Earlier this month, Chinese social network Qzone, owned by portal company Tencent, released internal statistics showing that it had more than 200 million monthly active users in January. These numbers put it in the running for the title of largest social network in the world, facing international competitors like Facebook and MySpace. What has been the site’s secret to growth? A China-based VentureBeat reader has an intriguing explanation of how the company’s QQ instant message desktop client is making it a success.

First, some numbers. Tencent is one of the main Chinese portal sites, and QQ, is also huge. While third-party estimates put China’s total internet population at around 250 million users, QQ has 350 million active users. The 100 million difference is explained by individuals and companies having more than one IM identity each. As Tencent mentioned in the release, up to 50 million people are using QQ at any given time.

Tencent has made QQ a launching pad for Qzone. From our China-based reader:

A user can click on the Qzone tab on the IM client to show updates from their friends right inside the IM client.  With another click, a browser is launched showing the Qzone page of that friend. So it’s not really fair to compare Qzone [to] other social networks; it has a huge desktop distribution base right from the start. Imagine if Facebook [could] be easily launched from all IM clients with just 1 click. . . . In Chinese internet culture, instant messaging is even more important than email.

Social networks like Facebook and MySpace have come out with their own IM protocols, and they’ve recently begun letting other sites access this data so, for example, Facebook friends can chat from anywhere. Meanwhile, larger IM service providers like AOL, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft have been busy wrapping IM into their other services. AOL has tied AIM status updates and existing AIM profiles to user profiles in Bebo, for example. You can chat with GTalk contacts within Gmail. The lesson of Qzone for these companies may be that they need to push social networking features harder within their IM services.

Gmail already shows you a very limited profile when you mouse over your contacts profiles in Gmail’s GTalk integration. Given Google’s efforts to make its data more social, this seems like an obvious opportunity to take it a step further. Then again, Google is trying to mix and match its data with a wide variety of other services. Perhaps one day soon we’ll see Facebook and MySpace profile data in that box?