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Can Renren, ‘China’s Facebook’ from the dotcom era, win back its millennial audience with nostalgia?

Guangxi resident Zeng Mou first bought his Renren account in 2006. The Chinese language social networking website was a part of every day life for the faculty scholar, who would often submit images and interact together with his buddies on the platform.

Fourteen years down the highway, the now 33-year-old civil servant nonetheless logs on every day “simply out of behavior”, however there’s hardly anybody to have interaction with; “no one makes use of it,” he stated of the once-popular platform that was often called “China’s Fb”.

Previous-timers similar to Zeng, who’ve been hoping for the revival of the platform, have some cause to cheer now although – Renren launched its first social networking cellular app final Monday in a bid to draw new customers after years of dropping floor to extra mobile-focused social platforms similar to WeChat and Weibo. The house-grown platform’s try to make a comeback in China’s social house comes amid fiercer competitors for younger audiences from Chinese language web giants similar to Tencent, Baidu and the Publish’s dad or mum firm, Alibaba.

The beta model of the app, out there on each Apple and Android telephones in China since final Monday, harks again to its unique design earlier than a number of unsuccessful makes an attempt by the platform to reinvent itself – together with turning into primarily a reside streaming website and sidelining its social networking features lately. Like Fb, which it’s typically in comparison with, Renren’s traditional design options blue and white as its signature colors and has comparable timeline, photograph and submit features.

On its launch Renren’s new app rapidly gained traction, climbing 138 notches inside a day to change into the eighth-most downloaded iOS app in China, though it fell to 13th place a day later, in keeping with App Annie.

Unveiled in 2005, a yr after Fb, Renren’s unique identify was Xiaonei, which means “on campus” in Chinese language. As its identify prompt, Xiaonei was primarily recognized for connecting schoolmates and alumni similar to Fb was in its early years.

A couple of yr after its launch, Xiaonei’s founding crew – together with Wang Xing, who went on to start out China’s main on-demand providers platform Meituan Dianping – offered the platform to Oak Pacific Interactive. It was subsequently rebranded as Renren, or “everybody” in Chinese language, and its target market was expanded to most people.

It had a high-profile preliminary public providing in New York in 2011, with a 28.6% surge on the first buying and selling day bringing its market cap as much as US$7.4bil (RM30.30bil), surpassing Sina and NetEase – then China’s greatest Web portals.

Nevertheless it began falling out of favour round 2014, when smartphones turned broadly used and its millennial viewers began flocking to different platforms similar to multipurpose cellular app WeChat and Twitter-like microblog Weibo.

Renren’s month-to-month lively customers have been steadily dropping in previous years, from 57 million at its peak in March 2013 to 31 million as of March 2018, the latest figures out there. Its inventory worth has additionally nosedived, from US$18.01 (RM73.76) on that first buying and selling day 9 years in the past to US$0.94 (RM3.85) final Friday.

Renren has often been compared to Facebook, which was launched a year before the Chinese social networking platform. Photo: AP

In November 2018, Renren offered its social networking belongings to Beijing Infinities Interactive Media for roughly US$60mil (RM245.72mil), together with US$20mil (RM81.90mil) in money and shares with a money consideration of US$40mil (RM163.78mil). The New York-listed Renren Inc now focuses on car and actual property companies, whereas its social networking platform of the identical identify is completely owned by Beijing Infinities.

In an announcement on Dec 30 final yr, Renren stated it aimed to place college students again on the coronary heart of its technique. However observers and customers have doubts over whether or not this back-to-school method is a great transfer.

Impartial web analyst Ge Jia, who has been watching the business for 20 years, identified Renren faces fiercer competitors in comparison with its heyday within the early 2010s.

China’s main web firms have been making performs for the scholar demographic, eyeing a spot in devoted social networks for college kids left by Renren and its overseas rival Fb, which is blocked in China regardless of earlier makes an attempt to enter the market.

WeChat creator Tencent not too long ago revived its beforehand discontinued Pengyou app – now hailed as a mix of Fb, Instagram and Tinder. Late final yr, Baidu additionally launched social app Tingtong connecting younger customers based mostly on their location, TikTok proprietor ByteDance acquired campus social networking software program Biu Campus and Alibaba moved into the social networking house for college college students with a brand new app, Actual.

Renren, with its primary social community interface, would have difficulties attracting youthful Era Z customers extra accustomed to synthetic intelligence-powered filters and humorous stickers, in keeping with Ge.

On the similar time, the analyst stated it might be onerous for Renren to win again millennial customers already established on WeChat and Weibo. “Nostalgia is not the important thing resolution,” he stated.

The platform’s restricted consumer base is a deterrent to some customers.

Olivia Zhang, a 31-year-old Beijing resident, is one previously avid Renren consumer who gave up utilizing the community as new instruments like WeChat took over on-line communication.

In her undergrad years between 2007 and 2011, she stated she appreciated the platform because it supplied a easy option to be in contact with a community of schoolmates and lecturers. However regardless that she has heard about Renren’s new app, she has not tried to get well her account – there isn’t a cause to make use of it “if not many individuals are on it”, she defined.

It may be boring utilizing the platform alone, Zeng stated, including that he solely actively makes use of it often, similar to to submit festive well-wishes, and he would most likely be extra lively if there have been extra customers on it.

Nanjing metropolis resident Brian Wu, nonetheless, stated he was “pleasantly stunned” to search out his previous Renren data had been restored after he logged onto the app not too long ago.

The 27-year-old stated he was on Renren nearly day by day when he was in faculty, however like many different customers progressively deserted it “as everyone began to make use of WeChat”, he stated. His final submit was in 2015. Now that there’s an app, Wu checks it now and again, he stated.

Because it competes with different main gamers the app’s house owners face a key problem, in keeping with Ge: how one can flip a revenue with out alienating customers that respect Renren’s easy and clear interface.

“If the timeline is full of too many advertisements, the consumer expertise will worsen and the app will not succeed,” he stated. “If not, there might be no earnings. That’s the dilemma.” – South China Morning Publish

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