Innovation in China’s Internet Communications Sector

I have a confession to make: every morning, the first thing I turn on is Beijing Radio’s 男左女右~ the Chinese equivalent of something that’s a cross between loveline and sappy soft rock/pop songs and listening to those last pre-sleep thoughts and discussions as I’m waking up.  Some time last month,  I was struck by the number of mentions of 微波 (“wei bo”) or microblogging as the hosts explained why they didn’t yet have a dedicated microblog feed.

For a country that didn’t have Twitter (the main source of microblogging in the US), it was amazing to see how quickly the phenomenon had overtaken China (the current market leader is the popular website sina.com). I always knew that microblogging would take off in a very real way in East Asia, where its character-based language system allowed for more content to be communicated in 140 characters, but hearing it being talked about so seamlessly in live radio made me realize how much potential the digital and Internet communications space has in China.  Especially for China, where communication and information is a delicate commodity, the evolution of its Internet space will be one that has implications not only on its culture, but its economic and sociopolitical systems.

From an entrepreneurial standpoint, while the current perception is that the industry is predominantly occupied by copycats who are more images of their US counterparts rather than platforms that explore innovative new ideas, one key component missing is the customization and geo-targeted changes that are inherent in all of the most successful Chinese Internet companies. Even Sina’s weibo service, which BUILDS on the same principle of 140-character status updates, had features like video and link embedding and sorting by topic rather than direct @ replies before Twitter itself implemented these changes recently.

However, one thing that does remain to be seen is whether or not there will be any disruptive ideas and concepts that will emerge from China’s budding Internet communications space. Just as many companies (online and offline alike) grapple with a China-entry strategy, Chinese companies are also struggling to reach beyond its borders.  And what characteristics will these companies take, and will they be able to take the lessons that companies like Amazon and eBay have learned in their failed attempts to enter the Chinese market and execute them abroad?

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