First off, sorry for the awful double pun in the headline. But this story's been over-reported already and we have to do something to differentiate this post from all the other speculative chatter out there. (The Atlantic Wire has a nice summary that hits a few key posts and opinions).
So, yes, as we all know, Mark Zuckerberg himself isn't blocked in China, even if his multi-billion dollar Web baby is. Time's Person of the Year has been touring China with his Chinese girlfriend and, notably, hobnobbing with Baidu CEO Robin Li (Baidu, for those who don't know, is China's wildly successful Google knock-off, the biggest difference between the two being the former's obeisance to China's cranky censors).
Anyway, we've read through a good dozen posts and articles on the matter (as well as a few tweets, including Baidu spokesman Kaiser Kuo's response to rumors that Baidu might acquire Facebook: ""C'mon people. Robin and Mark have known each other for a while ... Keep the speculation in check."). And we've mulled over all the arguments, talked to ourself in the elevator and on the subway about it, and, finally, put them all together here in distilled form as a public service. Do read on.
[pullquote]"How can you connect the whole world if you leave out 1.6 billion people?" [/pullquote]So, will Facebook be unblocked any time soon, freeing expats and VPN-savvy Chinese netizens alike to waste incalculable hours of their precious lives connect to friends and family in most of the rest of the world?
Well, the money says... probably. The sheer profit-power of the world's most popular social networking site (one that, according to otherwise somewhat sober news outlets is on the verge of replacing email and taking over the Internet!) and the world's fastest-growing and largest body of Internet users makes it all too tempting, at least for Facebook....
Which leads us to the next question: Would Facebook itself censor content and collect private information on Chinese users that could be accessed by the Chinese government, or would they allow the government to do it without a fuss? And the answer: Yes, if they want access to the China market. Google's face-off has taught us that Beijing isn't at all likely to let a foreign-controlled company operate without playing by the same rules that Chinese-controlled ones do.
That means that Zuckerberg's face time with Baidu's chief could be either a chance to seek advice on the preferred etiquette of bending over and taking it from the censors or, perhaps, an early step toward cooperation with a Chinese company that could give FB's re-entry into the Mainland a Chinese face.
Of course, such matters are subject to change unpredictably with current events--Facebook was originally blocked at the time of unrest involving ethnic Uighur and Han in Xinjiang, after all, indicating that Beijing is wary of any networking tool that could be used to spread dissent (surpise!).
At the end of the day, nothing much has changed, and if you're on Facebook and can't do without it while in China, proxies and VPNs are still the way to go. We recommend Freedur. You'll be joining a lot of Chinese and foreign residents in China who have been tunneling through the Great Firewall for years.
We're not really that interested in the whole matter anyway. What we want to know is what the prospects for Wikileaks in China might be. If you get a charge out of the US government's paroxysms of (so far rather impotent) outrage, just wait until somebody dumps thousands of secret Chinese government messages on the Internet (or posts them to Facebook!). Then we'll all get to witness some world-class fulminating!
Assange Xiansheng, it's time to get in touch with your Chinese roots!