21 January 2010

FT on cultural differences in Chinese internet use

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Chinese mouse
Western companies are struggling to bridge the growing gap created by the evolution of a cyberspace with Chinese characteristics. Kathrin Hille explains some of the cultural (and political) differences in today’s Financial Times.

“[Chinese people] tend to roam the web like a huge playground, whereas Europeans and Americans are more likely to use it as a gigantic library. Recent research by the McKinsey consultancy suggests Chinese users spend most of their time online on entertainment while their European peers are much more focused on work. […]

Foreign companies have taken a long time to figure out – then adapt to – one of the key features of Chinese consumers: they do not like to type. “Typing is a pain in Chinese,” explains Zhang Honglin, demonstrating how he has to enter a search word in Latin transcription, then pick the right character scrolling through sometimes dozens of different choices in a pop-up window. This is because Mandarin has many thousands of characters. So when 35-year-old Mr Zhang sneaks away from his family’s tobacco and liquor shop in Beijing to an upstairs internet café for hours on end, he navigates almost entirely using the mouse.

Most portals have reacted by filling their pages with hundreds of colourful links competing for attention – creating a cluttered and disorderly view to the western eye but making life easier for Chinese users.

Beyond aesthetics, Chinese web users are much more lively than their western peers – a characteristic that forms consumption preferences.”

The articles also contains a thoughtful reflection on the cultural importance of user-generated content in China.

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