Archive for the 'website' Category

Code is law, but the Real Law may be Coded into the Virtual Community

Following the last post on the 10 websites that lead you understanding Cinternet, I’d like to share more specific observations to two of them. One is Douban.com , a “2.0” site but unique from other web 2.0 sites in English web sphere, and the other is Tianya.cn, a huge BBS that is also different from the western style of discussion groups. From them, one may find the law (I mean the living law, not definitely the legislations) has changed the code. 

 

1. Douban.com

 

Douban.com is a unique website that I can not find the counterpart in the English web sphere. It has launched a English site but now suspended.

 

Named after a spice used in Szechuan cooking, Douban allows Chinese consumers to share, tag and browse through one another’s collection of books, music, and movies. Douban has very good infrastructure which provide the aggregation of the users every act (tag a book after read it or just “want to read”, write a review, rank a movie … all the user’s acts can be aggregated and published to his/her friends’ first page. and each act can be set hidden from the public). According to a user’s acts, douban “guesses” the new books, movies and musics for the user, and recommend the user to other users. Douban released a “Douban 9” channel, which is a social aggregator that the users may use it as an RSS reader, but more openly to the others. Recently, douban launched a “Douban Listen” (douban.fm) channel, which is similiar to Pandora.com.

 

The contents in Douban are mostly user generated. However Douban is distinct from Youtube: only comments to the items (books, movies and music albums) are posted on the website. In each item’s page, Douban provides the links to the online bookstores (including Amzon’s Chinese site). The prices are easily compared in an item’s page.

 

Douban’s biggest distinction from the SNS (like facebook) is: it is not a real-name network. Therefore, it is mainly not for social  and personal networking, but for public expression. Besides the review tab in each item’s pages (which are now becoming the most useful resource for Chinese young people’s when they are about to watch a movie or buy a book), users can also establish groups and invite others join. There are thousands of groups and thousands of entries are posted every day. Because the groups are established by the users, one may see many interesting ones. Take the keyword of “man” as an example, there are “man-should-cook” group, “we-love-very-old-man” group, “not-answering-phone-man-should-die” group and more than 370 other ones. Because most users are in anonymous, discussions are very interest-oriented and open.

 

If there were no censorship, Douban might be a good platform to form a classic “public sphere”. However, douban enforces a very strict self-censorship policy. Any thread that may “threat the operation of douban in China” will be hidden (only the author can read). The groups include too much “in-harmonious” topics will be closed by douban’s staff – or be hidden and only the members of the group may read those threads. It is obvious that Douban’s operator does not want this websited be involved into any political debate. 

 

2. Tianya.cn

 

Tianya (means skyline) is the most popular and most crowded online forum in China. And as for the number of the threads and the accounts, maybe in the world. It’s traffic is ranked No. 90 in the world (Alexa). It is the symbol of the prosperous BBS culture in China

 

Two mechanisms keep Tianya being survival and flourishing:

 

One is that it has a huge group of volunteer forum-board masters who are in charge of deleting/hiding the defamatory, dissenting and – most specially – inappropriate posts (means the threads should not be posted in specific forum board, like an essay on travel is posted to a forum boad on the gourmandism). Besides, the board masters also have the right to deny some ID’s posting, the right to make a post highlighted, etc. The board masters are mostly the famous IDs (in many cases most of users don’t know who the people is in real world), they are famous and reliable only because of their reputation established in Tianya.

 

The other is the un-deletable and un-editable mechanism. No one can delete/edit his/her own posts at the forum boards, even a board master can only manage the posts at his/her board – as a user in other boards, he can do nothing but posting new threads as a normal user if users think a board master is not appropriate, they may leave the complaint at the manage board – and if those complaints are reasonable, the higher webmaster may decide to suspend the board master’s authority – just like the mechanism of “petition” in China’s real life.

 

In Tianya, no one can establish a separate forum/group. All the forums are set by the general webmaster. Users may apply for establishing a new board by posting threads to the “Manage board”, but only the website can make a new board. The ecology of Tianya can be described a pyramid one.

 

Short conclusion:

Neutrally speaking, the different law in various jurisdiction diversified the digital code, as well as the Internet. When a society is digitized, the Internet is also formulized by the law in such society. “Cinternet” is not only a concept of physical “walled part” of the Internet”, but may be another “sphere” of the Internet, which isolated from other spheres mentally, systematically, and even institutionally – It’s not absolutely a bad thing, or a good one. It may be just an existence.

Ten Websites Lead You Understanding the Features of Cinternet

As Google’s abrupt leaving from China, the splitting of the Internet seems faster and faster. I think the following ten websites can lead observers understanding the Chinese Internet. All of them survived China’s censorship, and are developing rapidly. Compare to the websites that has been blocked (that I listed on Wednesday here), they are the real main stream for the over 400 million Chinese netizens.

First of all, They are all in Chinese, and seldom provide multi-language service. This might be the obstacle for the English speaking researchers, but it can also be regarded as the first typical character of Chinese website – not because of the censorship, but because of the population. The formation of a separate “Sub-internet” needs a big enough population.

There are many great blogs and websites reporting Chinese Internet (Cinternet hereinafter), such as Danwei, Shanghainist, Gokunming, etc. But if one wants to understand the trend of Cinternet, the following websites, as well as a little Chinese, plus some translation tools are necessary.

In my view, when we are talking about the Cinternet, the targets should be the “plain” websites, not those pioneer ones. Each of the following websites is crowded with millions of users, and all of them survived the censorship and/or self-censorship. The core/column of the Cinternet should be based on them but not those obviously unsurvivable ones. For example, a research to Chinese bloggers should focus on not only the independent or even blocked bloggers, but also the mainstream in those highly controlled blog services.

1. http://www.QQ.com (Alexa China 2; world 11; on Jan 15th 2010, the same below)
The top website in China according to Alexa in Jan. 2010. And it has almost all kinds of web application including blog  blog.qq.com), game  qqgame.qq.com), news, sns  qzone.qq.com), search engine  soso.com), micro-blog, C2C (www.paipai.com), and most importantly, Instant Message  im.QQ.com). Almost each Chinese netizen has a QQ number. the number of the accounts has exceeded 900 million in 2007, and the active users were over 400 millions in 2008. Then they only publish the number of  concurrent online users – this number exceeds 80 millions on Oct. 10th 2009, and exceeded 90 millions two months later.
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This is a diagram of the concurrent online users of QQ on 5 December 2009. The communication among them are not cacluated by the Alexa.

2. http://Baidu.com (Alexa China 1; world 8)
Baidu is a search engine service provider. Just like Google, it provides many other services like blog  hi.baidu.com). However, the core of baidu is still the web search. It enforces strict artificial intervention to the search result. However, most of Chinese users still take baidu as their first choice. One of the reasons is: Chinese users are more familiar to Baidu’s way of locating Chinese knowledge.

3. http://www.KaiXin001.com/ (Alexa China: 9; world: 56)
A unique SNS different from facebook style, grow rapidly in last two years. 60 Million users up to December 2009 (15 million active users per day). The aim of 2010 is over 100 million. A competitor of KaiXin001 is RenRen.com (Alexa China: 14; world 93). RenRen is the ealiest SNS in China, and it duplicated Facebook’s mode. However, that approach can not compete kaixin001 on the matters of authenticity and the user stickiness.

4. http://DouBan.com  (Alexa China: 24; world: 178)
The unique website that I cannot find the similiar website in English web sphere. It launched an English version but suspended. Some reported that its accounts exceeded 30 million by the end of Dec. 2009 (the number of account by Sept. 2009 was just 10 million). The founder of this website denied it is a SNS. Douban is the most successful Chinese Web 2.0 website. It is a very typical UGC website that the users generate almost all contents in the website. Without the interfere of the government, douban may be one of the promising websites in the ahead 5 years.

5. http://taobao.com (Alexa China: 5; world: 24)
The famous C2C or B2C E-commerce website, together with alipay.com (the online payment leader in China – Alexa China: 32; world: 267) and alibaba (B2B website – Alexa China: 25; world: 109), consist the giant of the E-commerce in China.

6. http://www.tianya.cn (Alexa China: 13; world: 89)
The most crowded Chinese BBS community in the world. With the traditional form of web forum, this website focuses and enlarge hottest news and topics every day. For those focused threads, it is very easy to have more than 100 thousands replies in one day.

7. http://Xunlei.com (Alexa China: 21; world: 129)
Based on its downloading software (Xunlei), Xunlei become the king of the dowloading in China. It declares only providing copyright-free resources, while since Xunlei software is a searchable, unified format “P2SP” software, one may find many copyright-doubtable resources on it. However, forget the copyright, Xunlei is very efficient and can be one of the successful practicers of the “cloud” concept.

8. http://blog.sina.com.cn (Alexa China:4, world:16, as for sina.com.cn)
Sina has been among the top ten Chinese websites for a decade. It is the traditional portal style. Checking the Internet archive of Sina ten years ago here, you will find that the style of the first page of sina had not changed so much. It is a typical obedient private owned website that follows the orders of the regime. As for the future of the Cinternet, observers are suggested to watch sina’s blog channel and the micro-blog channel  t.sina.com.cn).

9. http://youdao.com (Alexa China:42, world:282)
Youdao is the search engine developed by Netease  163.com – Alexa China:7, world:27). It seems paid more attention to the web 2.0 applications and the relevant page arrangement. It has the personalized first page like iGoogle. Netease has other products like 126.com E-mail service (Alexa China:27, world:195). As an old website rise together with sina and sohu.com (Alexa China:8, world:43), Netease seems more willing to embrace the web 2.0. It is the only one opens the free API for the 3rd developers among the four biggest portal sites (QQ, sina, sohu and 163) in China.

10. http://www.hao123.com (Alexa China:23, world:169)
Hao123 is a simple static 1.0 style html page aggregated links of many websites. For geeks, it is stupid and like an antique, but it always stands at the top 30 websites of China. It is the home page of millions of browsers. It was acquired by Baidu in 2006. Baidu keeps it on the original way, even doesn’t make it more customizable.

These websites including the 2.0 oriented sites (douban, youdao) and very static web 1.0 homepage (hao123). While in my view, the main stream of the Cinternet is unique and can not be categorized with Web 1.0/2.0 . Here are the features that I roughly summarized at the current stage.

(1) Accepting the 2.0 ideas, but making the user generated contents controllable. The latest example is t.sina.com.cn, it is launched in October and now become the top one among the micro-blog (as the matter of users’ number) services.

(2) Complying with Chinese culture – I am not saying censorship/dictatorship, but the culture. A typical example can be the comparision between reren.com and kaixin001.com.

(3) One website provides integrated services, but very few websites provide open API.

(4) IM driven. Other than the E-mail driven culture in English cyberspace, the Cinternet is and will still be an IM driven culture. People contact with QQ numbers everywhere. Besides QQ, Taobao has its IM too, and has made being the hub of all the Taobao’s e-commerce applications; sina, baidu, netease and China-Mobile all provide their IM services, but non of them are inter-communicable.

This is just a simple illustration. There must be more features. Here I am actually discussing the appropriate approach to stuy the Chinese web sphere.