Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Social media in China - Sina Twitter & Douban

Due to the "technical difficulties" of living in China, The Peking Order has not been updated for quite some time. Apologies for that, it should be OK for a while now.

In the meantime, a combination of boredom, frustration and professional interest has driven me to Chinese social media equivalents of foreign sites that are inaccessible within China. The two that I have found most interesting so far are
Sina Twitter and Douban.

1. Sina Twitter (Chinese: 新浪微博; Xīnlàng wēibó)

Following a purge of Chinese "Twitter clones" that took place earlier this year, Chinese internet giant Sina has recently brought out its very own micro-blogging service, Sina Twitter.

Although no official English name is clearly displayed on the site itself, in the official bilingual email that invites users to the site, the site is referred to as "Sina Twitter". The Chinese name translates directly as "Sina Microblog" (Perhaps Biz Stone et al. would be happier with that translation?!).

Sina's Twitter is very similar Twitter's Twitter. Apart from the fact that you don't need a VPN to access it in China and that functions have been given Chinese names, there are a few notable differences.

At the moment, there seems to be no desktop app like Tweetdeck or Twhirl that can be used with Sina Twitter. "Tweets" must be made either at the website or via text message, which is free of charge for China Mobile and China Unicom users.

The other main difference I have noticed is the amount of celebrities that already use this site. Most famous users are film or pop stars, but currently with the most number of followers (51,193 at the time of writing) is Lee Kai-fu, the former head of Google China.

Identical to Twitter, each post must be no longer than 140 characters. However, since a single Chinese character can represent entire words or concepts, a single tweet can convey far more than an English-language Twitter post.

For more detail, read Steven Milward's report on CNet.

To keep up-to-date on what I am doing, follow my very own Sina Twitter feed at http://t.sina.com.cn/angryeditor.

Please note: Still in the beta phase, Sina Twitter can only be used on an invite-only basis. For an invite, please let me know in the comments below.

2. Douban.com (Chinese: 豆瓣; Dòubàn)

Established in 2005, Douban is social network that, in some ways, is identical to Facebook: Users maintain a profile with basic information, add friends and post messages on the profile pages of other users.

Douban distinguishes itself from Facebook by focusing more on users' interests, with discussion groups and fan pages of bands, brand names and celebrities etc. On their personal pages, users can list books they have read, the music they have listened to and the films they have watched. Based on these interactions, people add can friends based on common interests. Unlike Facebook, therefore, a large amount of a user's friends are often people that they do not necessarily have a "real-world" relationship with.

According to an article on Danwei.org, which includes an interview with the founder, the website has dominated the online cultural scene for the last four years."

And according to a Chinese friend, Douban is predominantly used by 文青. She describes this group as "hipsters", or "young people interested in cultural phenomena". I would go for something like "young, educated, artsy types".

My Douban profile can be found at: http://www.douban.com/people/11610289/.

When I have time, I may write more about these Chinese sites. To be updated, please subscribe to The Peking Order RSS Feed (see sidebar).


PH said...

You signed up for Sina Microblog? How did you like it?

I have been thinking of abandoning Sina blog entirely. Sure, they boast a lot of users, some of whom are celebs, but because of it they can afford to cut down on services, functionality, and really put place restrictions on what you can or cannot write about.

The censorship and the lack of flexibility are particularly annoying. 所谓的店大欺客莫过于此。

Jez Webb said...

What do you mean lack of flexibility? In terms of functionality, I think it is as good as Twitter. Where it loses out is in terms of compatibility - i.e. no desktop app. and no way to embed a feed into my blog.

I am enjoying it so far, despite the fact I have hardly any fensi! Add away... http://t.sina.com.cn/angryeditor

sidhe said...

oooh an invite would be sweet if you have any to spare.

Jez Webb said...

I think clicking on this does the trick: http://t.sina.com.cn/invite/att_reqback.php?code=gpjS8Hg

Mark said...

"Technical Difficulties", that sure is a nice way of saying it.
I, like you, went on to use the Chinese websites. But the thought of it all ticks me off.