Business social network LinkedIn has trumped Facebook and Twitter by launching a localised site for China, although the US firm admitted it would be subject to government censorship requirements.
The English language version has been used by professionals in China for over a decade and has over four million users, but the firm needed a Simplified Chinese site in order to tap the 140 million professionals living in the Middle Kingdom, according to LinkedIn China president, Derek Shen.
If it’s successful in this, the firm could boost its global user base by more than 50 per cent from the 277 million members it currently has in over 200 countries.
The new localised site, launched in beta today, will feature integration with Sina and Tencent so that users can import their contacts from the country’s two most popular weibo services, said Shen.
However, as an early version, some features are apparently not yet available – “Groups” being the most notable.
Although the content normally pinged around LinkedIn is unlikely to arouse the ire of China’s censors, the firm has had to be clear upfront that, like any web provider operating in the PRC, it will have to follow strict local laws.
CEO Jeff Weiner explained the following in a blog post announcing the launch:
As a condition for operating in the country, the government of China imposes censorship requirements on internet platforms. LinkedIn strongly supports freedom of expression and fundamentally disagrees with government censorship. At the same time, we also believe that LinkedIn’s absence in China would deny Chinese professionals a means to connect with others on our global platform, thereby limiting the ability of individual Chinese citizens to pursue and realise the economic opportunities, dreams and rights most important to them.
In a nutshell, Weiner and co. decided a censored LinkedIn would still be more beneficial for China’s business professional than no LinkedIn at all.
Or rather, that the prospect of 100m+ extra users was too good an opportunity to turn down because of trifling matter like freedom of expression online.
There are no further details given about exactly how the firm intends to enforce Beijing's censorship requirements, although it's thought that weibo providers like Sina employ thousands of censors to vet and take-down content.
The opportunity for growth in China is even more pronounced in that, unlike in the consumer social networking space, no single domestic rival has managed to dominate the market.
The biggest player LinkedIn will have to take on is probably Tianji, which has over 17 million users. After that there is a long tail of others including Dajie, Ruolin and Hongtao.
LinkedIn’s China push comes thanks to a joint venture with VC giant Sequoia China and private equity firm CBC Capital. ®