One of my favourite things about learning a new language, is discovering words that only exist in it. That old cliché about Sami having 100 ways to describe snow. Schadenfreude, litost, torschlusspanik, saudade, ya’aburnee. Feels to me that you can learn a lot about a culture, by understanding its Relative Compliment.
I’ve been learning Mandarin since I was 18 and there are many examples of this in Chinese. 热闹 for example, which is describes the energy of a place or crowd - closest to ‘bustling’ but not quite there.
Quite a bit has been written about how the Chinese & non-Chinese internet spaces have been diverging over time. Twitter & Weibo; YouTube & Youku. There are certainly interesting differences between the same class of application for example the way media is treated on Weibo vs Twitter.
But I’m most intrigued by applications on the Chinese internet that don’t currently exist on the non-Chinese internet. When I was last in Beijing a friend showed me 豆瓣, Douban.
It’s so cool.
I love creative works of culture – movies, books, music etc. And it’s always struck me that the largest communities on the web centered around art are vertical e.g. IMDB for movies or Last.fm for music. That’s never quite fitted with how I consume and share creative works offline. When I’m catching up with a friend, I’m as likely to talk to them about how amazing Martha Marcy May Marlene was as hear what they’re reading right now. It’s not vertical offline, but it is online.
Facebook and other companies trying to build a broad 'interest graph’ have always felt too horizontal to mirror this. I want a place that feels centred around culture and creativity, where I can meet likeminded people around whatever is moving me right now.
Douban is the closest thing I’ve seen to that. A community built around celebrating and discussing creative works of all disciplines – and it’s huge – a top 20 Alexa site in China. Your profile centres around books, movies, and music. From my Chinese friends it sounds like it has retained an intellectual core, while scaling into the mainstream. It seems like it’s more about meeting new people around the art you love, than your existing friendship circle.
I recently resolved to start working on my Mandarin again. I want to become a part of the community on Douban and see how it feels. I hope it’ll lead me to other unique services on the Chinese internet that I’ve been missing out on and new Chinese artists.
Overtime I believe the 'two internets’ will start to converge. It’ll be interesting to see what the dominant sites are when that happens. For this transitional period it’s exciting to see new Chinese internet services that are developing from a new foundation and showing new models for online interaction.
If you liked this post I’m on twitter as @soundboy.