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.
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.