In a rather startling turn of events, China has lifted the block on Facebook in some areas of the nation a small area, true, but it’s the small window Facebook has been seeking to get access to 1.3 billion potential users in China. China has the world’s largest population, so you can imagine Facebook has been wanting to crack that nut for a while.
China recently created the Shanghai Free Trade Zone — a 17 mile square section of the city and it is only in this section that the Chinese government has lifted the ban on Facebook and similar sites, such as Twitter, as well as the New York Times.
But is it too late for sites like Facebook to make a dent in the Chinese market? A recent Reuters article mentions the success of China’s own social networks, and how unlikely it is that people will switch to platforms where there is little info in Chinese, particularly Twitter, which faces stiff competition from the already well established sites such as Weibo. Although it’s also interesting to note that Renren, a Chinese social network very similar to Facebook, has lost much of its market share due to the slow adoption of mobile advertising. China has embraced mobile far more quickly thanks to the availability of incredibly inexpensive smartphones.
Of course, even though the government has banned sites like Facebook and Twitter ever since an uprising in 2009, many have found a workaround, according to CNN Money.
Still, some Chinese citizens have managed to get around the censors, according to data compiled by Global Web Index, a research firm. Between 2009 and 2012, the number of those secretly using Facebook in China grew from 8 million to 63 million. During that span, the number of Chinese Twitter users grew from 12 million to 35 million.
Those numbers are still a drop in the bucket compared to those using government-approved social media sites, including Renren, (RENN) Sina (SINA) Weibo and WeChat, whose users number in the hundreds of millions.
Global Web Index estimates 15% of Chinese citizens use Facebook, while 56% or more use Tencent Weibo, Sina Weibo or Qzone.
It’s hard to know what to expect from having such a small area have access to Facebook and Twitter. But it will certainly be interesting to see what happens.