Internet culture

Dan Brody on post-90s Chinese Internet culture

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Dan Brody, CEO of 360quan.com

The Koolanoo Group, a new media investment company focused on China, has invested in the social networking site 360quan.com, which wants to fill a particular niche: the post-90s generation.

Dan Brody was Google's first employee in China and a veteran of the technology industry here. He is the CEO of 360quan.com.

360quan.com was started in 2007 and hoped to attract the quirkier side of Chinese Internet users. Brody says they get a couple of hundred thousand logins a day. The COO of the company, Chen Qi, who was one of the first people that started 360quan.com, had this to say about the post-90s generation at our interview:

Some post-90s are 10-19 year-olds whose only education level is high school, if you go to Internet cafes you'll see the youngsters there. They like to "express or show" themselves, to show their age. As for some of the more extreme stuff that they're into: "bloodshot" photographs for example - maybe we can't accept it, but they like it. As for the "clan" stuff, that's when they get together in groups, and if you are talking about a certain topic then you can pull others there to support them - sometimes there are tens of thousands - people claim that they're in the same “clan,” sometimes with Martian names. Through online chatting and then friendship, they help pull votes for each other in contests and games.

I think 360quan.com will definitely keep going in the future: it's big enough. If I go to school I can use Xiaonei.com, but kids can multi-task now: they won't just go on QQ but go everywhere.

Kids pay virtual money to be on the front page of the fashionable boys and girls page. Post-90s is a "brain damaged" (脑残) generation.

Visiting Brody in the 360quan.com office in Tower D of The Place in Beijing, the office was terrifyingly modern and houses over 100 people. With large spaces for meeting rooms, a cafe, and comfortable chairs. Brody's office was luxurious and overlooked the top of the signature ceiling-screen of The Place.

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Image taken from 360quan.com user

When logging onto 360quan.com, it's not immediately apparent that you've stumbled into the weird world of posting pictures taken from the flattering 45 degrees above your head, or that users are encouraged to "PK" each other under the categories of "sunniness" (阳光), "figure" (身材), "beauty" (美丽), "being cool" (搞酷), and "on the street" (街头). But after looking around for a while, this presentation of physical attributes is only part of the site: it is still focused on social networking, games, applications but there are also sections on body modification and fashion.

If the photos are not to your taste, then you probably don't belong to this group or share their aesthetics. However, Dan Brody, CEO of 360quan.com, agreed to be interviewed by Danwei and talked about the social networking site that is specifically targeted at the "post-90s generation":


Danwei: 360quan.com seems to be targeted at post-90s generation teens, did you come up with this idea to target teens or did it happen by coincidence?
Dan Brody: The way I look at the market is there are four main groups of SNS sites. Ones where people use fake names (虚名制), and ones where they use their real names (实名制), those that revolve around dating and marriage, and then business networks: LinkedIn.com, Xing.com, which are relatively weak in China.

Most people talk about Facebook clones: Xiaonei.com, Kaixin001.com, where you know the people in real life, and they are places to reflect online your offline friends. Fake-name sites include QQ, MySpace.cn - 360quan.com passed MySpace.cn two months ago - and also 51.com. Fake-name sites means picking a new name for self expression, and creating a new persona online. There's a strong, pent-up demand for self-expression in China, but there’s not much of a chance for self-expression when you’re a 16- or 19 year-old kid living in the same room as your parents. Maybe you go to the Internet cafe with your friends, but there really are no places to break out and really realize your dreams wackier, crazier dreams except online. So that's why online gaming, QQ and fake-name SNS are all so popular in China.

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Image taken from 360quan.com user

Danwei: Is 360quan.com unique?
DB: There’s obviously lots of other social networking sites, but each has it’s own niche. For instance, Douban.com is more cultural, and Kaixin001.com is for white-collar office workers - but that's basically all about branding. All large websites in China have basically the same demographics. For instance, bands and music never accounted for MySpace’s traffic in the US; 90% of their traffic is still just regular people talking to each other. And Xiaonei.com is supposedly just for students, but they have more members than there are students in China.

We position ourselves as the post-90s generation, very hip trendy and new, and we have strong branding on this by finding cool kids on the website -- kids who play parkour, graffiti artists, punks -- and promoting them. That’s our branding, but by definition cool people can never be the majority of our users, because cool people are only a small percentage of any social group. The people who use our website are the same people who use other large websites in China. What each website does is to feature and promote a group of people who are most interesting for them to associate with their brand.

Danwei: Do you regard Xiaonei.com, Kaixin001.com and Douban.com as your rivals?
DB: QQ.com is not a direct competitor to anyone [because it's so big]. Xiaonei.com, 51.com, Kaixin001.com are in a different space than us. Real name system, very clean interface: they’re like Facebook, very clean, but a bit boring.

We’re number three in our space of fake name SNS, number 5 or 6 overall in the SNS space. We’re the smallest of the first tier SNS sites, and biggest of the second tier.

Danwei: When did you come here and why?
DB: I came here December of last year. The founding team is a crazy successful group of Israeli guys. The main founder was born in Hong Kong, went to the London School of Economics, but dropped out to sell his first company.

360quan was started with [current COO] Chen Qi and around 15 and 20 people, based around interest groups. A decade ago, everyone you knew in China was a colleague, a schoolfriend or someone born in the same place as you. In America you would have interest groups that form horizontal bonds in society but in China that was very rare then. But in the last 5-10 years Chinese society has changed dramatically in this regard. Now there’s tons of horizontal interest groups that get together and go skiing, dancing, backpacking, etc.

Our website attracted young kids who are a little bit different and looking for more self-expression, during 2007-2008. I joined in December 2008 to take over as CEO. We’re now close to 100 people, and we’re ready to move it to the next level.

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Image taken from 360quan.com user

Danwei: Any thoughts on why we don't have a lot of people in common who use it? Is there a reason why I use Douban.com instead?
DB: Yeah, that makes sense. You (i.e., Danwei interviewer) are a highly educated multilingual haigui, so we’re not very strong amongst that group. None of my friends actually use it, since most of my friends are outside our target demographic. For instance, Douban.com is for the highly educated urban Chinese, and it's a great website, but it’s much smaller than us. If there’s a pyramid of demographic and they’re very close to top in terms of high-end, educated users. We want to get the much larger pool of kids all around the country, by attracting cool and hip kids in up to 360 cities around the country, not just Tier 1 and 2 cities on the coast.

Compared to the huge massive websites, we’re this tiny, niche very cutting edge site. But compared to the uber-cool, really cutting edge vanguard sites, we’re absolutely huge (because most of those are really tiny, like 500 readers a day on a tiny personal blog). So our readers bring the cool content to our website, and we try promote it to our users to try and “lead” them in a cooler direction..

Danwei: Does it work as a business?
DB: It works really well as a fun place to hang out during the day, and we’re already making good revenues. We will be making profits by our 3rd or 4th year I’m sure: which is totally standard, no websites are profitable until then. But the margin is the question: any website can cut cost and become profitable the next day by cutting all costs, but that would halt growth and we’re still in high growth phase.

Danwei: How many people does it take to upkeep 360quan.com? And where are you going with the website?
DB: We’re around 100 people now. Where are we going with the website? I’m not sure. I’m a foreigner so I like to let the users and team tell me where we should be going. But we want to keep a focus on allowing interest groups to gather online, and allow youngsters a chance to meet new friends. It's a good website, but our holding company
Koolanoo also has several other websites either launched or launching soon. We have a browser, called iQ at myiq.cn, a directory site 9949.cn, a fashion video and high end lifestyle website shimao.tv, a team that ports applications on other sites, and several other sites under wraps. Douban.com and Kaixin.com are not us. We are fashionistas and trendsetters.

Danwei: Can you explain the "clan" (家族) phenomenon? Do they like to attack each other or something?
DB: They don’t like to attack each other! It’s more an in-group than an out-group. They help encourage voting for each other and positive reinforcement more than anything else. For example two things we have on the site that you can explore at your leisure: a game called mingxing tuishou: the idea that you sign several artists and be their "manager", and you try to promote them, you can ask your "star" to do positive or negative things but from the rankings all the stars goes up rather than down, i.e. everyone rewards their “pet stars” instead of punishing their competitors, a very healthy and positive phenomenon.. 360quan.com is a healthy site, with very few attacks or flame wars, perhaps because our user base tends to be a slight majority female. The "clan" kids can kind-of run the site.

There is a game called "Secrets" (秘密心里话), and you can comment on other people’s secrets, whether it's to "give them good wishes" (祝福) or tell them to go to hell (去死). The number of people telling them to go to hell is much much lower than wishing them good wishes. Most of the secrets have to do with either sex or emotions. This is kind of scary, but a lot of fun, and kind of addictive in a weird way. They’re not very aggressive actually: most of our "clans" are pretty positive. We give them tools to fight each other, but they don’t really use them so much. But if we give them tools to compete, then they do quite enthusiastically by promoting themselves.

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Image taken from 360quan.com user
I have this weird kind of fascination with Chinese society and, in a way, what’s happening with online clans is one of the most fascinating things happening sociologically in China these days.. Since most of Chinese Internet is kids, every website is a reflection of the changes in the next generation. So I get to see how they think and what they want. You become intrigued with what they’re doing: it’s like a sociological experiment from a social scientist perspective, but working in a website means learning things a lot faster.

At the base of it, there’s an older generation's reaction to the younger generation (“Kids these days!”): but aside from that there’s also an acceleration in social change in China after the reform and opening. Since 2000 Chinese society is totally different than the 90s, but I don’t think the new generation is lacking responsibility or can't hold onto a job. I think there are macro-level problems like not enough jobs, because they increased intake in schools, but I don’t think this generation is any worse than the ones previous.

So you have lots of kids who say, “Why should I go to university?” They still haven't realized that having a college degree is significant, but how is that different from the US? The differences in the '50s and the '70s when their parents were growing up, is a society that has just experienced a revolution within that generation, so for the first ten, twenty years they say, "build the nation, we should be strong." But things are different now. For instance there are not many places in China now where you can’t eat and people starve to death. Things are changing faster and faster in China, and it’s just easier to see online.

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There are currently 15 Comments for Dan Brody on post-90s Chinese Internet culture.

Comments on Dan Brody on post-90s Chinese Internet culture

Translation question/comment: Why is 90后 often translated as the post-90s generation? I understand that that's the more literal translation, but I think it is inaccurate, because the Chinese refers to people born *during* the 1990s. I have told my students that I think the best translations are 1980s and 1990s generations.

Interesting article - though there's definitely a generation and culture gap between these kids and myself.

I never thought about it before but probably "post-90" generations or "90s" generation would be a more literal definition than "post-90s"

It seems the "post-90s" phrase just seemed to roll off the tongue smoothly, didn't think so much about the precise definition when I mentioned it. Thanks for catching it.

D

Post-90s should probably be parsed as (post-'90)s, i.e. people born after 1990. It's a shorthand that's more convenient than "the generation born in the 1990s" or other similar formulations, and it allows for easy extensions like "post-90s culture." Sure, it may be confusing at first glance, but given that the definition often includes people born in the late 80s, it's not like "the generation born in the 1990s" is any more accurate.

danwei is a quite great place to hang out in every boring workday.

I just call them the G-90's.

candytseng: I was thinking the same thing whilst looking through pictures on 360quan.com to illustrate that post - although of course it wasn't a boring work day... ;)

Yeah, you're right Joel, that's probably the most accurate way to translate it. And I agree that it would probably include people born in the late '80s, but my students would very much disagree. They are mostly born '88 or '89, but they all say they are a part of 80后 and that they can't really relate to the younger students.

jch: Could that be because of the "looking down" mentality towards younger folks (which we also mention in the interview)? Certainly I agree with Joel (and Dan) that post-90s are not so closely defined as pertaining to anyone born after 1990. The way I see it is that it's a kind-of shared culture/aesthetic - "non-mainstream," "punky," "the huge-eyes-inside-huge goggles look" and all that. Also, I take pictures of myself from a 45 degree angle, and I wasn't born in 1990 (or after).

interesting argument! but for me personally, i think the people born in 88 or 89 are some kind of "post-90s generation". BTW, i was born in 85.

i always assumed that "post-90s" referred to the fact that these people/kids "came of age" after the 90s -- just as Generation Y, also know as the "Millennial Generation," spent and continue to spend the formative years of their youth in the early years of this millennium.

"targeting" kids for profit is a morally complex issue.

I highly recommend Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood to get your awareness raised about some of the issues involved.

Alice,
I definitely agree with you - just passing on what they say. I think most people tend to look down/not be able to relate to the younger generation. Part of it is also that these students come from all over the country - most art not from Beijing - and from all different types of social backgrounds. I think they tend to be less trendy than students who grew up in Beijing/Shanghai/etc.

Just wondering what the class background of the post-90s generation being described is. If they have reliable internet access, do they come from the families of the elite, the nouveau riche, professionals, etc? Are the children of migrant workers generally excluded? I'd be upset if the children of poor families wasted money in this way...

and is there any international analogue to this generation? I have a faint knowledge of "emo/scene" kids overseas, although I don't know anything about them except that they exist.

Request for people with experience with the last dotcom bubble, how is the following passage different from the dotcom bubble stateside?

"DB: It works really well as a fun place to hang out during the day, and we’re already making good revenues. We will be making profits by our 3rd or 4th year I’m sure: which is totally standard, no websites are profitable until then. But the margin is the question: any website can cut cost and become profitable the next day by cutting all costs, but that would halt growth and we’re still in high growth phase."

Inst - one year on, it would appear your question has been answered

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