Many western web companies have struggled to gain traction into the Chinese market (or ignored it completely) as most Chinese internet users tend to stick to home-grown services which are better localised for their needs and faster as they can be hosted within the country. Added to this the complexity of complying with local laws (i.e. censorship) makes China an unattractive proposition for many foreign startups.

Having said this if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then China is certainly flattering a lot of people and you would be forgiven for thinking that a lot of local start-ups were simply Chinese versions of their western counterparts such is the extent of their similarity. Here I’ve taken a quick look at six of the most convincing Chinese web 2.0 clones:

Xiaonei (Facebook clone)

Xiaonei Profile

With over $430 million in venture funding behind it Xiaonei is a pretty serious contender which makes it even more incredible that they would create such a blatant rip-off of Facebook. Nearly every aspect of the interface mimics its US counterpart down to individual icons which look almost identical. With over 9 million users as of last year it’s growing rapidly and apparently is very popular with Chinese students which is exactly how Facebook began.

Other lookalikes: Kaixin001

YouKu (YouTube clone)

Youku Video

YouTube has probably spawned more clones than all of the rest around the world and in the China the biggest is rather unimaginatively named YouKu. It has all the same features you’d expect including lots of boring videos from Chinese Communist Party meetings and a noticeable lack of concern for copyright. It’s had $40 million of capital invested and in a bizarre twist seems to be running ads from Google (who own YouTube). The Chinese government are also keen to get a slice of the action and have announced they are building their own online-video platform.

Other lookalikes: 6.cn, 56.com, Tudou

Fanfou (Twitter clone)

Fanfou Messages

The accuracy with which Fanfou has copied Twitter is pretty staggering in both functionality and visual style. As well as all the expected features (like using @username to reply to another user and limiting posts to 140 characters etc.)  it even includes the latest integrated search functionality which hasn’t even been released on Twitter itself yet! Interestingly many users use comic faces instead of their own photos which suggests that people are more concerned about their privacy than most of the Twitter crowd.

Other lookalikes: TaoTao, Jiwai, Zuosa

YuPoo (Flickr clone)

Yupoo Photos

And the award for the clone with the most unfortunate name goes to YuPoo! This aside it’s a screen-for-screen replica of Flickr which up until recently even had the same colour scheme. Like it’s counterpart it also integrates with 3rd party companies to providing other services like printing and surprisingly for China allows you to assign Creative Commons license to your photos. The only noticeable addition are the internet police icons at the bottom of the page which warn users not upload dodgy pictures and make an occasional appearance to remind you that you’re being watched.

EveryDo (BaseCamp clone)

EveryDo Dashboard

One of the most well known online project management solutions is BaseCamp from 37signals who have often been held up as an example of excelent design (if a little quirky sometimes). In this light it’s interesting to see how EveryDo has managed to pull off a pretty convincing clone here even down to the company mission statement/philosophy! An insightful blog post titled “Why you shouldn’t copy us or anyone else” from BaseCamp’s founder possibly tells us what they think about it.

Baidu (Google clone)

Baidu Homepage

Baidu is the ultimate copy of Google search and one of the few places in the world where Google isn’t the leader in terms of market share (Baidu has 60%, Google only has 26%). While visually it looks very similar one of the areas Baidu differs in a big way from Google is it’s approach to copyright material which it will happily index and let users search for (see the MP3 music/video search link in the screenshot). It also uses a highly controversial result ranking system which caused outcry last year when it turned out that he company had manipulated and censored search results for commercial purposes. Google is heavily focused on China so whether Baidu can maintain its position in light of the controversy remains to be seen.

At the end of the day copying can only take you so far. Like cheating on a test, you may be able to reproduce the answers from someone else but, without the understanding which lies behind that answer, what you’ve product is a hollow reflection. Without understanding all the layers beneath the interface (i.e. the engine of the product) the copy can never function in exactly the same way. Take Digg as an example; many of its clones have failed because, while they could reproduce the look and feel, they could never recreate the complex algorithms behind it which drive the article rankings. China needs to be able to find its creative edge if it wants to compete globally.

The other side of the coin tells us that with one quarter of the worlds population they don’t necessarily need to care about other markets outside the homeland and that they will be quite happy to carry on copying as long as its profitable. It will be interesting to see how this space developes.

Comments

  1. Pritam says:

    Hi there,
    Yeah, it’s surprising but I think it’s not ‘unexpected’. If China can make copies of Maglev,( http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=218503&page=11) War Planes(Sukhoi). Then making copies of these popular websites are “one hand job” for them. I have also read that Chinese made fake Rolex watches are sold far more around the world than the originals. My parents bought an iPod for me when they toured China in 2006. And you can’t imagine how perfectly it was ‘made’. Even the packaging was perfect.

    Pritam.

  2. Adeel Javed says:

    I am actually impressed, I mean if these sites are doing good in China then who cares. My experience with Baidu’s mp3 search has been really good :).

  3. Aku says:

    Great article!
    Those are all really clear ripoffs, except maybe Baidu, since there’s only so many ways you can organize a title, a search box, a “GO” button and the legal links. But still.
    This is democracy combined with international law. We can’t do anything if we make something great and someone in China/Taiwan/Sweden decides it’s awesome and copies all of it.

    • Daniel says:

      “We can’t do anything if we make something great and someone in China/Taiwan/Sweden decides it’s awesome and copies all of it.”

      Hopefully in the future that will change.

  4. David says:

    Thanks for your comments. What they are doing may not be legally wrong but I think if you worked and invested hard in something to have it ripped off without any possible legal recourse then you’d probably care.

    You could possibly also argue that it’s those US companies fault for not providing good enough experiences for people in China but untill the government make it easier that’s pretty hard.

    I wonder though; who would you rather trust with your personal data? Does it even matter?

  5. Melanie A. says:

    Impressive! Here’s my 2 cents on this one. If you are targeting a global audience, should you just stick with the English language? Should it always be based on western culture? So now, behold the attack of the clones.

  6. David says:

    “Attack of the Clones”, haha! I should have used that as the title for the post 😀

    Agree for a global audience English should always be the primary language but there should also be the option to switch to another language (as is possible in Facebook etc.). A more intelligent option would be to geotaget the language so the interface takes on the language from wherever your viewing it (as Google already does).

  7. Jessie says:

    the Chinese version of “randomwire” is great! The one who thought it out is very intelligent! hehe~~~ What a shame that I haven’t thought out a good one earlier…

    BTW, I didn’t know you had a xiaonei ID. I am on it too. add me. you know my chinese name, are you?

    • David says:

      Yeah, it is a rather cool translation 🙂 I’ll be sure to try and find you on Xiaonei, but may need some help with navigation!

  8. PM Hut says:

    For Basecamp,

    Maybe they should consider having multiple languages implemented in the system, including support for the Chinese Language. It shouldn’t be that hard if the system is implemented properly.

    • David says:

      That’s a good point, however I imagine this is not a priority for 37signals for the moment. They are notorious for only developing the features they themselves are interested in!

  9. david says:

    These clones always seem to suceed in China I think particulaly because they are localized and they understand the Chinese culture well and also a Chinese product is more accepted by the people…

  10. Oracle says:

    folks…don’t jump in joy and use the service from those sites…. they will use your own PC to get you [removed]…..by injecting viruses and worms…even they use your PC as slaves in rouge attacks.


    ……
    …..
    ……

  11. web design says:

    No wonder they kicked google out of china…looks like they tend to create a parallel internet world…free from western influence..and keep resources to themselves..

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