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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

360quan; Social network for teenagers proves China’s youth are insane.

Chinese youth are insane. Well ok, maybe not insane, but certainly not sane either. Lets call them “unsane”. Why, pray tell, do I make such nasty accusations? Well the short answer is I’m judgmental and have a selective ignorance (that I choose to ignore). The long answer?

The long answer is that it there may be sanity after all; I just can’t see it. Let’s get into more detail, and then I’ll let you decide for yourself.

littleredbook_dot_cn_360quan-homepage
360quan homepage; pretty women in their underwear? Nothing wrong so far.

So 360quan means “360 degrees circle”, essentially a concept that allows users of 360quan to post information that gets categorized in “circles” throughout the site; these “circles” are then accessible by others of same interests, and in general it facilitates the grouping of people with similar tastes and preferences.

Nothing new right? Well there are some key differences when dealing with the 90′s generation (ie: people born in the 1990′s; aka teenagers). These people don’t seem to group in terms of shared interests in books, music, or film. Rather they group based on the level of “non-mainsteam” thought exhibited, levels of incomprehension, and chaotic personal expression. 360quan is a messy messy site; but that belies the undercurrent of intelligent order (invisible to the adult eye).

So where does 360quan stand in relation to its competitors? In terms of traffic it lags far behind power house kaixin001, and middle-weight contender xiaonei:

littleredbook_dot_cn_360quan-comparasion

Making friends.
An interesting element to note is 360quan’s focus on creating new friendships through common interests, rather than xiaonei/facebook’s focus of connecting people who already know each other. Alexa’s ranking of this “friend creation focus” puts 360quan at number 3 for all sites in China, an impressive feat.

littleredbook_dot_cn_360quan_alexa-rank

This is done by the “quan” or “circles” content is catagorized into areas, and visitors can easily find the content they are most interested in; and connect with others in that “circle”.

However the problems with these circles are that they quickly become filled with unrelated content from users; since these are essentially kids, the ability to self regulate and “clean up their mess” isn’t strong. The result then is a mess of unrelated content, user spam (the hot article for the day was 2 pages of dummy text a bored user copy/pasted/posted dozens of times) and general incomprehensibility.

littleredbook_dot_cn_360quan-popular-group2
This popular “circle” has 71763 members; it discuss, love and dating; once you get to page 3, it becomes a random mess with no comments or responses.

Connections happen on many levels; such as searching by constellation, geographic area, hobbies, or simply “wears glasses”, user choose what they want to find and what category interests them.

The SNS offering.
360quan’s closest approximation is actually not facebook, kaixin001 or xiaonei; it shares more similarities with myspace.com; ie: targeting younger crowds. The target focus can be seen simply:

1. Kaixin001: Young office workers
2. Xiaonei: University Students
3. 360quan: Elementary – High school Students

Service-wise it’s par for the course: create profiles, make friends, have a personal space, online games, etc.

littleredbook_dot_cn_360quan-personal-space2
One of the rare “easy to read” profiles on 360quan.

As for channels, a distinct focus on youth is emphasized throughout its content; fashion, gossip, sports, entertainment, culture, love, etc. Yes that does seem a bit broad; the element that ties it all together is the focus on these topics from a teenage point of view. Content wise, information is de-emphasized in favor of pure visuals, in the form of pictures and videos.

Youth and rebellion.
Popular themes of 360quan center around teenage rebellion themes. Individuality, fashion, “non-mainstream”; it’s basically the “teenager vs. parents” battle self-documented through a social network.

How would you influence this group, whose attention is fickle, and focus is ever changing? Apparently you show them pictures of other teenagers who are pretty much the same, and share their same values. To that effect 360quan emphasizes visual and sensory stimulation to capture the fleeting “butterfly on acid” attention of their target group. Attaining traffic of 30 million for the year is remarkable, but a very long way from catching the “mainstream non-mainstream”.

Advertising.
Main advertisers on 360quan are products that fit a youth audience.; this includes bottled green tea drinks, weight loss products, J&J contact lenses, and other fashionable, disposable goods.

Personal experience:
From BA360′s intern Veronica:

I’ve never felt so tired in working on a SNS, and it’s probably because I am not a non-mainstream.

At first sight of 360quan.com, my conservative mindset rolled me back: “Eww! Is this just another dangerous, creepy and chaotic dating website?!” Squinting through all the too colorful contents, I gradually accepted : “Okay, so maybe this is what non-mainstream is all about…”

Simple and direct picture display on channels and active user interaction are my first impression of its content. But I also found a lot of repeated posts in circles which wanted to race for the hottest circle. I found the dizzy personal space decorations and interfaces made it impossible to read profiles.

When I searched for netizens’ comments outside of the site, I actually found nearly nothing except some PR advertorials. What I did find were small web-earning ads saying “Invite one ID sign in 360quan.com earns you 2.2 RMB…” Common SNS marketing.

So, from my experience, 360quan must be suitable for a specific group of people, as mentioned, post-90s. Because I, an utter mainstream born in 1986, just don’t get it.

Thoughts:
Other user experience from BA’s staff found immediate spam sent to us when creating groups, as well as general clashing confusion. It’s not a fun place to be for those of us who’ve experienced the relative organization of other major sites.

But that’s us. The focus is China’s teenagers. And in their world of history clashing with modernity and existence above this rift in Chinese culture and history, perhaps we can expect this cognitive dissonance laced throughout their expression.

Whatever 360quan is, it is different from the rest. It’s users are unique and have their own sub-culture language and method of connection. To me half of it is spam, the numbers are inflated or tweaked by 360quan itself, and the profiles are a clash of neon colors making comprehension impossible. But perhaps to the younger generation this chaos has its own meaning? Perhaps chaos is the communication?

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