Here is what Mr. Kim says:
In short, the article said:
Much of Chinese internet = BBS
Often the Chinese “group thoughts/activities”, such as the recent (rather unfortunate) “Angry Chinese” incidents, get organized on these BBSes
Chinese’ love of BBS might have come from distrust of traditional media
Outsiders have not figured this out
But the very last part of the article kind of made me scratch my head:
So, BBSes are the real social media marketing tool, and as usual, the Chinese are ahead of everyone else, but just haven’t figured out that part themselves. While the west talks about social media and Web 2.0, China has had a version of it for the past ten years. It may not be pretty, but it works.
Does the fact that BBS is so popular in China today mean a) BBS is the right platform for social media and b) BBS will remain as popular in China for the coming years? I’m not very sure about that, at least using the Korean market as a “canary in coal mine” example.
a) Is BBS the right platform for social media?
If we define “social media” as the collection of unique, diversified individual voices, I don’t think BBS is the optimal platform for social media activities – on the contrary, BBSes can often lead to group thoughts and monoculture, where the agenda is largely driven by big voices.
b) Will BBS remain popular in China for the coming years?
In Korea, we have a popular BBS/forum service in “Daum Cafe”. Three or four years ago, Daum cafe was arguably THE most popular service for Korean netizens. Today, Daum Cafes are still doing pretty okay I guess, but are definitely not the most popular daily web destination as they once used to be. Over the last several years, Daum Cafe has given much way first to minihompies, and later to blogs.
The problem of Daum Cafe as a BBS-type service was that it wasn’t as much focusing on individuals. On BBSes and forums, usually it’s difficult to keep track of the messages users left on different spaces and the subsequent comments left by other users. It’s also difficult to put one’s personal identity to the page that collects all his postings (“My page”), just like a contributor’s personal page on Wikipedia is rarely visited (many people don’t even know such pages exist). People like group activities too, but basically people are individualistic. Users want to have “their own site” where they have all their content under a specific URL which they can use as personal brands.
I would like to stress that I don’t think of the BBS as the future of social media, I can’t see that far ahead. But along with IM clients like QQ and MSN, it certainly does bring in the highest amount of traffic volume on the Internet in China. And regrettably, it is, for the most part, neglected by marketers and journalists for gathering information on what Chinese are thinking and talking about.
Mr. Kim freely admits to using the Korean market as a reference point for his conjecture about how the Chinese market may develop, talking first about how Daum was very popular as a BBS in Korea several years ago, but has now fallen off in popularity. He seems to suggest that the popularity of BBSes will eventually fall off in China; it’s just that no one quite knows what will replace it. He also suggests that BBSes are subject to “groupthink” much more than blogs, which are more about individual expression. As Chinese society becomes more open and individualistic, he suggests, then the need for BBSes will gradually fade.
I would beg to differ.
I think of BBSes as the electronic equivalent of the town square. The town square is always the place where people would go to gossip, share information, and shop. This is what most Chinese do when they go to the BBS. Sometimes they are looking for specific information about buying a home or a car, there are BBSes for this. Other times they are looking to complain about something unfair happening to them, there are BBSes for this. And so forth and so on.
Then sometimes, the BBS is the place where they turn to when they are unhappy with something, such as the recent issues with the Olympic torch relay and Tibet demonstrations in the west. When this happens, the BBS is where they turn to in order to vent their personal feelings because, for the most part, there is less Chinese government influence in the private BBSes and they can speak and organize more freely. When this happens the BBSes become the digital Tiananmen Square, places where the Chinese gathered to show their displeasure on two occasions in the 70s and 80s.
Now, instead of going to Tiananmen Square, they go to their BBSes.
China now has the largest number of blogs in the world, and blogs are the venue for personal expression. With more than 25M Chinese blogs, they are not short of opportunities for personal expression. I tend to think of social networks like Facebook and Xiaonei as social networks for people who want to meet others, but don’t have enough to say to maintain a blog. Instead, they provide a wealth of information about themselves, hoping to link up with others who may find them interesting and appealing, and to find others with shared interests.
Mr. Kim seems to suggest that since South Korea is more developed and more open as a society than China, the Chinese Internet will eventually follow developments in South Korea. While China has closely followed some South Korean trends such as online gaming and in mobile devices, there are some areas where it is still very different.
For one thing, South Koreans seem much more willing to reveal their true names and identities online than Chinese. Cyworld, a fantasy world where virtual tools can be made and sold, was a huge success in South Korea, but it failed miserably in China.
In every case, the Internet closely mirrors the values of a society, and the choices it makes. The choices made by Chinese are still very different from South Koreans. It remains to be seen whether they will more closely resemble each other, or grow further apart. I suspect that they will grow further apart as their societies develop differently.