FT on cultural differences in Chinese internet use

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 cafĂ© 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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