Social media stories tend to reflect a rags to riches theme – ie: one man sitting in the wee hours of the night typing away on his computer creates a network platform that services millions upon millions of users. This is how Douban started; created by a man named Yangbo in a restaurant called Douban (which is a Chinese seasoning); why call your Amazon-ish website after a Chinese seasoning? Well, why call an online bookstore “amazon”? It’s sweet actually – Yang named his creation Douban to mark in his memory the moments of its birth.
Douban (豆瓣), established in 2005 as an online database for movies, books, and music, currently boasts 3.2 million registered users, and is the 55th most popular website in China, according to Alexa rankings. It’s similar to Amazon in that it provides users a great way to search for and see review on books/movies – the point of difference is there is no selling on Douban; it’s focus is connecting people of similar interests via its social network.
Perhaps one great point of difference between China and the West is the availability of transparent information. The great firewall of China as well as the government’s tendency to censor inflammatory content creates a need in the Chinese psyche for “pure” information.
This is what gives Douban (and to a larger extent all of China’s social networks) its visceral power; the ability to get important information neither tampered by the government nor propaganda from companies. Pure truth (though subjective) is a powerful pull; and when you’re the biggest aggregator of pure truth on entertainment products… well you get the picture.
Nuts & Bolts
Douban provides information on books, movies, music, and exhibitions; each of these are subject to user introductions, comments, price comparisons from multiple vendors, ratings and reviews. All content on Douban is generated by users, there is no traditional editorial content; much like Digg.com, users vote to push most interesting content to the top. Due to Douban’s popularity, top rated user books are often featured in leading Chinese print news media.
Douban’s book review page.
Beyond this, Douban supports its community with a social network, this features matches users to users through finding similar trends in their online activity; ie: users who recommend or rate things in a similar way are matched together, groups with similar interest are introduced; by bringing people together with similar interests, Douban increases value-add interaction among its users.
Douban’s SNS user interface, a familiar layout.
This is a great alternative to high-cost marketing; a supreme focus on valuable, meaningful interactions among users is what catapulted Douban to the top.
Who advertises on Douban?
Online book sellers tend to compete for advertising space on Douban – this makes sense since the website is focused on book reviews and price comparisons. Due to Douban’s ability to create bestsellers, many books will directly promote themselves on site, and marketers are known to artificially inflate their respective book reviews to increase sales.
Notice I didn’t mention movies… this is because the widespread availability of DVD copies for around RMB 10 (USD 1.2); therefore, you’ll not see a movie or DVD ad to be found on Douban.
Who competes with Douban?
It’s pretty much a cliché at this point, but once a site become successful you can expect copies to spring up like mushrooms in a rain forest.
Heavyweight web portal Sina.com (China’s equivalent to Yahoo or MSN) launched a copy of Douban that focuses only on books; however Sina has its own ecommerce system for direct sales of books – in this manner its better compared to Amazon than Douban.
As stated in a previous article, it’s very difficult to beat the first mover, and comparison of Sina’s traffic to Douban’s is pretty embarrassing for Sina.
ITV.mop.com is similar to Douban, but focuses on movies, TV series and cartoons, so can be seen more as a compliment that a competitor. As stated in aprevious article on Mop, content here is more fun and free, and serious and introspective.
Personal experience from BA360′s intern, Yinise:
Douban.com is designed in a simple style. There are not a lot of colors and pictures so that I could concentrate on the information it provides. I often go there to search for comments on a book or a movie I heard about. If the comments say it is worth reading or watching, I would refer the price information to decide whether I should take action. When I want to take part in some social activities or watch some exhibitions on weekends, I would also turn to Douban.com to check information. For me, Douban.com is a huge database which provides variety of information. And I will always get something useful.
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