解密国内最奇葩网站:豆瓣在想什么?- Decrypting China’s most wonderful website: What is Douban thinking? – English

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Douban does not often appear in mainstream media, and apart from knowing that it’s a “slow company” which grew naturally, there is much more we want to know.

1. What is Douban?

2. What revenues does Douban rely on?

3. How does Douban select customers ?

4. How has the rise of Weibo impacted on Douban?

5. What are Douban’s plans regarding mobile products?

6. Is Douban ready to join the army of listed companies?

These questions are indeed important in the light of the fact that, recently, Douban announced that its daily visitors surpassed 100 million, and after expected revenue this year is anticipated to exceed 80 million, a more in-depth understanding of Douban is particularly important. This article on the Douban team will address all of your questions.

After Sina launched its micro-blogging service Weibo in 2009, a new pattern emerged in Chinese social networking. Renren and Kaixin, which were all the rage before, have also made strategic adjustments in the face of Weibo’s impact, separated the good from the bad, and evaluated the unique advantages of their products and platform. But one social networking website with a unique positioning; a gathering place for the ‘young artists’ and the ‘fresh young things’, was still heading forward in accordance to its own self, calmly sitting on the sidelines of an ever-changing industry.

Founded seven years ago, Douban rarely appears on the media front page. But this does not prevent the industry from speculating about Douban, especially with the fast rise of Weibo today, and the stable state of other social networking systems. A lot of people ask Douban: Where does the profit come from? How do you make a living? Senior Douban authors have analysed their profit model, in an effort to understand the business model. But is this the true Douban? Let’s visit Douban, and look for the real causes of their survival.

1. What is Douban?

The Douban office is located in Beijing’s Jiuxian Qiao area, and its various departments are dispersed over a two-level office. Bright and clean, set in an elegant environment, it is a very pleasant place to work. Over the last two years, Douban has remained as low-key as ever, but its growth has not been small. Today, Douban employs over 250 people, with structured development, and ongoing experiences and explorations.

Relative to other real name social networking systems, the semi-open Douban presently has over 60 million registered users, and over 50 million non registered users, and the number of visits is now past one hundred million. By number of users and traffic rankings, Douban is among the top 20 websites in China, and the top 100 in the world. This data above just corresponds to the industry standard to judge the value of an internet company. Any user familiar with Douban actually knows that the real value of Douban is not in these figures, but in the depth behind these figures. The tens of millions of active users on the various groups have a high concentration of highly qualified urban youths. From the starts, it’s been competing around interest. It is not looking for the highest number of users, but what douban is concerned about and exploring is user retention.

What is actually Douban? This is an interesting topic to discuss. Douban, which has existed for 7 years, started before Renren and Kaixin, but these two websites developed very quickly, and became the hottest things in the Chinese Social Networking System industry in the last two years. Douban is also often identified as a Social Networking System. But in the eyes of the Douban team, their website is unique, and there is no other of its kind. They even think that Douban has no direct competitor.

From seven years ago untill today, according to the blueprint in the mind of its founder, Abel, Douban has always been an internet platform about relationships between people and things, and between people and people. Based on current Douban products, Douban today is a semi-open social networking website based on commentaries and interest sharing. The Douban team derives its greatest sense of achievement from the fact that Douban is not a Chinese version of Facebook, not a Chinese version of Twitter, because it is just Douban. From the original conception and construction of the platform until today’s planning processes, Douban has maintained its own tradition, and kept its own mark.

Douban books, Douban music and Douban film are the most typical products of Douban, and they were the first developed – so they naturally became inhabited by young artists. This is the greatest feature that quickly allowed internet users to differenciate Douban from Renren or Kaixin. Later, Douban gradually opened Douban city, Douban FM, Douban station, 9 o’clock, Alphaville, and other new products, and the wide range of products allowed it to gradually position itself as a website offering lifestyle services. VP Huang Liang, from Douban marketing, tells us: “the core of Douban products and technology today is providing users with lifestyle and cultural services.”

It is worth mentioning that, whether it’s Douban’s representative features, recently launched features, or new features in the future, there is one uniform common standard: all features, apart from being based on innovative ideas, must take the needs of the users as a starting point. And here, you can’t expect the company to put forward a magnificent ‘three-year plan’ or ‘five-year plan’ for its employees, but development requires patience and focus. From this point of view, Douban can be seen as a really venerable internet company.

2. What type of income exactly does Douban rely on?

You can leaf through articles profiling Douban’s profit model, but the miserly results in there are not worth your scrutiny. We will try and understand Douban’s income model by starting from Douban products.

Douban’s earnings traditionally came from Douban books. It directs traffic towards DangDang, Amazon, and other online bookstors, in order to get a share of the profits. More recently, this e-commerce profit model was joined by Douban films, by providing online seat selection, users can buy tickets to more than a dozen theatres in Beijing on Douban film. With the addition of more theatres, Douban’s income from that source is expected to grow. In addition, earlier this year, Douban launched ‘Douban reading’, allowing users to select their favourite articles and books, and pay to read them; Douban and authors divide the profits. This is the first time Douban has directly charged its users.

Roughly two years ago, Douban launched its own advertising products, the main ones being ad banners, brand pages and audio ads on Douban FM. Ad banners appear directly on the douban page, and the user can get information about the products and brands by viewing the ad or clicking through. Brand pages are official brand business pages on the Douban site. They independently operated, brands can publish contents, and attract users to interact through a range of participative activities. And Douban FM audio uses the space and potential of online music services. As online radio stations gradually become more mainstream, audio advertising will become like video advertising for announcers, and will provide them with another channel for promotion online.

Douban has already collaborated with over 200 brands, providing them with customized advertising solutions. These brands span across automobile, fashion, IT, home appliances, tourism, luxury goods, cosmetics, consumables, and other sectors. For Douban, it doesn’t matter whether the company you collaborate with is among the Fortune 500, the core principle is whether there is a high fit between the brand positioning and Douban’s users.

Because they’re been sticking to their own principles over the long term, Douban’s income is currently much lower than that of other social networking websites. But that just reflects the fact that Douban is not looking for quick gains. Its founder Ah Bei once said to an outsider: if we don’t invest in developing new features this month, we’ll be making profits. Douban’s revenue already reached 10 million last year, and we have reason to believe that it genuinely focuses on developing new features and providing a better experience for its users.

3. Douban’s standards and collaboration with users.

In line with its users’ main characteristics, youth, personality and creativity, Douban not only limits the brands it cooperates with, but even when collaboration is in place, they still require brands to put effort in their advertising programs. Under normal circumstances, the final program of brand promotion on douban is decided through tripartite discussons between the brand, the advertising agency, and Douban. But there are also special circumstances. For instance, the ‘ideal youth’ page on Douban is an original activity, which hoped to uncover a few idealistic and talented young people active on Douban. As a coincidence, this activity soon attracted the interest of Lenovo’s ThinkPad Edge brand, because it was highly consistent with the brand’s character and audience. In its own way, the ThinkPad Edge brand gives some sort of support to idealistic youth. It became a sponsor and collaborator of that page, and the ‘idealistic youth’ page became a communication platform for the brand.

Another classic case of Douban marketing is the campaign launched this year by Land Rover of “Endless discovery, China’s most beautiful 24 hours – discover the most beautiful places in China”. This event invited users to upload images of the most beautiful places they could think of. At the closing date of the event, the campaign received a total of 2100 pictures voluntarily uploaded by users. This figure not only proves the effectiveness of the Douban platform, but also demonstrates the fit between the brand and the users.

With advertising services launched only two years ago – when the site has existed for seven years – it is easy to see what Douban’s choices and trade-offs are regarding advertising. When facing high-quality users, even people from outside have worried whether Douban would sacrifice user experience to increase advertising revenues, and even lose users. On this point, Huang Liang said: “Compared to other websites, users will find little advertisement on Douban, most of our pages don’t even have any advertising. This is the advertising philosophy that Douban has adhered to from the start – put user experience first. Our requirement is that each screen can only display one type of ad, and we cannot display forced advertising or animated advertising. Douban may be the only site in the industry that only displays static ads, and Douban hasn’t yet promoted any form of advertising like popups, full-screen, rich media or Flash animations. On the other hand, the screening process for brands is very strict, and Douban rejects a large number of potential clients every year. We will assess whether the brand and products fit the style and users of our website, and if they’re not suitable, we won’t work with them, no matter how much money they propose.”

Douban requires one thing of its advertisers – they must use Douban language to communicate with users. The Douban business team, after conducting research for each client brand, and develops customized awareness programs based on the characteristics of Douban users. Of course, in most cases, Douban users spontaneously take part in discussions on the website, which is the most appropriate way to promote the brand on Douban.

4. Has the rise of Weibo impacted Douban?

Almost every internet user has witnessed the quick popularity growth of micro-blogging in China. After three years of existence, micro-blogging has grown out of the transitional phase into maturity, and become the hottest thing on the Chinese interns. How has the striking growth of Weibo affected Douban?

Huang Liang tells us this: only generic media will be affected, but from the start, Douban has been in charge of its own R&D, and has followed its own path. Generic products only represent a very small part of Douban, and so the impact is very little: users and traffic have maintained a steady growth. What’s more, the emergence of microblogging actually offers a new route of circulation for the quality contents produced everyday by Douban users. No wonder Douban shows such confidence. Look at any of their products, and Douban has something they can be proud of. The early Douban reading and Douban movies are very popular and have a high reputation in today’s internet circles, 即使是从总构架中拆分出来独立运营,市场和前途也是可观的。 But function buttons on Douban such as “like”, “recommend”, “want to read”, “want to see”, etc, are very forward looking – these functions were developed even earlier than on facebook. By looking at these features, you can understand that all of the core competencies are concentrated on the original features and extraordinary creativity.

5. Douban facing the tide of the mobile internet

The mobile internet has become a major trend, and Apple’s mobile products have quickly promoted the development of the mobile internet. Facing the tide of the mobile internet, Douban has already reacted in a timely fashion. Douban has already launched several mobile internet products for various systems and terminals.

These mobile internet products are like Douban on the net, they do not require a real name system or registration, and non-users of Douban can use these products and apps. For instance, Douban cine film info and critics, Douban FM’s open channel, etc, these are targeted at mobile internet users, as long as there is a demand.

6. Are you ready to be listed? – Let it follow its natural course.

Renren network is already on the NASDAQ, although they’re not hurrying for it, is this also part of Douban’s plan? At this point, after pulling a serious face for a while, Huang Liang smiled and slowly said: let it just follow its natural course.

Indeed, through Douban’s history, all things have come following their natural course. The product is good, so why worry about commercialization and returns? Ah Bei once said in a media interview: “Douban has always had the potential to become a big platform, so why rush and force it to become such a platform?” No matter how you look at it, the most important thing is to focus on our users and provide them with a better experience and better services. At this stage, this is the only big thing facing Douban.

We might as well go with the flow, wait for the new trends and directions of Douban, and keep expecting the same focus and simplicity.

About julien.leyre

French-Australian writer, educator, sinophile. Any question? Contact julien@marcopoloproject.org