Getting into China isn't just about scaling the Great Wall. Stateside companies that think that they can waltz their way into a foreign market may soon find themselves hit by a serious case of culture shock. Even humbled companies that adopt a Chinese partner to ease their way into local acceptance -- as eBay
In that sense, Google
Google most recently bought a stake in Tianya Club, a popular Internet community in China. The pairing will allow Google to launch some of the sticky consumer apps it's been cooking up in its labs under the Tianya label. Tianya Laiba and Tianya Wenda are its first two efforts.
Laiba is a social networking site. You may find yourself agreeing that this is a worthy niche for Google -- especially in a country with 1.3 billion people -- but keep in mind that the search-engine giant didn't get here first. News Corp.
It's also hard to grant Google much of a chance in a booming niche that it's fumbled away closer to home. The company acquired social-networking site Orkut three years ago -- even before News Corp. took a shine to MySpace -- yet Orkut is little more than a fringe player outside of Brazil.
Everyone knows it's Wenda
Wenda may be a little more promising. In the Yahoo!
The answers biz is yet another niche that Google goofed up domestically as well. The company shuttered Google Answers back in November after a four-year run. As with Orkut, Google was early to this game, too. Unfortunately, Google Answers was a cash-based system, where those asking questions bid on the how much they would be willing to pay for a quality response. Here, the usually astute Google made a fatal supply-and-demand flaw. Folks would love to get paid for answers, but few are up for paying when rival products like Yahoo! Answers (or even a little surfing on Google's own search engine) provide free substitutes.
Speak no evil, SINA evil
So where does this leave SINA
The Tianya Club discussion-board hub isn't Google's only Chinese sweetheart. Google is committed to investing in several Chinese companies over the next 12 months, and perhaps buying some of them outright. There are certainly plenty of intriguing opportunities out there. SINA is one, of course. Tencent's QQ.com -- one of China's most popular online destinations, and the home of its leading instant-messaging platform -- is another logical target.
Baidu has no reason to fear Google just yet. In fact, it may also be an eventual buyout candidate or investment partner. Baidu's market share in China is larger than Google's search-market share domestically.
However, Baidu doesn't have Google's billions in the bank. Big G can afford to strike as many financial alliances as possible, knowing full well that most of them don't have to stick for the company to matter more in one of the world's most populous countries. Google has had just limited success in China so far, but it's not giving up anytime soon.
SINA, Yahoo!, and eBay are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Baidu and NetEase are Rule Breakers recommendations. Rick's pick of Baidu has more than doubled since it was singled out in the RB newsletter. Sample both newsletters with free 30-day trial subscriptions.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a huge fan of Google, and it would be his homepage if not for Fool.com. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool's disclosure policy keeps the Mongol hordes at bay.