The two killer features in the early times of the web were portals and email. Here in China, the first one is still very popular (While in the western world this is absolutely not the case). The latter however, never really quite made it in China.
As you can imagine, I was rather surprised when Andrew Lih – author of the upcoming book The Wikipedia Revolution – told me this. During a magnificent lunch in the Yunnan restaurant he gave us, bloggers from the west, a brief introduction on China and the web.
The largest sites in China are still portals. Lih mentioned that most Chinese Internet users hardly use the address bar while surfing. Instead, they click their way through the web. Not surprisingly, the main portals are huge. Sina for example, is so influential that even government officials put @sina email addresses on their business cards. Other big names are Sohu, 163, and 51.
As you’ll see, a lot of Chinese web services have a number as their name. When you speak out these numbers in Chinese, they sound like certain phrases. 51 sounds like “I want”. Put a word like jobs behind it and the numbers suddenly make sense.
Forget email, Chinese use IM
So what about email? Why isn’t that popular? A survey by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences showed that only 30 percent of the Chinese Internet users check their email on a daily basis. They would rather use IM. Particularly because their private conversations aren’t saved – or at least they have that impression.
China’s most popular IM service QQ counts a stunning amount of 341900000 active users. That’s actually more than the total number of Chinese Internet users (253 million), which means a lot of people have multiple identities.