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China: Insights into the world’s biggest online community

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World News Publishing Focus
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China: Insights into the world’s biggest online community

China’s Internet landscape has transformed by leaps and bounds. Technology editor Kong Ho Chua and executive producer Ravi Hiranand of the South China Morning Post shed light on the subject on Friday, November 9, at WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Asia 2018 conference in Hong Kong.

As the world’s biggest online community, China’s Internet penetration has reached over 50 percent, which means three times the number of smartphone users and 11 times the number of mobile payment users in China than in the US, according to the China Internet Report, co-authored by the South China Morning Post and 500 Startups, a San-Francisco-based venture capital firm.

“There are currently 772 million internet users in China, which accounts for 55% of the total China population, and is twice the population of the US, said Ravi Hiranand, Executive Producer of Abacus, the South China Morning Post’s digital publication which covers China’s technology scene.

The expansion of Internet access is particularly significant in rural areas of China. In 10 years, the number of rural Internet users has grown 28% from 53 million in 2007 to 209 million in 2017, as China Internet Report points out.

The massive number of Chinese Internet users means thriving market opportunities for high-tech companies.

Kong highlighted a few Internet giants in China, such as Baidu, the Chinese Google; Alibaba, the Chinese eBay; WeChat, the Chinese Messenger. WeChat, for example, has a billion users already.

Apart from securing a spot in China’s mainstream market, these Internet giants have also been continuously expanding their business. So far, over 800 enterprises from inside and outside of China have been acquired and invested by the three.  

“Think about companies in all of these sectors,” said Hiranand. “E-commerce, media, AI, sharing economy, autonomous cars, fintech, education and gaming,” said Hiranand.

“The key is that they are doing everything. Very few [tech] companies around the world are in these [acquiring and investing] sectors - this only happens in China.”

The internet-infused climate has also led to the booming of start-up cities, with Beijing topping the game by USD$305 billion of sum of valuation, followed by Hangzhou ($240 billion), Shanghai ($115 billion) and the Greater Bay Area ($77 billion) -- places where big electronics company Xiaomi, video platform iQiyi are based in.

Hiranand added that a key feature driving the growth of Internet business in China is the high level of interactive social engagement on their websites, dubbed as the “Social+” model.

He illustrated such a case using Pinduoduo, a favoured social commerce platform in China that came with “regular price" and “social price” (the price you will get if you buy the product in groups) for each product sold online. “It is built into the foundation of products,” said Hiranand.

On Taobao, one of China’s largest e-commerce platforms, a live-streaming feature has created a new 24-hour version of the midnight shopping channel, creating a new social strategy which suits Chinese internet users’ shopping and sharing habits.

WeChat, China’s biggest messaging platform, was highlighted by the duo as a mini-apps feature that has everything, providing a large array of services, in a country where competition is very fierce and allows it to tap into the biggest market in the world through one application.

Despite China being an Internet powerhouse, its government is “the invisible hand” controlling the country’s Internet, the report says. Since there is a lack of clear guidelines to be followed, the success or failure of Internet companies can only rely on its approval.

In April, China’s media regulator ordered news aggregator Jinri Toutiao and Kuaishou, a live-streaming video platform under Tencent, to filter certain content, singling out the two parties for their disruption of order in online media.

Kong also highlighted the case in which Douyin,  a popular video platform in China, was ordered to remove any content containing the British cartoon character, Peppa pig, temporarily from its site as it was “keen to quell subversive enthusiasm”.


Angie Chan and Erin Chan are journalism students at Hong Kong University.


Kimberly Lim's picture

Kimberly Lim


2018-11-15 10:55

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