The "Facebook of China," could be coming to the U.S. Oak Pacific Interactive, makers of China's most popular social networking site Renren, is eyeing a U.S. initial public offering, reports Reuters. The company has hired Credit Suisse Group AG and Deutsche Bank AG to underwrite the IPO, which should happen sometime in early 2011.
Renren, which has 100 million users, is known as the "Facebook of China," since in China, the Facebook of the world is banned. (So is Twitter.) Oak Pacific Interactive also owns Nuomi, a Chinese Groupon clone, and Mop, a Chinese MySpace clone.
According to Reuters's unnamed sources, Oak Pacific is only the first pioneer in the coming U.S. IPO gold rush. TaoMee, a social networking site for kids, and Kaixin001, another social network aimed at younger users, are both planning to list at some point, possibly next year. There were 35 Chinese IPOs this year in the U.S. That figure was a record high, and among the companies were a number of high-tech firms, like Youku, a YouTube clone, and DangDang, an Amazon clone.
You may have noticed a pattern here. A few questions would-be investors might want to keep in mind: In the bizarro parallel universe that is the censored Chinese Internet, do the same rules apply? If one of these sites rubs the Politburo the wrong way, what's to prevent China from bringing down an iron fist, ruining these companies or their investors? "As long as they conduct their self censorship well, there shouldn't be any problems," said one of Reuters's unnamed sources, an apparent lover of free speech.
A somewhat less likely worry: What if China ever has a change of heart, letting in the Facebooks, Twitters, and YouTubes of the world in at last? Would backing a clone be a good investment then?
For answers and a deeper dive into Chinese social media, pick up a copy of the February issue of Fast Company.
[Image: Flickr user hendry]