The Chinese digital landscape can be a bit disconcerting at first. You won’t find many familiar faces there, no Google so no Google Plus and no Youtube but also no Facebook, no Twitter… Instead, expect a stream of similar search engines and not-so-similar social media services with a serious Chinese-style look and feel to them. Here are a few things to know to get acquainted with China’s digital landscape and to find your new favorite Chinese sites.
Discover new Chinese sites
Google and Chinese search engines
Google, as we mentioned, was banned from mainland China. Google.cn is now only a picture of Google in Chinese, that redirects to the Google Hong Kong site. The following two sites are well known Chinese search engines you can turn to.
Baidu is China’s reigning search engine. It’s also much much more. Expect to find Baidu everywhere, from a search engine, obviously, to OS and phone provider, to online Wikipedia, thanks to its 57 services. Baidu is opening a Silicon Valley lab to work on R&D and rumor has it that Baidu Eye is on its way. Sound like Google much?
This popular alternative is Baidu’s Bing in a way. Youdao offers a range of services, including an exploration-worthy dictionary and translation service, which provides nice, current, English-Chinese sample sentences taken from the web.
Understanding social media in China
In a similar fashion to Google, Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus were locked out of China’s Great Firewall. You, therefore, need to turn to Chinese sites and social media to get your fill of socialities. Fret not, there’s plenty to choose from. In fact, 8 Chinese social brands were on the Most Valuable Social Media Brands list in 2012. Here are a few things to know.
A social war between two giants
Unlike in the US, where the roles are pretty clear-cut, in China, the hustle isn’t over yet. Two giants, Sina and Tencent are waging a war against each other to rule China’s social world.
Sina vs. Tencent in short
Basically (although that’s really simplifying things), Tencent rules the instant messaging world and social login with QQ. With over a billion registered users, QQ login is as omnipresent in China as Facebook connect is over here. Some apps and sites are pretty much QQ-member only.
On the other side, Sina rules the micro-blogging world with its uber-popular micro-blogging site Weibo (微博). (Tencent also has its own Weibo though, to make things more confusing.)
Sina Weibo has often been compared to Twitter but it’s a lot more than that. One of the first things you notice on this site is how incredibly active it is. It’s also (therefore?) a great way to learn Chinese.
Who’s Facebook in China?
Renren -人人网 – the dominant player?
Truth is, while none of the others look as much like Facebook as Renren, sites like Kaixin001, Douban, Pengyou (Tencent) and QZone (Tencent) are also strong Chinese social network contenders. QZone, the oldest social media of the lot was even named QZone is China’s most valuable social media brand China’s most valuable social media brand in 2012.
Giants and new players
Some observers, however, base their comparisons on users rather than features and prefer likening Tencent QQ’s billion users to Facebook’s user base. Others see Sina Weibo as China’s answer to both Facebook and Twitter. But that’s not it. The third type of players, mobile chatting apps – smartphone users are on the serious rise – have also decisively entered the playing field.
Chat apps like WeChat (Tencent) are already at 200 million users (including me) in two years and their userbase has spread all over the world, scaring even possibly the likes of Facebook. So who knows what the social media scene in China will look like in a few years.
There’s a lot more to be said about China’s social media sites and guessed about China’s future digital landscape. In the meantime, nothing beats trying these sites on your own to form your own opinion.
So prepare yourself to experience visually different sites, full of pop-ups and Chinese and give Chinese sites a try! If you want to start easy, Hootsuite has recently started offering both Tencent and Sina Weibo and Renren integration in its social management suite. Surround App also lets you enter the Weibo world, sans Chinese. And if you’re going in full-Chinese mode, the Zhongwen Cloze browser add-on is a good travel companion, as it instantly translates any word you don’t know.
Happy exploring! Let us know how it was!