Facebook has apparently accepted Baidu's (Nasdaq: BIDU ) friend request. Several reports out of China indicate that the world's leading social network is teaming up with the country's most popular search engine to roll out a China-specific version of Facebook's sticky namesake site.
Facebook hasn't had to partner with regional faves in the past, but things are different in China. There are regulatory hurdles to clear in a booming country that is wary of outsiders. Locals also stick to the homegrown darlings. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) may have staged a partial retreat out of China in principle, but it really wasn't making any kind of dent in Baidu's market dominance.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg toured China in December, setting up meetings with the leaders of Baidu, SINA (Nasdaq: SINA ) , Alibaba, and China Mobile (NYSE: CHL ) . Zuckerberg's site is blocked in China, so everyone saw this as an exploratory trek to smoke out a partner.
Baidu makes sense. Sina's Weibo is already gaining traction as a celebrity micro-blogging site. Renren's thinking IPO. Tencent was able to parlay the success of its QQ online messaging platform to roll out its own micro-blogging site last year. Baidu has plenty of social initiatives cooking, but none are as promising as hooking up with Facebook to succeed at marrying search with social in a way that Google, Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) , and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) have failed closer to home.
Yahoo!, Google, and Microsoft have either tried to buy Facebook whole or faltered in rolling out their own social networking solution.
Consumers can be fickle when it comes to social networking, and Facebook is the one with the hot hand at the moment with 600 million registered users worldwide.
The pairing of Baidu and Facebook is a slam dunk on paper, but sit tight on those growth projections. China will have to green light the offering, and we don't know if consumers will take to a restrictive social network. The potential -- if successful -- is tremendous for both companies, though.
Baidu's lofty multiples and Facebook's sky-high pre-IPO valuation may not seem so outlandish by the time this all plays out.
Can Facebook and Baidu make social networking work in China? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.