TechRadar

Archive for the ‘SNS’ Category

“After Facebook released v1.1 of their iPhone application, they promised that a bigger, badder v2.0 was in the works for September. They cut it pretty close, but they’ve kept their word. Just a few hours ago, the second major release of the Facebook application hit the App Store, bearing a whole new user interface and a slew of fresh features.” Techcrunch

Techcrunch announced however i downloaded the app before this article cameout

My exp with 1.1 was annoying since you could’nt do a lot of new things that have made facebook even more addictive. Comments on newsfeed items, pic comment from a Div pop up etc etc ….

Anyways ..im still testing it ..and will post it here again

New Facebook iPhone App

New Facebook iPhone App

Advertisements

Microsoft and Yahoo! have been struggling ,as we all know, to monetize the real estate of the Internet World, i.e the Page Views. Where Microsoft lost about 250M$ in the online business last quarter, Yahoo also suffered a 23% drop in their net earnings in the same quarter. It’s not that these giants don’t know the business, they just seem helpless especially since they have no share in the strongest online business value chain, i.e. the Search. No wonder google still raked in a kewl 17% increase in their annual revenue.

While Microsoft was busy writing petitions against a possible buyout of double click by Google, Yahoo was busy firing its employees and trying to lower the opex to show healthy earnings to its investors

But Investors are smart and they can clearly see the Armageddon. They know that Dinosaurs did extinct and so can Yahoo.

But was Yahoo sleeping the whole time? No

Jerry Yang,Mr Yahoo, tried to reinvigorate life back in Yahoo management by calling a 100 day management review last year in July. Here’s a presentation

Irony is that do u really need a 100 days to identify a disease that has such visible side effects. When you don’t have a share in the Search market, no matter if your clicking Trillion page views you just cant make money. For the four weeks ending in January 2008, Google accounted for 65.98% of U.S. searches, while Yahoo! and Microsoft combined amounted to just 27.84% of searches.

The second big question for Yahoo has been how to enter the SNS market. But Can you really sell the concept of making money by doing SNS now to Investors, NO? You could have 2 yrs back,but you wont have the back of your investors to invest into the SNS space especially When Google’s struggling to monetize their Myspace inventory

So does this mean the quest to make money on Social networking sites is never ending?

Well Microsoft seems to think otherwise, especially since they’ve been acting happy about their investment and the advertising deal with Facebook. Hmmmmm……

Does all this hint that Google is the Achilles with out the week heel ?

O Sorry, not yet the Giants are trying their Last move…..lets wait until then…

Here’s more stuff for you to munch on the deal: Cnet

Social networking is one of the biggest and fastest-evolving phenomena on the Web, and Microsoft’s proposed takeover of Yahoo will undoubtedly send it in new directions. More than anything, a MSFT-YHOO acquisition will shake up the debate over just how you can make money off a Facebook or MySpace.com–because they’re running out of time to figure that out.

Should the Microsoft-Yahoo acquisition go through, expect them to try to corner the social-network advertising market.

The common wisdom is that neither Microsoft nor Yahoo is a real force in social networking. Both companies own multiple social media properties, and the only resounding success among them is Yahoo’s Flickr. (Sorry, Microsoft, I’m not counting the Zune’s “song-squirting.”) “They’re very interested in the space,” Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li said in an interview with CNET News.com. “They haven’t been able to get traction in it. They look at it very longingly.”

Social networking, in addition, will be a tasty slice of the Web for a hypothetical Microsoft-Yahoo because it’s also one of the few niches of the Web on which Google doesn’t already have a stranglehold. Its OpenSocial developer initiative isn’t ready yet, its Orkut social network has only gained traction in a few regions of the globe, and the company admitted in its recent quarterly earnings call that social advertising (specifically on News Corp.’s MySpace) isn’t bringing home the bacon.

Taking the reins on the advertising market is probably the best way for Microsoft-Yahoo to make waves in social networking without actually launching a big social-media initiative–and I certainly hope they don’t try to, because there are way too many networks out there already. Microsoft already has a foot in the door with its $240 million stake in Facebook. (Yahoo tried to acquire it outright in 2006 and was promptly spurned.) And Facebook’s own Social Ads were met with high-profile opposition and plenty of bad press.

With Microsoft’s and Yahoo’s resources pooled, the two companies could devise a more effective social advertising strategy (if such a thing is even possible). Even if it’s dubious in its effectiveness, expect it to be very high profile. Think about it: Microsoft-Yahoo could claim they’re doing what Google couldn’t do. How’s that for instilling confidence?

“A potential acquisition, if it actually goes through, could be a much, much more interesting player for Facebook to want to do business with,” Li said, noting that Facebook’s current deal with Microsoft only covers display advertisements, not search ads. “If Microsoft and Yahoo can actually make a play in search, that makes Facebook a lot more comfortable going with an all-Microsoft deal and maybe even be acquired by it. Who knows?”

But beyond advertising, a combined Microsoft-Yahoo has a massive social-networking tool at its fingertips, Li continued. “Yahoo and Microsoft both have this wonderful asset called e-mail address books and instant-messaging buddy lists, which are essentially a social graph,” she said. “A lot of people are using those services, much more so than Gmail, for example, and so that’s an instant social graph.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Well nothing great about this start up. Remember those days when all you really did on your computer was to download a few cool screen savers,wallpapers and just made sure you dont fall asleep while browsing through clicks after clicks of junk…..

Chirp just add’s the facebook and flicker feeds into your screensavers and hence gives you more than just a screen , a dynamic screen….

Hmmm…..i’m sure in this world of desktop web app’s one can think of a better way to source your social feeds than a screen saver ….. Any comments?

chirp-logo.pngToday, Chirp is launching in private beta. Chirp is a screen saver, previously covered here, that lets you bring social feeds from Flickr and Facebook onto your desktop. Other social Websites will be added in the future. “Our purpose is to enable you to stay up to date with your friends without the hassle of logging into multiple websites,” says CEO Eve Phillips.

Chirp will let you subscribe to a friend’s photo feed so that it can decorate your screen. Click on a photo and Chirp will take you to the corresponding Flickr page to find out more. This reminds me of the Slide Desktop application, except that it brings in photos and data from other Websites. It basically brings social widgets outside the browser, something we’ve also seen with desktop applications from Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. The Sidebar in Windows Vista, for instance, lets you bring all sorts of widgets to the desktop, including online photos albums.

Maybe I’m missing something, though, because there is some smart money in the seed round. Greylock Partners, Jeff Clavier’s SoftTech VC and angel investors Reid Hoffman (Chairman and founder of LinkedIn), Jay Adelson (CEO of Digg), and Dave Samuel (founder of Spinner.com and Grouper). CTO David Bill is formerly of Spinner. I guess Chirp’s focus on turning social feeds into a screen saver might give it more mass appeal than just a bunch of desktop widgets.

Phillips explains the difference between Chirpscreen and widgets in the following way:

We’re designed to take over your screen and turn your
computer into a display of the social content of your choosing,
automatically updated with content from your friends – your friend channel.

Taking a step back, if you separate out what we do into three areas:
content aggregation; filtering; and display, most of those desktop
widgets aggregate and then do a limited display. We’re focused on
having highly relevant filtering and a really engaging, interactive
display of that content, as opposed to a desktop widget which is
designed to be a companion to your desktop activities (browsing,
email, etc.).

What do readers think? Try the beta and tell me in comments.

chirp-screen-small.png

source:Techcrunch.com

Facebook is no stranger to the complaints of privacy activists. First, it was the site’s News Feed feature back in 2006. Most recently, the company’s Beacon service drew widespread criticism. This blog post will outline yet another major privacy issue, in which Facebook recklessly exposes user data.

Facebook launched its widely popular application developer program back in May 2007. As of press time, there were more than 14,000 applications. Some, including most of the popular apps, are made by companies, while a few of the popular apps, and a significant number of the long tail of the less popular applications are made by individual developers.

But a new study suggests there may be a bigger problem with the applications. Many are given access to far more personal data than they need to in order to run, including data on users who never even signed up for the application. Not only does Facebook enable this, but it does little to warn users that it is even happening, and of the risk that a rogue application developer can pose.

Privacy problems for the user

In order to install an application, a Facebook user must first agree to “allow this application to…know who I am and access my information.” Users not willing to permit the application access to all kinds of data from their profile cannot install it onto their Facebook page.

Screenshot of adding an application

(Credit: Facebook)

What kind of information does Facebook give the application developer access to? Practically everything. According to the Application Terms of Service,

“Facebook may…provide developers access to…your name, your profile picture, your gender, your birthday, your hometown location…your current location…your political view, your activities, your interests…your relationship status, your dating interests, your relationship interests, your summer plans, your Facebook user network affiliations, your education history, your work history,…copies of photos in your Facebook Site photo albums…a list of user IDs mapped to your Facebook friends.”

The applications don’t actually run on Facebook’s servers, but on servers owned and operated by the application developers. Whenever a Facebook user’s profile is displayed, the application servers contact Facebook, request the user’s private data, process it, and send back whatever content will be displayed to the user. As part of its terms of service, Facebook makes the developers promise to throw away any data they received from Facebook after the application content has been sent back for display to the user.

Researchers blast Facebook

Some applications may make use of all this data, but as researchers from the University of Virginia have detailed in a recent report, Facebook provides applications with access to far more private user information than they need to function. Adrienne Felt, a student and lead researcher on the project, told me that of the top 150 applications they examined in October 2007, “8.7 percent didn’t need any information; 82 percent used public data (name, network, list of friends); and only 9.3 percent needed private information (e.g., birthday). Since all of the applications are given full access to private data, this means that 90.7 percent of applications are being given more privileges than they need.”

(Credit: Adrienne Felt, with permission.)

Felt condemned this practice, and said that it violated the the idea of least authority, an important security design principle that states that an actor should only be given the privileges needed to perform a job. In other words, she said, an application that doesn’t need private information shouldn’t be given any.

“Regardless of the click-through disclaimer that Facebook makes users accept, I don’t think people understand what’s happening to their data behind the scenes. If applications don’t appear to use private data–but then they all have this same standard click-through screen–how can users differentiate between applications that really need access to data and all the rest?”

More than your own data–selling out your friends

Facebook’s Web site and lengthy application terms of service curiously fail to mention something rather important. In addition to providing the application developer access to most of your private profile data, you also agree to allow the developer to see private data on all of your friends too.

Many Facebook users set their profiles to private, which stops anyone but their friends from seeing their profile details. This is a great privacy feature that can protect users from cyberstalkers and is completely gutted by the application system. To restate things–if you set your profile to private, and one of your friends adds an application, most of your profile information that is visible to your friend is also available to the application developer–even if you yourself have not installed the application.

The good news is that Facebook lets you configure the amount of your own private data that your friend’s applications can see. The bad news is that it’s hidden away, requiring several clicks through menus to find a page listing specific privacy settings (Privacy -> Applications -> Other Applications). Furthermore, the default values are extremely lax, such that a user who has yet to discover the preference page is essentially sharing her entire profile by default.

This friend data-sharing “feature,” and the ability to protect against it, isn’t mentioned anywhere else on Facebook’s site, nor are users informed about it when they install an application.

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to briefly chat with Chris Kelly, Facebook’s chief privacy officer. During our conversation, he dismissed claims that Facebook does nothing to inform users that applications have access to data on user’s friends, stating that “we have made things very clear to users, and they understand it very well.” However, by press time, he had yet to send me a link to anywhere on the site where this information was “clearly” explained.

I also spoke with George Washington University Law professor and privacy expert Daniel Solove to get his thoughts on the issue. Regarding Facebook’s claims that it makes its privacy policy clear to users, he said that “they seem to be going on the assumption that if someone uses Facebook, they really have no privacy concerns.” Furthermore, “a kind of vague notice in a privacy policy that no one reads suddenly permits Facebook to do whatever they want with minimal to no privacy protections.”

As for actually getting user permission before using their data in new and creepy ways, Solove said that the company “seem to have a very cavalier attitude to their users consent.”

Rogue developers

Ok. So in order to give your friends virtual naughty gifts, play scrabble online, or see your daily horoscope, a user has to hand over all their private profile data to some unknown company or developer. No need to worry though, because Facebook has safeguards in place, right?

“Before providing any information to any Developer through the Facebook Platform, Facebook requires each Developer to enter into an agreement…which…strictly limits their collection, use, and storage of Facebook Site Information.” (Facebook application terms of service)

Ah, good. Facebook requires that each developer protect the privacy of the user information and requires that they not store a local copy. I’m sure Facebook enforces this vigorously, audits developers, and throws the book at anyone who violates this rule, right?

“[each application] has not been approved, endorsed, or reviewed in any manner by Facebook…we are not responsible for…the privacy practices or other policies of the Developer. YOU USE SUCH DEVELOPER APPLICATIONS AT YOUR OWN RISK.” (Facebook application terms of service)

I asked Facebook’s Kelly what his company is doing to ensure that application developers do not violate the rules by saving a copy of user data that passes through their servers. He cited “extensive security mechanisms operating behind the scenes,” although, he refused to expand on this, due to “security reasons.” He wasn’t too happy when I accused him of practicing security though obscurity, a concept widely mocked in security circles. He dismissed my charge as a mischaracterization.

Kelly claimed that his company “has a variety of techniques to determine if [developers are saving user data.]” As a PhD student in Information Security, I can quite confidently say that from a technical perspective, this is impossible. Simply put, once the data leaves Facebook’s servers, the company has no way of knowing what happens to it. Thus, giving Mr. Kelly the benefit of the doubt, I can only assume that Facebook has a team of trained psychics on staff who use their mysterious powers to ferret out rogue developers.

Who are the application developers

Kelly said that users can determine a developer’s trustworthiness by looking at their profile page, and that somehow, users can combine to form some kind of intelligent hive mind. “One of the factors is what applications your friends are installing. Untrusted applications don’t get added very often as the collective mind is choosing what is trusted in real time.” He further added that it is “up to your friends to make that determination in real time. If an application is going to give them some utility, they’ll know that the applications have to obey the rules.”

Call me a cynic–but I fail to see how thousands of 18-year-olds can collectively assess the data protection practices of some random developer in a foreign land. Remember, these are the same 18-year-olds who post photos of themselves passed out drunk on their public profile pages.

Would I trust the hive mind of Indiana University students to tell me which bar in town has the cheapest beer? Sure. But to expect them to evaluate a company’s privacy practices? No way.

A public outcry

Unfortunately, as alarming as this issue is to privacy activists, there is a good chance that it may fail to gain the attention of the millions of Facebook users necessary to actually force the company to fix its policies. While both the newsfeeds and Beacon scandals were “in your face,” most users have no way of knowing what, if any, data is being transmitted to application developers by Facebook, and thus are unlikely to be motivated to complain.

Furthermore, even users who are aware of the privacy risks of Facebook applications may still end up installing them. To not do so is to isolate yourself, to cut off communication channels, and in some cases, to cause insult your friends.

In what can only be a great example of life imitating art (see below), I asked security researcher Adrienne Felt which, if any, applications she used. She told me that in spite of the fact that she had spent significant time investigating the privacy risks, she still ended up installing an application because her friends wanted to send her some virtual Christmas presents. Not wanting to offend them, she put aside her privacy concerns, and installed the app. As she told me, due to the peer pressure, “I had a hard time saying no.”

The Joy Of Tech on Facebook
(Credit: Nitrozac and Snaggy, used with permission.)
reported on webware.com

As has been long expected, Facebook has begun to work on making its service available in multiple languages as it expands internationally–and it’s doing so by utilizing the power of its millions of users by enlisting them to volunteer a few minutes. The site has spent the past few weeks asking international users to participate in the process by installing a “Translation” application that lets them translate words on Facebook from English to their native languages. It only applies, of course, to Facebook-generated text; anything entered by users, like interests or favorite movies, remain as-is.

The Translation application is initially available in French, Spanish, and German, and Facebook has said that thousands of users have enlisted in the process and are “actively translating.”

A preview: Facebook en espanol

(Credit: Facebook)

But it’s more complicated than that: “This doesn’t mean that once a user has finished translating the site will be available in that language,” a release from Facebook explained. “In order to get the best possible quality translations, we have a voting system. Other translators of that language will be able to vote on the quality of the translation by giving it a thumbs up or thumbs down. Users are also able to report any poor translations or translators.” Essentially, Facebook has prank-proofed the system.

Full versions of Facebook in French, Spanish, and German will be available, ideally, before the end of March; when those are complete, the next set of languages (which have yet to be determined) will enter the translation process.

A handful of other social networks already offer a variety of languages based either on personal preference or geographic location. Friendster, which is popular in Asia, allows its users to toggle back and forth between English and Chinese; MySpace operates more than a dozen international sites with both language and content targeted toward the culture in question.

on webware.com

as reported on news.com 

“I’ll go on a hunger strike!”

So said one adamant Facebook user in the wake of the news that game manufacturers Hasbro and Mattel were trying to do something about the wildly popular, unquestionably addictive online game known as Scrabulous.

The game, which rose to fame when its creators turned it into an embeddable Facebook application, is a word game that’s a whole lot like the classic board game Scrabble. It uses a playing board with “bonus” spots just like Scrabble. In fact, the rules are identical to Scrabble‘s.

The companies in charge of the “real” Scrabble, for obvious reasons, aren’t happy.

Game companies Hasbro, which distributes Scrabble in North America, and Mattel, which is responsible for its overseas trademarks, have reportedly asked Facebook to remove the game from its application directory. And you can tell it’s a serious legal matter because nobody’s talking.

Facebook declined to confirm the report, and it said that it has not yet issued any kind of statement about Scrabulous; representatives from Hasbro did not respond to calls for comment.

The similarities between Scrabble and Scrabulous are crystal-clear, and it’s a no-brainer to see why Hasbro and Mattel are miffed. To add to that, Scrabulous serves up advertisements, which means that its creators are making money off the concept. But what the game companies really ought to do is take a step back and realize that they can use Scrabulous to their advantage–without removing the viral game from Facebook.

Fans of Scrabulous, for one, aren’t happy about the takedown news. On Facebook, an unofficial group called “Save Scrabulous” is growing fast, with more than 7,000 users at last count (and 5,000 hours before.) Its members, including the aforementioned “hunger striker,” are livid.

“Leave Scrabulous alone!” one of them posted in the group’s message board, a thinly veiled allusion to the “Leave Britney Alone” viral video.

Others were more visceral: “I’ve burnt my Scrabble board in protest!” one exclaimed.

A game of Scrabulous on Facebook.

(Credit: Scrabulous)

Scrabulous is the creation of two brothers in India, Jayant and Rajat Agarwalla, who founded Scrabulous.com in 2006. When Facebook launched its developer platform in May, the Agarwallas soon transformed their Scrabble spin-off into an application designed for the social network, and it caught on like wildfire. More than 2 million Facebook members are active Scrabulous users, and several hundred thousand of them play the game each day.

It was a catch-22 for the Agarwallas. The “Scrabulous guys” became Facebook celebrities, but the exposure meant that they were much more visible–and so were the obvious similarities between Scrabble and Scrabulous.

“It wouldn’t be an issue if Scrabulous weren’t so popular, right?” observed Darren Herman, director of digital media for marketing firm The Media Kitchen. It’s the sheer mass of Facebook Scrabulous users that have made it a high-profile case as well as an inevitably ugly situation, if the game is indeed taken down. “We’re seeing the power of social media in its early days. Since we’re still trying to figure out the rules of the game, no pun intended, these types of issues are bound to arise.”

In other words, according to Herman, the debate over Scrabulous is indicative of the fact that the world–or at least certain mainstays of the game industry–still hasn’t quite figured out that a traditional course of action just doesn’t always work on the Web.

“I don’t think they are crazy to think this way,” Darren Herman said when asked if Hasbro and Mattel are totally off base. “Scrabble came out in a time when everyone guarded their (intellectual property) tightly.”

In the old order, a takedown notice may have been the only route. But this is the Web, and plenty of people have pointed out that Hasbro and Mattel are sitting on a marketing gold mine with Scrabulous. They have a gleefully addicted fan base, a machine for viral buzz (Facebook’s platform), and the deep pockets to offer to buy Scrabulous outright–or at least strike an innovative advertising deal.

There’s also no direct competitor. Neither Hasbro nor Mattel operates a Web-based, ad-supported version of Scrabble; video game manufacturer Electronic Arts owns the rights to electronic versions of the game, and it currently sells a PC game of Scrabble for about $20. (EA was not available for comment on the Scrabulous issue.) With Scrabulous, all three companies may be sitting on a marketing treasure trove.

Hasbro and Mattel might not get it. But the members of Save Scrabulous think that they do.

“Do these greedy fools not realize that they should be paying the creators of Scrabulous for all the damn fans of the game they created?” one angry Scrabulous fan from the United Kingdom asked on the group’s “wall.” He brought up a further point–that this is getting people excited about the musty old board game in a way they haven’t in years. “It’s like the music vids put on YouTube. It makes me buy tracks I never would have done, and frankly, before this game emerged, Scrabble was just something for rainy days in my childhood.”

Another member of the group put it more concisely. “Scrabulous brought Scrabble back in style. They should be thankful.”

We ‘ve all been reading a lot about the latest in the Social Networking Space(SNS) facebook, myspace etc etc ….But what’s keeping the Chinese busy…. especially when almost every 5th Chinese has access internet, a staggering 200Mill number of internet users……..

Here’s a detailed analysis (post on readwriteweb.com,covering the latest report from China Internet Networking Information center-CNNIC ) of the Chinese SNS and the Internet space

Do post your comments if you happen to know more about Chinese Internet Market

According to latest report from China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), by end of 2007, there are over 200 million Internet users (including 163 million broadband users) in China. 2008 is shaping up to be a very busy year for the Chinese Internet, and the Chinese market seems to be pulsing with social networking activity. But for Chinese Internet users, social networking has taken on a very different form than it has in Western countries. In China, the most popular form of networking may just be the traditional Internet forum system, or BBS.

That’s not to say traditional social networking is dead — far from it. You can find QZone which is owned by Tencent with the support of QQ’s over 220 millions active users. Then there is 51.com which proclaims 160,000 new users daily; Linkist and Wealink are two popular professional networks based in Shanghai; Tianji.com is another professional network based in Beijing and it has partnered with Viadeo, one of the world’s largest online business communities to create a premier business platform for online networking between China and Europe; Xiaonei, Zhanzuo and many others are sharing the campus social networking market.

With its massive user base, the Chinese market is naturally one of the most attractive places for Western networks to attemp to set up shop. MySpace has set up an office in Beijing; Facebook might acquire a Chinese SNS, Fenbei.com, and surely will have local presence in 2008; Friendster has done very well in the South East Asian market and expects similar success in China. Xing, a professional network from Europe, set up a Chinese office back in 2005; Last.fm is trying to be more localized in China to compete with 9Sky, Yobo, and 8box.

Surprisingly, though, one of the most popular methods for Chinese netizens to communicate exists far from the web 2.0 scene: traditional Bulletin Board Systems (BBS). BBS actually plays a very significant role in Chinese Internet life. In China, registered BBS users have reached 3 billion (one netizen might register at multiple BBS sites); 80% of Chinese sites are running their own BBS and the total number of daily page views across bulletin board systems has reached over 1.6 billion, with 10 million posts published every day. The BBS is an undiscovered and untalked about Chinese Internet phenomenon. To understand more about why BBS is so hot in China and how it will co-exist with modern social networks, we interviewed Kevin Day the CEO and founder of Comsenz Inc., owner of Discuz!, the first ever social platform – a BBS system – for the Chinese Internet. More than 400,000 BBS sites are built on the Discuz! system in China, or in other words, Discuz! controls over 70% of the Chinese BBS market.

The Phenomenon of Chinese BBS

According to a report produced by iResearch Consulting Group in 2007, around 36.3% of users in China spend 1-3 hours per day on BBS sites, about 44.7% of users spend 3-8 hours, and even 15.1% of users are on BBS sites for more than 8 hours each day. Over 60% of users will log in to at least 3 BBS sites more than 3 times each week.

According to the report, the primary reasons for using BBS sites is finding solutions to problems, general discussion, finding information, and sharing life experiences. 98% of users have contributed to a BBS by publishing articles, replying to posts, participating in polls, etc. Users tend to trust BBS sites because they think the information found on them is first-hand, updated frequently, and presented in a comfortable, community environment.

Chinese BBS life has apparently extended offline, as well. The report also says 64.5% of users have attended some offline events organized by BBS administrators or users. More than 80% of users are using BBS sites to search for information about products they plan to buy, and 61.7% of users are keen to ask other BBS users for opinions before making a purchase. Astonishingly, BBS sites are even acting as ecommerce hubs themselves, with 47.3% of users having bought products directly from a BBS.

The screenshot below shows a BBS set up by the fans of Jinglei Xu, a very famous Chinese celebrity and blogger. This site has over 65,420 registered users, and you can find thousands of online communities like this one built on traditional BBS software.

The History of Discuz!

If you ever log onto a Chinese BBS site, most likely it is built on the Discuz! system. Discuz! was originally developed by Kevin Day when he was at his first year in university. In 2002, the first version of Discuz! was sold to a Hong Kong based company, and in 2003, Day decided to discontinue his studies and founded Comsenz Inc. in 2004 in Beijing.

In 2005, Comsenz Inc. partnered with Zend and established the Zend China support center. Later in 2005, Day announced that Discuz! was going open source, which has been described by local media as an earthquake for the Chinese software industry. Comsenz Inc. got its first round of funding for around $10 million from Sequoia Captial, Morningside, and Google in 2006.

Now Comsenz Inc. has grown to a household name with 200+ staff and a complete product line that includes Discuz! (bulletin board), X-Space (social Network platform), SupeSite (content management system), ECShop (open source B2C and C2C system) and SupeV (online videosharing system). It is also running a few Internet services, including a free forum hosting service 5d6d, a free B2B shop hosting service Maifou, and a community advertising network Insenz. Day is just 26 years old, but he has been publicly recognized as the one of the most successful entrepreneurs born in 1980s.

The BBS and Social Networks

With 70% of Chinese BBS sites built on Discuz!, Day is obviously a key figure behind the phenomenon. So we asked him why he thought BBS systems have become so popular in China. “The first Chinese BBS was probably set up back in 1997. Like Email, BBS is one of the first Internet services recognized by Chinese netizens,” he told us. “Chinese like the communities, they are normally a bit quiet in real life but in Internet they love to express their opinion and to follow up some discussion of hot topics. BBS provides a perfect and easy-to-setup show stage for everyone. BBS has evolved as a media platform, it is not the main stream media yet and might never be in China, but the latest and hottest news are always from various forums, spread and discussed by millions of users.

“Take a look at how fast the blog grows in China, you will understand my point here. The BBS users are more mature, they are mainly at the age of 20 to 40, well-educated and with various professional background, and their contribution to all sorts of forums make BBS a valuable information source.”

With social networking on the rise in the Western world and also in China, we asked Day if he thought social networking sites would eventually replace the BBS in Chinese culture.

“BBS will not be replaced by SNS and they will not be the competitors to each other either,” he answered. “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 go there because they are interested in the topics, and whom they communicate with does not really matter.”

The Monetization of BBS

The global social networking market is still struggling to seek the best methods for monetization, but it seems that BBS sites have already found a way to drive revenue. Day introduced us to his Insenz product, a BBS-based marketing service that was launched about six months ago. At its core, Insenz is basically a Chinese version of Google’s Adsense/AdWord services focused on BBS sites. If you are running a BBS focusing on the mobile phones market, for example, you can join the Insenz advertisement program and get mobile phone related ads or articles posted on your BBS.

Insenz’s customer are from all sorts of industries, car manufacturers, telecommunications, IT companies, etc. Insenz will monitor user feeback (e.g. how many replies to the article, how many times the post has been viewed, etc.) during the campaign and issue a report to marketers that includes valuable first-hand marketing information. The BBS sites that participate in the marketing campaigns get a cut of the revenue.

Of course Insenz takes the advantage of Day’s Discuz! kingdom. But actually, in China, Insenz is not the only company offering this service. Daqi.com, which started as a portal service, is now also taking advantage of the BBS phenomenon for marketing purposes. Instead of distributing ads across forums, they invented a technology to help gather and analyze discussions about the products of their customers. Daqi closed its second round fund from WI Harper in 2007.

Conclusion

A universal BBS search engine will definitely be more valuable than blog search in China, though Day said that he would not bother to do this simply because he thinks the search engine giants Google or Baidu have better technology to implement it. It seems that Google China has noticed the popularity of BBS sites in the Chinese Intneret market, and have recently taken a stake in Tianya.cn, a very popular BBS-based social network with 6+ million registered users and 200,000 online users daily. So should MySpace, Facebook, and other traditional Western social networks endeavor to enhance their BBS features if they want to play in China?