China's Undiscovered Interenet: BBS
I came across a great article this morning discussing one aspect of Internet usage in China that I certainly wasn't aware of, namely that bulletin board services are one of the top two or three most widely & often-visited types of sites. The article was written by Gang Lu on his blog Mobinode.
In the article the author interviews Kevin Day, the founder of the largest Chinese BBS company (Comsenz) and asks him whether or not social networks (SNS) will supplant BBS in China, to which he responds:
“BBS will not be replaced by SNS and they will not be the competitors to each other either. BBS is a must-to-have application in SNS, at least in China. The features of BBS can help the social network users to exchange their ideas efficiently. On the other hand, SNS is a people-centric networking platform but BBS is a topic-centric platform. SNS is to map the social relationship in real life into the cyber space, which in my opinion is one of the reasons people love Facebook; But BBS is there for users to follow the hottest topics and expand your social experience virtually. In BBS, people goes there because they are interests in the topics, and whom they communicate with are not really matter.”
To me, BBS makes a lot more sense than social networking. As Day implies, people care more about topics than they do about what topics people are interested in - a distinction that the Facebooks of the world would IMO should take to heart as they try to build long-term, viable businesses.
It's also interesting to note that Comsenz (Kevin Day's BBS company) has its own AdSense-like BBS monetization platform, called Insenz, and that Sequoia, Google and Morningside invested in Comsenz in 2006. Perhaps this type of diligent, forward-thinking investing is why Sequoia is one of only a couple dozen VCs (out of 1000+) to have actually made money for its investors over the last decade...