What Would the Social Media Landscape Look Like if China Could Play?

I'm liking Google+. I asked a question, and in a short time had an answer: Yes, China has banned Google+ in addition to Facebook and Twitter (which I already knew about). I wasn't surprised, but really wanted to know.

And then I realized what an interesting and potentially drastic change in the landscape we'd have immediately if the Chinese government unblocked its citizens' access to those three social networking channels.

The Internet World Stats website tells us that there are almost as many Chinese language Internet users as there are English Internet users:

Top Two Languages Used in the Web (# of Internet Users by Language)*

TOP TWO LANGUAGES
IN THE INTERNET                     English                          Chinese
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
Internet Users
by Language                          565,004,126                    509,965,013
-------------------------------------------------------------------------  
Internet
Penetration
by Language                          43.4 %                            37.2 %
-------------------------------------------------------------------------   
Growth
in Internet                            301.4 %                           1,478.7 %
(2000 - 2011)                     
-------------------------------------------------------------------------
Internet Users
% of Total                            26.8 %                             24.2 %
-------------------------------------------------------------------------   
World Population                   1,302,275,670                  1,372,226,042
for this Language
(2011 Estimate)

The formatting capabilities of Blogger aren't particularly sophisticated, but I think you start to get the picture. What we don't know is how many of the almost 510 million Chinese language Internet users are also fluent in English.

I quoted these statistics in an article I wrote earlier this year on the IBM Accessibility website:
  • Facebook is expecting to reach 700 million users worldwide within the next month or so2. The average Facebook user has 130 friends and is connected to 80 community pages, groups and events3.
  • Twitter is growing almost as quickly. 460,000 new accounts are created daily, and 140 million tweets are sent each day4.
 According to an article in Tech 24 Hours, only 50% of tweets are in English as of earlier this year. Japanese is the second most prevalent language used for tweeting.

And Facebook's press center has the following up-to-date statistics:
  • More than 70 translations available on the site
  • About 70% of Facebook users are outside the United States
  • Over 300,000 users helped translate the site through the translations application
These statistics make a strong case that while Twitter and Facebook started in the US, in English, both are making significant gains around the world in multiple languages. And if even a small percentage of Chinese citizens were able to access the big three social media channels tomorrow, I think it's clear social networking would be forever changed. Automated translation services and applications would suddenly be everywhere.

A potential view of how that future may look: A friend introduced me to a short-lived sci-fi series called 'Firefly', that takes place in the year 2517, after the arrival of humans in a new star system (a series which I LOVED btw, even though I was warned they only filmed one season before it was cancelled). Due to the earth's political history leading up to 2517 (lots of wars, yadda, yadda), the people of the future speak and write English and Mandarin Chinese comfortably and interchangeably.

Maybe it is time to sign up for those Chinese language lessons.... :-)



  * -- I've reproduced just the top two entries of Internet World Stat's table here for simplicity's sake, and the credit for the numbers is all theirs.