbers are influenced by the differences in Baidu and Google users. Are Chinese netizens that use Google instead of Baidu different than their Baidu counterparts? A hypothesis could be that  Chinese Google users are more experienced compared to Baidu users, Chinese Googlers use their Internet more for information rather than entertainment? Anyhow, you can find the full Asia SN popularity test here.

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2 Responses to “Facebook vs. Xiaonei + a lot of questions”

  1. oj Says:

    Hello Piet,

    As a fellow researcher (at least for the time being), I just have to comment on the operationalization of the study you mentioned…

    In my opinion, the biggest problem is not the difference in Baidu’s and Google’s popularity. The biggest possible bias is due to the fact that the amount of searches does is not necessarily an adequate proxy for measuring true popularity of the sites.

    In simple terms: If I already know and use a site, I don’t have to search for it in Google; Thus, I wouldn’t search for “Facebook” on Google. However, before your blog post I’d never heard of Xiaonei before, and for that site I might very well do a Google search.

    My point is that the studied phenomenon (site popularity) might actually even be inversely proportional to the measured variable (amount of searches).

  2. Pieter-Paul Walraven Says:

    Interesting point!

    I think what we have to understand in order to be able to interpretate his ‘findings’, is what it means if people search for a SN and don’t go there directly. There are probably too many different reasons for people to search for a SNS.

    I guess the assumption that Nicholas has made is that a search is a predecessor of an actual visit of the SNS, maybe a sign up and ultimately even a predecessor of a future concurrent user. This would make search indirectly but positively related to growth in popularity (so not popularity itself but growth).

    I don’t know the answer on the question what exactly growth in the amount of searches means, but have some ‘researcher’ thoughts on it:

    – Does growth in searches mean that people have heard about the SN from friends or read about it somewhere and as a result want to check it out?

    – Maybe some people use their Google/Baidu startpage or search bar as their browser, which is actually more common than you would expect since almost all netizens in China access the web from an Internet cafe which makes bookmarking impossible. If this is the case this would make Nicholas’ conclusions correct, but based on the wrong interpretation.

    There are just too many things that can influence the results of such a study, this does not make it less interesting to think and talk about operationalization and interpretation though!

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