You probably heard about the Facebooks of China. Facebook and Twitter are blocked there and filling the vacuum are some homegrown social networks. Obviously the biggest issue with this in the particular instance of China is freedom of information and expression, so the thought experiment I will propose requires a little abstraction to focus on a separate issue.

Sites like Renren and Kaixin001 are microcosms of today’s changing China — they copy from the West, but then adjust, add, and, yes, even innovate at a world-class level, ultimately creating something unquestionably modern and distinctly Chinese. It would not be too grand to say that these social networks both enable and reflect profound generational changes, especially among Chinese born in the 1980s and 1990s. In a society where the collective has long been emphasized over the individual, first thanks to Confucian values and then because of communism, these sites have created fundamentally new platforms for self-expression. They allow for nonconformity and for opportunities to speak freely that would be unusual, if not impossible, offline. In fact, these platforms might even be the basis for a new culture. “A good culture is about equality, acceptance, and affection,” says Han Taiyang, 19, a psychology major at Tsinghua University who uses Renren constantly. “Traditional thinking restrains one’s fundamental personality. One must escape.”

Goods (like social networks) that have bandwagon effects create the greatest value when the size of the market is largest. But that same effect can cause convergence on a bad standard. One argument, very narrow of course, for trade barriers is to prevent that from happening. We allow each country to develop critical mass in their own standard in isolation before we reduce trade barriers and allow them to compete.