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Chinese blogs ready to rumble amid expectations
Updated: 2005-12-01 10:17

On November 21, the winners of the Deutsche Welle International Weblog Awards (also known as the BOBs or Best of the Blogs) were unveiled, with both jury and audience awards for Best Podcasting Site going to the Chinese site Antiwave by Pingke and Flyfig.

Chinese blogs ready to rumble amid expectations
Chinese mainland Internet veteran Fang Xingdong [baidu]
Massage Cream by Wang Xiaofeng, a journalist from the magazine Sanlian Life Weekly, was chosen by the jury as Best Journalistic Blog in Chinese, while Feidao Cepan Qianfan Guo by Xiao Feidao scooped the audience prize.

The jury's Best Weblog went to A Little Respect, I'm Your Mother by Argentinean journalist Hernán Casciari, while the audience's was given to the Brazilian site Tupiniquim.

The annual awards, run by German website DW-World.de, are in their second year and involved 2,500 bloggers and podcasters, with about 100,000 internet users casting their votes. Last year's jury-selected Best Weblog was also a Chinese site called The Dog Newspaper.

The same day the latest results were announced, Fang Xingdong, president of China's first blog site Bokee.com, told China.org.cn he believed that, after an initial explosion in popularity in recent years, blogging in China had an even brighter future.

Fang first translated "blog" into Chinese as boke based on its pronunciation, but this also means "knowledgeable man." Other terms that have been used in Chinese include Tribe, Wangzhi (literally "web log") or simply the English "Blog."

In July 2002, Fang found that articles he had written critical of Microsoft had been removed from several websites, including the portal Sina.com, which he said had been due to commercial pressure.

This experience had left him disillusioned with the Internet, but he said a friend then introduced him to blogging, which at that time wasn't popular anywhere. His interest was rekindled and he became convinced that blogs would revolutionize cyberspace.

He soon established his still-dominant blog site, initially called Blogchina.com but renamed recently, and wrote a long Declaration of Chinese Bloggers to advocate the medium.

Yet even by late 2004 Chen Tong, vice president of Sina.com, told a blog seminar he still couldn't tell the difference between blogs and BBS (bulletin board systems).

Fang said thousands of Internet users are creating their own spaces every day, and Chinese blogs may number 10 million by the end of this year. "We can think of blogs as Personal Websites version 2.0. Every personal website before was a separate place, but blogs gather people together by using links, quotes, comments and RSS."

In September, Bokee.com received US$10 million from three American venture capitalists, Hong Kong-based Softbank Investment International and a mainland investor, while Amazon.com subsidiary Alexa currently ranks it 102 in the world in terms of traffic.

Sina.com, Sohu.com and Bokee.com each launched their own blog competitions in September, with Sina.com even convincing movie, music, media and literary celebrities to start blogs in order to promote it -- something that has proved extremely popular.

Despite large numbers of bloggers in China, Fang said "only 2 out of 5 users update their blogs regularly" and welcomed ways to encourage more activity.

Wang Yi, from BBS site Chinabbs, was quoted in Sanlian Life Weekly's November 14 issue as saying no one really knows how many bloggers there are in China: "It's really hard to find out because there are too many small hosts."

The magazine described a debate at the Chinese Weblog Convention in Shanghai, which closed on November 5, over how to maintain or improve the quality of blogging. While some thought blogging was about people freely expressing themselves in their own space, others said the emphasis should be on professionals writing on serious subjects.

Fang said blogs could improve people's lives through better information sharing, though most bloggers in China only write about their personal feelings and life.

But this could change: a 50-year-old blogger broke the news of a fatal attack on a woman on Beijing's Wangfujing Road on November 7 last year and many papers including Beijing Youth Daily followed his reports for their coverage, with even CNN using it.

Chen Tong expressed doubts that blogs would become a significant media player in China. "Blogs are just a place for writing lovers to write, I can't imagine a day when people don't look for information from Xinhua News Agency or other providers," he told Qian Jiang Evening News on November 15.

Fang maintained that blogs would surpass traditional websites this year, and that their varying adaptations -- including podcasting and mobile blogs -- would guarantee their success.

He said the only difference between Chinese and overseas blogs at the moment was in numbers, as 60 percent of young Americans and 90 percent of young South Koreans write blogs, compared to less than 10 percent of young Chinese.

Fang said his ultimate goal was for every Chinese person to write a blog and express themselves online -- as well as to make Bokee.com profitable by the end of this year and listed on NASDAQ by the end of 2006.

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