Daum, Korea's #2 portal, had 27M monthly search queries in April (link in Korean), a 75% increase over two months.

For portals, search is the name of the game, and Daum's position in Korea is no better than Yahoo's in the US. Naver, the top dog, has over 70% market share. Daum didn't hide its intention to play a catch-up game in search market, and their weapon of choice was to introduce better search over its "cafe" (web bulletin board) content.

Daum believed web BBSes are some great archives of useful knowledge, and the strategy seems to pay off, judging from Daum's search market share gains. A few posts before, I called BBS a rather older system - now, BBS combined with very robust search might be an entirely different story.
TAG BBS, Daum, search
The other day, I read a piece on the China Vortex, shared on Google reader by Tangos. (Thanks Tangos - I'm getting lots of insights into the Chinese web industry through your shared blog articles. Of course I enjoy your own too.)

In short, the article said:
  • Much of Chinese internet = BBS
  • Often the Chinese "group thoughts/activities", such as the recent (rather unfortunate) "Angry Chinese" incidents, get organized on these BBSes
  • Chinese' love of BBS might have come from distrust of traditional media
  • Outsiders have not figured this out
But the very last part of the article kind of made me scratch my head:
So, BBSes are the real social media marketing tool, and as usual, the Chinese are ahead of everyone else, but just haven’t figured out that part themselves. While the west talks about social media and Web 2.0, China has had a version of it for the past ten years. It may not be pretty, but it works.

Does the fact that BBS is so popular in China today mean a) BBS is the right platform for social media and b) BBS will remain as popular in China for the coming years? I'm not very sure about that, at least using the Korean market as a "canary in coal mine" example.

a) Is BBS the right platform for social media?

If we define "social media" as the collection of unque, diversified individual voices, I don't think BBS is the optimal platform for social media activities - on the contrary, BBSes can often lead to group thoughts and monoculture, where the agenda is largely driven by big voices.

b) Will BBS remain popular in China for the coming years?

In Korea, we have a popular BBS/forum service in "Daum Cafe". Three or four years ago, Daum cafe was arguably THE most popular service for Korean netizens. Today, Daum Cafes are still doing pretty okay I guess, but are definitely not the most popular daily web destination as they once used to be. Over the last several years, Daum Cafe has given much way first to minihompies, and later to blogs.

The problem of Daum Cafe as a BBS-type service was that it wasn't as much focusing on individuals. On BBSes and forums, usually it's difficult to keep track of the messages users left on different spaces and the subsequent comments left by other users. It's also difficult to put one's personal identity to the page that collects all his postings ("My page"), just like a contributor's personal page on Wikipedia is rarely visited (many people don't even know such pages exist). People like group activities too, but basically people are individualistic. Users want to have "their own site" where they have all their content under a specific URL which they can use as personal brands.


I know this is a very crude analogy, but I think the evolution from homepage to BBS to blogs and other forms of social media can be said:

Generation 1 = Homepages = individual "homes" without much communication channels. People sometimes visit other "homes" but communication between homes are generally not very active. Besides, it's generally difficult to build and manage one's own home.

Generation 2 = BBS = town hall meetings or cocktail parties where people gather together and talk about various topics, but not much of "individual space".

Generation 3 = blogs = individual homes with built-in communication system and numerous, instant townhall meetings (i.e. the content aggregation via XML/RSS).

If we look back on the Korean web service market, the game-changing services have walked through the above generations. First the homepages were all the rage (circa 1998), then there were Daum Cafe and other BBS/forum services like Freechal (circa 2000). Then, of course, Cyworld minihompies came along and took the market by storm (2002 or so). And now the name of the game is, arguably, blogs - I'm not saying this because I'm a blog company CEO :)

Of course this is only what happend in the Korean market, and just because something happened in the Korean market doesn't mean it will happen everywhere else. But having said that, I am eager to see if the Chinese' love of BBS will continue or even get stronger, or the Chinese netizens will further embrace blogs or other forms of more "personal" media platform. What do you think?  
TAG BBS, blogs, cafe, China, Daum, Freechal