BEIJING: Sohu, one of China's biggest internet portals, has launched a new social networking service in the country, as it aims to further enhance its position in the online market in the world's most populous nation.

Having been in a test phase since last May, the site is now open for public registration, with its target audience said to include both young and more mature professionals.

Alongside typical tools such as blogs, photo-sharing facilities and online games, the platform offers a range of other activities, like a "Sunshine Farm", allowing users to grow virtual fruit and vegetables.

Operating under the title Bai Shehui – translated as "White Society" – the new platform will attempt to attract users from independent social networks.

These include, which has a membership base of 130 million, as well as Xiaonei and Kaixin001, which both have regular visitor numbers of between 30 million and 50 million netizens.

Jiao Jie, senior analyst at BDA Connect, argued "the market right now is crowded with several other sites, but Sohu has its own user base based on its portal site."

"If it can provide some attractive services, I think it still could be successful," particularly as "it already has online video services on its portal that will be easy to transfer and maintain its brand on an SNS," she added.

However, Jin Naili, an analyst at iResearch, warned that many of its "targeted users have already registered with existing SNS websites and have set up friend-relationships with their friends" on other social networks.

This means Sohu will have to try hard to stand out, but "not too many differences exist between this portal's website and other SNS websites" at present, Jin argued.

Data sourced from Media/Digital East Asia; additional content by WARC staff