CHINA / National

Blogging for fun and profit in China
(Beijing Review)
Updated: 2006-05-15 14:09

Lao Ding, 40, a doctoral student at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), had never felt so embarrassed as he began working with a team of young researchers in their 20s in Beijing.

MONEY-MAKING ENTERPRISE: Xu Jinglei, one of China's hottest celebrity bloggers, is involved in a dispute with her host, Sina, over advertising on her blog.
Eager to bridge the generation gap and share common topics, Lao bought a DVD of The Promise and watched the $35-million production to better understand a famous parody of the film by Hu Ge and follow the anti-Promise backlash around the blogosphere.

Hu Ge is a blogger in Shanghai who does freelance video editing for animation and advertising companies.

After seeing the latest disappointing offering by the Cannes Film Festival Golden Palm Award-winning director Chen Kaige, he made a 20-minute spoof of the film, called The Steamed Bun Murder, to "practice his editing skills."

The video clips spread quickly around the Web through his friends. Irritated, Chen threatened in February to sue Hu for defamation and copyright violation.

As a fan of European films, Lao has never liked the Hollywood elements that make movies a box office success. Thus, it was no surprise that he did not like The Promise, but neither did he take a fancy to Hu's parody because of the "insulting sarcasm," to which the "old-fashioned" Lao has not gotten accustomed.

He admitted, however, that while he was puzzled by what Chen wanted to express in his movie, he did enjoy Hu's skill in mocking Chen's didacticism.

Were it not for Hu's parody and the opinions of the controversy in the blogosphere, there is little chance that Lao, and many others, would have seen The Promise. This fact justifies what a person who calls himself Hopesome said in his blog, or personal Web log, called Podcasting Podium, "It is 'unwise' for current copyright protection to restrict the public non-commercial reproduction of works, because in an era when everyone is allowed to produce and 'remix' Internet content, excessive copyright protection risks sacrificing the lion's share of copyright holders."

Hopesome continued, "The movie and music industries, and traditional media, should be far-sighted and ease their old ways of copyright protection to allow the creation of much more interesting and wonderful remixed material, seeking a win-win situation for each party involved."

Hu's parody is a podcasting product. Different from blogging, which uses text, podcasting is a mixture of audio and video materials. The entire blogosphere reflects the second generation of the Internet, or Web 2.0, which encompasses sharing, participation, remixability and convergence.

Web 2.0 is "the living Web," a platform enticing people to contribute and consume. According to Tim O' Reilly, founder and CEO of computer book publisher O' Reilly Media, Web 2.0 applications "make the most of the advantages of that platform," and "create network effects through an 'architecture of participation.'"

Live, work and blog  

According to the China Internet Industry Survey Report 2005-06 issued by the Internet Society of China, by the end of 2005, the number of Chinese bloggers amounted to 16 million, out of a worldwide total of more than 100 million.

POPULAR EXPRESSION: Wang Xiaofeng, an entertainment writer for Life Weekly who keeps a blog called 'Massage Milk,' is often on lists of favored bloggers on many websites because of his sarcastic style.
It also predicts that the number of Chinese bloggers will exceed 60 million by the end of this year, accounting for one third of the total population of Internet users in China, and reach 100 million next year.

Blogging changes the way the Internet functions in people's daily lives because, as David Weinberger, co-author of the bestseller Cluetrain Manifesto, describes. "On the Web, everyone is famous to 15 people." Ordinary Internet users form the foundation of the blogging pyramid, as Hu Ge did before he became a household name. Their blogs deal with their personal lives, happiness and sorrow, opinions and gossip.

Lao found blogging to be a good thing once he registered a blog. As a father of a boy and a girl, he has been the envy of many parents in a country where the one-child policy is practiced. Nobody knew that he was allowed to have a second child because his 10-year-old son suffers from a congenital heart defect.

He began to keep a blog to express his love and expectations for his daughter. After he disclosed the information on her birthday last September, many young parents with similar experiences left comments on his blog, and through these links Lao got to know more people and they have formed an online community. They discuss movies, and recommend blogs on travel and photography to each other.

There seems, however, to be an agreement among these people, who are approaching middle age and managing to balance families and careers, that they should maintain contact only in the virtual world and never let each other into their web of "guanxi," or connections.

"People at my age need friends in the pure and simple sense, and besides, we would feel embarrassed if such a friend, who knows so much about you but little of your real-world identity, walked into your real life," Lao explained.

Unlike Lao, young college graduates usually keep blogs and share them with former classmates, friends and colleagues through MSN's My Spaces service provided by Microsoft.

For these people, single, full of energy and ideas and eager to experience life, there seem to be no boundaries to the topics discussed, and "fun" is their aim.

Blogging for profit

The most eye-catching parts of the blogosphere, however, are big names in show business and sports. Actress Xu Jinglei, for example, is one of the hottest bloggers in China.

Her blog on Sina's celebrity blog community attracted more than 10 million hits a mere 168 days after being launched last October.

By the end of last November, there were 36 million blogs and 600 blogging service providers (BSP) in China, including, which raised over $10 million from four venture capital firms last September, and Sina, China's largest Internet portal that pioneered the celebrity blog community last year, according to the Internet Society of China report.

As Sina's celebrity blog service is widely viewed as a success, controversy arose because a company suggested paying for an advertisement on Xu Jinglei's blog. Sina believes Xu is not entitled to payments for any advertising, while Xu contends she deserves it because "her diligence in updating the blog daily, her fresh writing style as well as her healthy and positive image have boosted the page views not only for her blog but also for the Web portal."

No settlement has been reached yet. The possible commercial use of the blog was not mentioned in the agreement between the parties before the site was launched, and there is no legal precedent to refer to in China.

Chen Tong, head of Sina's blogging service, explained that the company introduced celebrity blogs as a promotion to attract more viewers to the portal and never considered their commercial use.

Claiming that revenues from advertisements belong to the portal, Chen said he was "uncertain and not optimistic about whether BSPs can make money this way in the near future in China."

Hong Bo is the first blogger in China to receive payment for an advertisement on his blog. He had declared that he would not extend his contract with Hexun, a popular Chinese BSP, after the three-month contract expired in March because he was "tired of the 'hustle and bustle' around making money out of blogging these days."

He said the low commercial returns could not support blogging as a profession, such as a columnist, adding that blogs have the potential for diversified commercial uses besides advertising.

In contrast, Liu Jun, Chief Editor of the website, is confident about blog advertising, saying that every blog targets a very special audience, which guarantees the effect of advertising, and that the network of bloggers provides the advantages of both business-to-customer (B2C) and customer-to-customer (C2C) marketing strategies.

Liu cited the example of a small wine producer named Starmhoek in Britain. Starmhoek sent 100 influential bloggers each a bottle of wine and saw its sales surge in less than one year.

Following Xu's dispute, many celebrities left Sina in early April. Bai Ye, a literary critic, left because of his blog article on writers born in the 1980s.

The piece led to an abusive attack from Han Han, a young popular writer born in the 1980s who stopped writing after finishing a couple of books to become a professional race car driver.

Han's attack found an echo among his fans and the wrangle escalated and got out of control when more people became involved.

"It's the invisibility of netizens that makes expressions online unrestrained and kind of an irresponsible catharsis," said Zhan Jiang, professor of journalism at the China Youth University for Political Science.

It seems in the freewheeling world of blogging there are many issues to address before anybody can think of making money.


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