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Surveying the Scenesters: China in the Web 2.0 World

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NEW YORK Despite a fourfold difference in population, the broadband markets in the U.S. and China are remarkably comparable, with 107 million users in China and 101 million here. But, according to the first Media-Screen Netpop survey of 4,000 Chinese broadband users, that is where the similarities end.

Internet users make up less than 14 percent of China's population, compared to the nearly saturated U.S. market, where roughly 71 percent of Americans have Web access. Chinese "broadbanders," as Netpop calls them, are also an average 10 years younger than their American counterparts. What's more, they are better educated—67 percent have at least a college degree compared with 40 percent in the U.S.—and they are more likely to be employed (80 percent versus 61 percent).

For these reasons, the survey's authors contend that China's broadband users disproportionately influence the consumer marketplace. Josh Crandall, managing director of the San Francisco-based research firm, said this population is already "very comfortable with user-generated content. One of the biggest surprises was the diversity and volume of content that the Chinese are contributing—they're very active with blogging, in forums and on discussion boards."

The report, "China and the U.S. in a Web 2.0 World," also reveals that nearly half of all Chinese broadbanders ages 13 to 35 contribute something online in a typical month, compared to only about 15 percent of younger Americans. The Chinese are also more likely to publish a blog (40 percent to 13 percent), review a product (32 percent to 22 percent) and use chat rooms (45 percent to 16 percent).

Chinese youth also reported being more involved in community-based activities, and they are almost twice as likely as Americans to join communities built around content. Although more U.S. users still recommend things to family and friends (31 percent to 27 percent), the practice has declined 15 percent in the U.S. since 2006, when Netpop started its survey. According to Crandall, this reflects the dominance of younger, elite opinion-makers in the Chinese broadband market, versus more mainstream American users.

While 72 percent of young Americans access the Internet from home rather than work (17 percent), equivalent aged Chinese more evenly split their access between home (49 percent) and work (31 percent). "Broadband in the home is less common in China, but it is often subsidized in the workplace," Crandall said.

More than a third of the Chinese surveyed access the Web through a mobile device such as a cell phone or wireless local phone, not yet a factor in the U.S., where only a fifth of users go mobile. "The mobile pricing model for downloads is more affordable than in the U.S., where the focus is on higher-end business executives," Crandall said.

When it comes to purchase decisions, Chinese youth spend about 30 minutes more on online research than Americans. They are also more likely to use an online source (and more of them) and turn to user-generated content such as consumer reviews when researching a product. The Chinese even use search engines (48 percent to 27 percent) and comparison-shopping sites (27 percent to 11 percent) more than Americans. The Chinese are "positively responding to advertising online and reacting in a similar fashion to the U.S., including researching purchases online for almost three hours a purchase," said Crandall, adding that an upcoming survey of Chinese consumers Media-Screen expects to release early next year will delve deeper into their online buying behavior.