I feel very much honored to have this opportunity to discuss the present and future of the Internet with guests from China and the United States. Today, I would like to express some of my views on the changes and characteristics of the Internet in China, and I hope you will find my words useful to understand the latest trends of the Internet in China.
First, let me clarify the concept of a ‘portal’. Actually in China, the portal that we are discussing today is very different from the ‘portal’ at the time when Yahoo was created in the US. In those days, Websites with search as their main function served as the ‘portal’ for Internet users to enter the Internet. While in China, ‘portal’ also means a “large and complete” supermarket of news and information. Sina.com, Sohu.com and Baidu.com, etc., together with their basic services represent the basic patterns of portal sites. These Websites emerged early and exerted great influence in the course of development of the Internet in China, and therefore they deeply branded the Internet in China with the concept of ‘portal.’ This explains why we can use ‘post-portal era’ as a perspective of observation.
It’s should be noted that the so called ‘post-portal era’ is not a new wording in Chinese Internet circles. Actually since 2001, with the successive emergence of search, mobile value-added services, online videos and SNS communities, people have been aroused to discuss the ‘post-portal era’.
‘Post-portal era’ does not mean the ebbing of the influence of portal sites. It rather means that from a wider perspective: as regards the surfing behavior of users of the entire Internet, portal sites are no longer the only or main entrance; as regards the content modes of portal sites, the content of portal sites are no longer limited to the orthodox mode of a mix of news and ads; as regards the business patterns of the Internet, many online products not featuring the ‘large and complete’ will spring up.
From these perspectives and in contrast with the situation of the past, the post-portal characteristics of the Internet in China have looked particularly marked during the recent couple of years.
First, the continuous innovations of portal sites in their content and service patterns have let them to shake off the single, old-mode mix of news and ads.
To speak of the innovative applications for Chinese portal sites, it’s no doubt that microblogging cannot be neglected. Take the microbogging service of Sina.com, which was put to test in 2009, as an example, by the second quarter of 2010, it has more than 50 million registered users, and it has become a real info-exchange platform for media, government, other institutions and individuals where they can publish, push and forward text, photos and video from cell phones and other Internet interfaces.
During this year’s sessions of the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Xinhua News Agency, China’s official news agency, registered an account for its key program “Xinhua Viewpoints” on Sina microblogging to publish the latest news on the sessions. It accumulated 200,000 users in two weeks and was described by overseas media as ‘a small step that is worth paying attention to and recording in the history of Chinese news reporting.’ Since the beginning of this year, public security systems, one after another, have systematically opened accounts for microblogging on Sina.com to publish various alerts and answer administrative questions. Such moves were described by the media as “concrete embodiment of respecting citizens’ rights to know.”
In addition, in its coverage of the World Cup this year, Sina.com sought diversification in its reporting with the introduction of the content organization mode of ‘original content+microblogging.’ Many soccer experts reported and commented through microblogging. Hence, a new mode to watch and comment soccer was established.
With Sina.com and Sohu.com offering microblogging services one after another, some media even claimed that the online media in China had entered the ‘era of microblogging.’
Of course, the model of community services like microblogging, games, input methods and desktop products, among other things, have all provided more footnotes to the connotations of portal sites in the post-portal era.
Second, in the post-portal era, the first landing points for Internet surfers have begun to show diversification.
Platforms like instant messaging and communities have become nearly half of Chinese Internet users’ first choice of entrance. For portal sites with news communication as their traditional business, in the post-portal era, they are faced with a new situation: acquisition of news is no longer the only or most important demand of Internet surfers. China Internet Network Information Center said in its latest statistics that online entertainment, e-commerce and community exchanges have led to the growth of users.
In early October, a survey conducted by CNN on the consumption and sharing habits of global-news readers showed that more than 43 percent of news was shared through SNS tools like Twitter and Facebook, and SNS had become the single most important way of sharing news. To some extent the survey showed that many Internet users no longer get news, in other words, no longer need to get news, through portals. I think that all those friends who have used microblogging on Sina.com must feel that microblogging is increasingly becoming an important means to get news. Here users can conveniently and quickly get the latest breaking news and most interesting stuff by publishing and forwarding.
In the post-portal era, the de-centralization of communication and the diversification of audiences will be an irreversible trend.
Third, in terms of business patterns, vertical and segmented online service modes have extensively developed in the past couple of years.
With the development of the Internet in China for more than ten years, the needs and behavior of Chinese Internet users have been always changing. At the same time, with the rapid increase of the number of users, their online needs and preferences are gradually diversifying. Therefore, satisfying a specific online-application need for a specific group of users has become a ‘rich ore’ that is worth exploiting. Following this, in the past couple of years, many vertical and segmented Websites specializing in dating, shopping, entertainment, tourism and literary reading and etc., represented by taobao.com, kaixin001.com, douban.com and sd-wx.com.cn and etc., have prospered.
In sum, in the past two years the development of the Internet in China has entered the new ‘post-portal era.’ If I am asked to say what the difference of this era between that of the past is, I would like to say that in this era, both portal sites and other online service platforms have at the same time showed admirable vitality and creativity, and they have genuinely provided Chinese Internet users with online lives in the broad sense.
Of course, facing the future, I believe that commercial portal sites represented by Sina.com and Sohu.com will, like what they did before, bring more new denotations and connotations to the ‘post-portal era’!