The Chinese Web Ecosystem

It’s strange world out there & China is no exception. In fact it’s so different, that most of the time it’s completely unrecognizable to the gurus of the West. The most populous country in the world is no stranger to the Web or 互联网 (pronounced who-leean-whung) in Chinese. It’s language makes it a hard barrier to enter, but exploring behind the Great Firewall reveals a world unknown: they have strange browser usage statistics, massive increases in Chinese content, fascinating familiar online games and a competitive web 2.0 landscape. Here are some interesting facts, stats and tips about the Chinese Web Ecosystem:

The Browser:

When walking into an Internet Cafe, one is presented with an interesting dilemma -for some a hell – in the form of tabless browsing. Internet Explorer 6 is still used by over 34% of Chinese Internet Users. Possible reasons for this include that the only plugin used to download public key certificates remain Microsoft’s Active-X. Thus, you can’t do online banking and buying without using IE 6. Developers realize the IE6 market domination, thus optimize their sites for it. Therefore, a move away from IE 6 would have to come from developers, the government as well as consumers.

The Language:

From 2000-2010 there was increase of over 1200% in the use of Chinese online. The Chinese language currently holds the second spot, after English, for the dominance of language online. Although English has wider adoption, the amount of Chinese language content will soon surpass English. This being said, China only has an internet penetration of 35%, while the USA, for example, has an Internet penetration of just over 78%.

The Online Games

On a recent trip to Shanghai, I stopped over at the China International Comics and Games Expo aka CCG Expo. It was a venture into a different kind of gaming and youth culture unknown to me. The games at first look familiar, but upon further inspection different games emerge. It’s like a parallel universe. While walking around the convention I stumbled on a DOTA exhibition. Cool, I thought. A Western Game. But I was mistaken. Upon closer investigation m3guo appeared. The acronym DOTA stands for Dream Of Three Ancient kingdoms. The Chinese is 梦三国. Here is a video of some gameplay.

Look familiar? Sound familiar?

Another interesting game that is immensely popular is a Korean game licensed by Tencent called Cross Fire. It is the love child of Counter-Strike and Call of Duty.

It is reported that Cross Fire and other online Tencent games attribute most of the almost $1Billion revenues in Q4 of 2010 for the company. Cross Fire is also the most popular game in Internet Cafes (网吧 in Chinese) across the country. Another interesting trend, based on my own observations, is that most of the popular games in China are hardly on par with the graphics of many popular Western games.

However, this does not hamper the popularity of these games, as Cross Fire also holds an unparalleled peak concurrent user count of over 2.7 million users. Just as a comparison, Steam’s PCU (peak concurrent users) stands at 3.5 million. That’s for the whole of Steam. Cross fire is just one game.

The Web 2.0 Landscape

In the West, most Web 2.0 and social networking websites have almost no contenders. Facebook for social networking and Twitter for microblogging. These are the de facto winners in the West. In China however, due to the Great Firewall, it’s completely different. There are competitors for many services. In the social networking space its RenRen, Kaixin, Pengyou and Qzone (the latter two both run by Tencent). Currently, Renren is the leader with 95million users, however Pengyou and Qzone both have more users, their popularity is catching on.

In the microblogging landscape, the leader is Sina’s Weibo (literally translated as microblog), but Tencent’s offering is gaining speed. These two are the leaders in that space. Interesting thing to note is that the microblogs differ from Twitter. For instance, Sina Weibo has a lot more functionality, for instance threading comments, embedded media as well integrating virtual currencies and badges. The most followed user on Weibo, an actress called Yao Chen, who recently surpassed 10 million followers, might soon surpass Lady Gaga, as the most followed person online.


China has the numbers. It is the most populous country in the world as well having the language spoken by the most people. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that some of their Internet statistics are so big. However, when one compares it to the West, the numbers become impressive and amazing. China is steamrolling its way ahead, while more and more netizens join the sphere. For instance, have you heard of Taomee? It is a company in China focused on providing casual social online games for children. It recently got $64million in their IPO. It is almost scary how much goes on in China without our knowledge.

Although China is less innovative than the Silicon Valley, they are masters at taking what is good in the West and adapting it for Chinese users, adding even more interesting features and getting big big numbers behind their offerings, not only receiving lots of money in the process but also making them a force to be reckoned with in the web landscape. Ignoring China would be a mistake.

But don’t fret. There are some ways to not be left behind. Even if you are not interested in China, it is definitely beneficial to have some knowledge of what is going on. I hope I gave an interesting and informative introduction, there is much more going on though. Join in.

How can you get involved?

Learn some Chinese. I would recommend ChinesePod for some excellent language materials and if you want to learn how to write Chinese visit Skritter. Otherwise visit Social Mandarin for Mandarin resources from around the web.

If you don’t have the time to learn Chinese. Here are some excellent English sites to keep you informed and up-to-date on China.

Penn Olson
China Tech News


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One Comment

  1. 1
    John on Saturday 30 July, 11:44 AM #

    Wow, I know there’s a whole other Internet over there and yet I’m always still amazed by everything that goes on, not to mention the huge numbers.

    Great write-up, interesting read!

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