Tencent: the biggest web company you’ve never heard of

Something big is happening in the world of web in China. Mike Jennings takes alook at the potential of Tencent.

Ask people to list the world's biggest technology companies and the same names will appear: Google, eBay, Yahoo!. One name almost certainly wouldn't crop up, but it's got every right to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best the web has to offer.

The name of this company? Tencent. This enigmatic Chinese firm could be the web's next superpower. Its Chinese origin and lack of international expansion, though, mean it's flying under the radar of the rest of tech world.

However, it is very much worth paying attention to Tencent: China's economy is second in size only to the US and is set to grow by 8.4 per cent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2012 according to its government. This is in stark contrast to the UK, which grew by just 0.7 per cent in 2011.

This enigmatic Chinese firm could be the web's next superpower.

In such a booming economic climate, Tencent is doing exceptionally well. In 2011, for instance, its revenue from internet services increased by 48.8 per cent and its revenue from gaming sky-rocketed by 66.4 per cent, with the company bringing in a whopping $4.5 billion. Its market capitalisation? A mere $38 billion: more than twice that of Yahoo!.

Tencent's none the richer

It's those internet services that have helped propel Tencent to the top of the industry. The most notable is QQ IM, which launched in 1999 and has become one of the world's most popular instant messaging platforms. It grew by 11.3 per cent in 2011 and now boasts 721 million users - not far behind Facebook's 845 million. That's not the only area where Tencent has a significant presence: its Microblog service is "the largest blog service in China", according to IDC Asia/Pacific market analyst Audrey Heng, with 373 million users. Another member of its product family, social networking size Qzone, boasts half a billion active members, and its microblogging platform Weibo has 310 million users of its own.

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