Renren is a social networking website with 160 million registered users in China. Literally, Renren translates to "everyone's website" in Mandarin and is known for being the people's network. Due to the Great Firewall, which controls the flow of information from the outside world, social networking services have arisen specifically for China and other social networking websites such as Facebook remain banned by the Chinese Government. While the site is ranked the 11th most popular social media site in China, throughout 2015, Renren has faced significant decline due to strong competition and the inability to properly monetize its mobile platform . In 2011, Renren faced a privacy leakage, revealing the confidential information of thousands of users. The site also poses serious ethical questions regarding content filtering, improving the detection of fake users and analyzing the effects of Renren specific functions and features.
- 1 History
- 2 Chinese Firewall
- 3 User Base
- 4 Functions
- 5 Cultural Influences
- 6 Recent Growth Problems
- 7 Competitors
- 8 Ethical Controversies
- 9 See Also
- 10 References
In May of 1999, Joseph Chen founded ChinaRen along with Yunfan Zhou and Nick Yang. First, they needed some developers to build the backbone of the website. The creators went to Tsinghau University, where they hired a group of students to build its main architecture. One of these students was Zany, who then put together a team of 60 students to work on the website. With three months to go until his graduation, ChinaRen got acquired for $30 million dollars by Sohu after two years of operation.
Zany believed that social networks would be predominant one day and along with Anthony Cheng and Michael Robinson raised $37 million dollars in funding, being listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange.  After the dot com bubble burst, Renren was acquired by a Hong Kong holding company. After joining forces with Joseph Chen and his company Oak Pacific Interactive, the two raised $460 million dollars in funding. This did not prove successful until Zany purchased Renren.com, a then disused domain name. Xianonei was then consolidated under Renren.
Shortly after in August of 2009, Xiaonei changed its name to Renren, which in Chinese "people" or "person", promoting how the website is meant to be used by anyone. This helped with the expansion of the social network website.
Two years after changing its name, the company raised $584 million in capital in an IPO through the SEC index. Until late 2015, Renren had a market capitalisation of $2.86 billion . Since then, the company value feel by 60% and now has a market capitalization of 571.58 Million .
The company is pivoting to move into the Chinese online education market and is projected to grow 20% a year by 2018 .
The Chinese Firewall started in August 1996 and is part of a massive censorship program initiated by the Chinese government. Justification of the Chinese Firewall stems from the CL97, a law that criminalizes computer crimes beginning in the 1970s. Cyber crimes are categorized into two categories : crimes that target computer networks and crimes that are carried out over computer networks. The latter half of this categorization is what the Chinese Government uses to justify its Chinese Firewall, claiming that the distribution of information from other websites would be considered harmful to national security, which would then create public disorder .
The Communist Party of China dictates that select websites be blocked from view, key words be filtered out, and that certain speech and online activities be filtered. The firewall not only filters out individual websites but also uses techniques to scan URLs and web page content for blacklisted keywords. Filtering out social networking websites such as Facebook forces people to use Chinese alternatives, ones that the government can control. In addition to acting as a barrier to information, the Chinese Firewall had said to act as a barrier to trade, with eight of the most trafficked websites in the US being blocked .
Golden Shield Project
In order to better carry out the Chinese Firewall, the Golden Shield Project started in 2003 and lasted until 2006 as a massive surveillance and censoring system project. The main activities of the project were to monitor domestic websites and email in effort to find uncompliant language. China's national police, the Public Security Bureau manned the project and made multiple arrests upon finding damaging content.
Research has indicated that the very presence of the firewall has been more effective at blocking speech then the firewall itself . However, the firewall has had success in filtering keywords out of Internet searches . Hundreds of websites remain blocked and users cannot get around it. Further, businesses are mandated to comply with the standards and is considered part of the ethics of doing business.
Social networks are built for the purpose of bridging and bonding social capital. As of September 2016, it's monthly login rate was 35 million compared to 45 million in September 2015 with a decrease of 22% . Because Renren appeals to younger generations such as college students, it's brand image is important to its appeal. Currently, the social media hub is dipping in popularity, with a 10% decline from last year . In tandem with its renaming effort, we see the website trying to gain a larger user base. Despite these good effort's, the company stated it would be focusing back on campuses and students despite that it had previously lost its influence there.
With Renren, users have the option to see who has visited their profile. Users can see the ten most recent users who have clicked on their profile. This includes being able to see how many people have viewed your pictures and how many people have shared any of your posts. This information provides users with a standing of their popularity among friend on the social network. Knowing who has viewed your profile provides the user with information about recent activity from friends that can result in various implications, which can be both positive and negative. This is a feature that Facebook does not have. Instead, the competitor Facebook's method of feedback on profile and photo views is the "like" button.
Paid for Content
Renren offers various paid for features. This includes do-it-yourself website design, which allows users to add different fonts and colors on their profile. Other paid for content includes rights to added background music and the option to send e-gifts, make private comments on pictures and light blogging. On competitor Facebook, users have the option to pay for additional applications but less freedom to customize the design of the page.
Entering content into the rizhi is the equivalent of creating a post. Renren encourages the expression of shorter thoughts with its input method rizhi, which translates to log in Mandarin. The limit for posts is 150 characters Other social media platforms such as Facebook promote the input of shorter content on "walls".
Renren allows users to classify groups of people into user created categories such as best friend, family or boyfriend/girlfriend. Due to the One-Child policy in China that was in place between 1979 and 2015, it is common for users to connect to people outside of their family, such as with alumni and colleagues. This feature was created for Renren in 2005 and was only recently adopted by Facebook in 2010. In contrast, the social groups in Western culture tend to include usually parents and siblings.
Status Information Data
Until its competitor Facebook, Renren does not allow users to post their relationship stats. This extended to not being able to upload information about your siblings or parents as well as not being able to input political or religious information. Other information not provided on Renren includes sexual orientation. This feature promotes the purpose for why Renren was created, which was to create a social media platform that enabled communication without stirring political dissent against the Communist Party.
Couple Profile Page
Users of Renren have the option to create a profile page as a couple. Every couple's page has a love tree, which needs to be watered through updating the profile and is the symbol for the growth of their relationship. After creating a couples page, users have then have the option to invite their friends to like the page. As with personal profiles, couples can manage the privacy of these shared profile pages.
Culture influences people’s information processing and formation of perspective. China has a largely collectivist culture, which emphasize group goals above individual needs or desires.  This is contrasted to the US individualist culture, which prioritizes individual's needs and happiness. Many of Renren's features such as the lack of personal data for political views and sexual orientation, which also stem from the influence of the Chinese Government, do not go to highlight individual differences of people but rather help underline China's collectivist tenancies.
Recent Growth Problems
Recently, runarounds business model his face a significant decline in the past few quarters. WeChat and Weibo have contributed to some of the competition that Renren is facing. As of March 2015, it's monthly user login was at 46 million, which is a 10% decline from last year . This is essential since the user base is a key factor in driving the monetization of the platform. Further, the company is having difficulty with monetizing from its mobile use, which accounts for 90% of the company is users. Relatedly quarter one 2015 revenues have fallen by 62.9% annually . In effort to make up for the poor revenue due to advertising, the company launched two new mobile games in effort to contribute to the lost profit. However this contribution had an overall negative affect on revenue.
QZone is a social networking website that allows users to create blogs, listen to music, share photos and watch videos. The website is customizable but users are required to pay for premium features to further customize their webpage. QZone has 623.3 million users, with 150 million of its users updating their account at least once a month . QZone supports third party applications in the cateogories of music, photo sharing, gaming and blogging.
WeChat is an instant messaging platform that provides text-messaging, voice messaging, conferencing, video games and photo and location sharing with over a billion active accounts created. The app expands to broader uses such as paying bills, ordering goods online and transferring money. These are known as "lightweight apps" within the app that do not serve as the primary purpose but contribute to the user experience. There is also an enterprise version of WeChat that helps companies keep track of employee leave days and serves as an employer-employee communication platform.
A privacy leak occurred on April 29, 2011 when users of Renren received messages saying that there's someone that loves you, along with malicious code, which provided sensitive user information to a third-party website. Such data included user's ID, name, school, birthday, cell-phone number, etc. The leak worked by exploiting a bug of Renren's and its built-in automatic forwarding feature, which caused a lot of members to be affected. What was controversial was that the day after the leak, articles in China that reported it were removed.  Only small pieces of evidence such as some screenshots, a short statement, and a piece of the malicious code was left. Renren received criticism from its community for not providing any clarification and instead tried to delete the data and news articles regarding it.
Renren has an extremely strict filtering system on sensitive words. Initially, the sensitive keywords in blogs and comments would simply be replaced by the sentence “study hard and visit Renren” in Chinese. After that, when there were sensitive words in the articles, posting such articles would be automatically failed and the system prompt would state that, “your post contains illicit contents”. The photo albums and messages are also under censorship. Once photos and messages are deleted by the system, the administrators would inform the users by Renren mails.
Renren Unique Features
- "Here are the Key Challenges Impacting Renren" http://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=http://www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2015/06/18/here-are-the-key-challenges-impacting-renren/&refURL=https://www.google.com/&referrer=https://www.google.com/
- "Meet RenRen, The "Facebook Of China" That's Going Public At $4 Billion" http://www.businessinsider.com/renren-2011-4
- "Seeking Alpha: Renn" http://seekingalpha.com/symbol/RENN
- "Seeking Alpha: Renn" http://seekingalpha.com/symbol/RENN
- "Can the Education Pivot Save Renren?" http://seekingalpha.com/article/2735265-can-the-education-pivot-save-renren
- "The Great Firewall of China Background" https://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs181/projects/2010-11/FreedomOfInformationChina/the-great-firewall-of-china-background/index.html
- "The US is blasting China's Great Firewall as a barrier to trade" http://www.businessinsider.com/ap-us-cites-chinese-internet-filters-as-trade-barrier-2016-4
- "The great Firewall of China" https://www.revolvy.com/topic/Great%20Firewall%20of%20China&item_type=topic
- "China's Great Firewall Gets Taller" https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-great-firewall-gets-taller-1422607143
- "Similarweb.com : Website Statistics" https://www.similarweb.com/website/renren.com
- "here are the Key Challenges Impacting Renren" http://www.forbes.com/sites/greatspeculations/2015/06/18/here-are-the-key-challenges-impacting-renren/#37b0a27f769f
- "China Social Network Websites" http://marketingtochina.com/china-social-network-websites/
- "How the Use of Facebook and Renren influences Chinese Consumers" https://www.researchgate.net/publication/259516293_A_tale_of_two_social_networking_sites_How_the_use_of_Facebook_and_Renren_influences_Chinese_consumers'_attitudes_toward_product_packages_with_different_cultural_symbols
- "Collectivist and Individualist Cultures" http://psychology.wikia.com/wiki/Collectivist_and_individualist_cultures
- "Renren Swings to Profit" https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970204781804577270442356739910
- "Renren swings to fourth-quarter profit" http://www.marketwatch.com/story/renren-swings-to-fourth-quarter-profit-2014-03-18
- "Tencent QZone: The Largest Social Media Website in China" https://www.chinainternetwatch.com/tag/qzone/