Apr 13, 2012 · 1 minute

Gobs have been a-babble all week with news of Facebook's Instagram acquisition and what it means for the future of the Internet, social networks, and world peace. But still fresh from the shock, we find ourselves confronted with an uncomfortable truth: We don't really know how it's going to shake out. However, over in China, we can look to a couple of interesting test cases for clues

While Facebook was willing to pay $1 billion for Instagram, Tencent, an Internet company of rival stature in China, just decided to build its own copy.

Of course, because it’s China, Tencent decided to be "heavily inspired" by Instagram rather than come up with its own ideas. So, in July last year, it launched Q Pai, which lets users take snaps from their phones, add filters or effects, and upload them to microblogs such as Tencent’s Weibo (which is similar to Twitter) or Qzone.

Photo-sharing hasn’t taken off in China yet, but there are a few competitors in the space, including Baidu’s MoTu, launched just a few days ago. MoTu is a repurposed version of a service called PhotoSola, which the search leader acquired last year, and seems the more open play, allowing users to share photos to social networks outside the Baidu ecosystem, including the leading microblogging platform Sina Weibo and Tencent’s equivalent.

There’s no grand statement here – just an interesting comparison of different approaches. While Facebook spent big to take out a potential competitor, acquire new talent, instantly suck up 30 million users, and make a bold move in mobile, Tencent decided to go the way Facebook was rumored to have been mulling. That way they saved a little cash, and, because they’re in the habit of automatically signing up their 700 million QQ instant messenger users to their new services, they got a pretty handy, built-in userbase.

Meanwhile, Baidu pre-empted the Facebook approach by a matter of months, but instead of letting PhotoSola stand alone as an autonomous service – as Facebook promises for Instagram – it shut it down, gave it a new coat of paint, and pushed it back out into the wild.

Want to know if Facebook made a smart move by spending $1 billion on Instagram? It’d pay to keep an eye on the battle between Baidu’s MoTu and Tencent’s Q Pai.