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China Internet Research Conference: Two Views of Chinese Internet Users
The 6th annual Chinese Internet Research Conference is being held in Hong Kong this year, and China Journal is blogging through the event.
The afternoon kicked off with a double-header of research on Internet users. Roland Soong of the ESWN blog presented his own marketing and media-focused study of Chinese Internet users and bloggers, while Deborah Fallows of the Pew Internet Research Project brought a more personal approach to her discussion of how China’s Internet use has changed since the earthquake last month.
Soong’s study, which he said was large and well funded, was conducted in 2006 and 2007 in 30 major Chinese cities and compiled the results of 145,000 interviews. Among the highlights:
– 43% of people interviewed said they had used the Internet in the past 6 months. Wealthier and more educated people are more likely to use the Internet.
– Among the 30 cities surveyed, Hangzhou residents are most likely to use the Internet.
— Bloggers are more likely to be young and female.
– Almost all bloggers use the major Internet portals.
– Among people who write blogs, 80% read blogs as well.
But Internet users and bloggers are not homogenous groups, so Soong then tried to determine their “psychographic” traits (grouping people by interests instead of more typical marketing factors such as age, gender and socio-economic class). They were asked to respond to 32 statements on a five-point scale, on issues such as willingness to volunteer, interest in international events, and brand preferences. Some of the findings:
– Internet users eat more often at Western fast-food restaurants than the general population, and they prefer to pursue a life of novelty, challenge and change.
– Internet users value tradition less and care more about career than family, they are less involved in local civil issues and they feel less compelled to buy Chinese brands.
– Bloggers were even more likely than general Internet users to eat Western fast food and seek out challenges.
–Bloggers are more likely to enjoy spending time chatting with friends and seek to be regarded as leaders.
–Bloggers are less likely to value lasting relationships with a partner, get involved in local issues, and generally don’t believe a woman’s role in life is to make a happy home for the family.
Fallows’ research on the earthquake’s impact on Internet use began with her own experience. “Everybody who was in China has some story about what happened during the earthquake,” Fallows said. She herself rushed to check news and blogs for reports. “For the next week I spent all of my time… toggling back and forth between the television and the Internet.”
Starting from the immediate aftermath of the quake, Fallows noted several online practices in China. First, the Internet provided an immediate first response with news, information and commentary. It also served as an aggregator of content, especially materials and information not offered by the traditional media. New applications also cropped up to find missing people, match up volunteers with places that needed aid and collect donations online. The result was a challenge to the prevalent thinking that the Internet in China is all about entertainment, and that Chinese users will stay complacent under Internet control and management, since greater freedom of expression was allowed right after the quake. But now it remains to be seen whether these changes will have a lasting impact on Internet use in China. With the state returning to its tight pre-quake controls over the Internet, users may resist giving up their recent freedoms.