The China blog is officially dead, moribund, cadaverous, extinct, buried, bereft of life, defunct and totally-and-utterly-inert. It could even be said to be resting in peace, save for the fact that Will Moss drove a silver stake through its heart before recording this podcast. "We single-handledly made the China blog obsolete," he joked in our studio after further sawing off its head. But he has a point. Because who reads blogs these days?

Does anyone even remember the China blogs of days past? Back then there were greats like Peking Duck, ImageThief, Sinosplice and Danwei, and you could even indulge in a little China-bashing at Talk Talk China. Then came Sinocism and EastSouthWestNorth, and then the mainstream media blogs from magazines like Time and journalists like Malcolm Moore, Peter Foster and Tom Lasseter. And then the explosion of blogs like the Shanghaiist, China Geeks, China Hearsay, ChinaSmack, ChinaHush and CNReviews, not to mention the more eclectic and academic writings of China Youren, Jottings from the Granite Studio, In the Footsteps of Joseph Rock and The China Beat?

Well... we're sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but all of these blogs are dead. Or that's the opinion of the curmugeons in our studio this week: Kaiser Kuo, Will Moss and Jeremy Goldkorn, veteran bloggers in China who've seen the ups and downs of social media and are prepared to tell it like it is. So join us this week on Sinica for a dissection of the Chinese blog scene. And then get the hell off our lawn. What is it with kids these days anyway?


If you enjoy this podcast, be sure to share your thoughts in the comments section below, or write us at sinica@popupchinese.com. And remember, to subscribe to the Sinica show through RSS, just open up iTunes, click on the "Advanced" menu and select the option "Subscribe to Podcast". When prompted, copy the URL http://popupchinese.com/feeds/custom/sinica into the box. You can also download this mp3 directly from our site you can also grab it as a standalone mp3 file. Enjoy!
 said on
July 23, 2010
Best quote of the show "Digital Douchebaggery" by Kaiser

I'd also throw a shout out to China Financial Markets (Michael Pettis)

and

James Fallows
 said on
July 23, 2010
... Great podcast!

Jam packed with info -- and the banter was cool!

Really liked the "props" you gave to the bloggers you liked; that was quite a list!

Are there any "show notes" on the site?
 said on
July 23, 2010
Great podcast, lots of fun to listen to -- and thanks for the kind words about China Beat!
 said on
July 24, 2010
no mention of dan washburn? wasn't his shanghai diaries site one of the first popular china blogs?
 said on
July 24, 2010
I have to confess, it did feel like there was a bit of the 'ol "back in the good old days" whining going on. In truth, I think the Chinese foreigner blog scene is still in its infancy. Sure, there are a lot of blogs about business, news and law - but what about if I want to read about the Beijing art scene, or China punk scene, or fashion world, or food world, or dance world, or graphic design world, etc.etc. there are few in each, but not the dearth you'd find in cities like New York, London, LA, Sydney etc.

I bet there's a lot of great blogging going on about these topics in Chinese - but until they're translated into English - the rest of the world is never going to get a glimpse of all the amazing things going on in China.

 said on
July 24, 2010
nice one
 said on
July 24, 2010
oh no...

the china blogs are not dead

they are just beginning....

五毛党
 said on
July 25, 2010
Richard at Peking Duck has put up a great blog post discussing this. Very much worth reading, so go check it out if you haven't.

That said.... I personally think the culprit has been less Twitter and Facebook than a couple of other things: (1) the rise of aggregation services like Google Reader mid-decade that reduced casual commenting, (2) Google's introduction of the nofollow link which eliminated a lot of bloggers' very self-interested incentives to comment on other blogs, (3) changes to the Google pagerank algorithm which have hurt the ability of new websites to rank for organic search traffic.

These all make it harder for independent bloggers to get organic traffic and visibility than it used to be and encourages a real fracturing into niche communities. And it makes more sense for independents who want traffic to either join an established site (where their writing will be visible), and focus on producing news commentary or media gossip which plays to the largest market. Nothing wrong with this - but it makes for a different sort of writing than used to dominate the China blogosphere.

Also - the elephant in the room - I don't think it's accidental that some of the great China blogs in the past started out around SARS. If people can't speak their mind freely they aren't going to say much of interest.
 said on
July 26, 2010
It depends what you want. You also have to appreciate the transcient nature of many expats - stay for a couple of years then leave. The long lasting blogs are therefore the more business related ones. China Briefing's blog (www.china-briefing.com/news) is widely read for example, but doesn't even brand itself as a blog, and it's certainly not social commentary. Yet commentary is part of what it is. Consequently you're in situation where a new blog starts up, the guy either can't continue to find something useful to say, eventually loses interest in maintaining it, or leaves China. Plus there's no money in it. The expat written blog social model is problematic in China, and the only way to do it as a sustainable option is as a marketing tool that requires financing and dedication. Not many either have the money or the resources. The rest are amateurs, and it shows. None of them that you mention were able to sustain their blogs. Are they really missed? Probably not.
 said on
July 26, 2010
The wake you wish to throw is yet premature. There are foreigner blogging communities forming yet, in cities outside of Beijing, among women, among people who share religious beliefs. Just last year CNR ran a few posts about women-who-blog, and I think the responses really surprised some people. None of these types of blog categories would probably interest you guys, but they are out there and folks are still forming new friendships over them. You and your circle of friends have mostly migrated to twitter, but not everyone has.

Expat life can be very insular. As Evan Osnos said a few months ago on your podcast, we can tend to be very selective in our information sources. He was referring mostly to his reading news from the US, but I think we can all see it in our lives as well.
 said on
July 27, 2010
Is the main problem that said blogs, while profuse, still only manage to eke out a relatively small number of translations from the Chinese press?

If bloggers were more serious about the journalistic aspects of the craft (it's a craft, isn't it?), wouldn't there be more people engaging in more regular translations of stories which the mainstream media is hawking and characterizing?

For instance, if Reuters' Chris Buckley is smashing out an article every other week which characterizes the aggressive mood of the PLA based upon a couple of quotes from a long Liaowang (瞭望)article, isn't there some way to chop that puppy up and get the whole primary source translated and in the public domain? Perhaps that's far too reactive a model and impinges on people's time and the freedom that is what makes blogging fun.

I enjoy the good humor and occasional snarkiness in the blogosphere as much as the next chap, but don't we have some kind of a collective responsibility to at the very least throw some documentary dirt (or, when it's warranted, a liter of gasoline) on whatever fires are burning in broader discussions of China?

Otherwise, isn't the alternative that readers are forced to rely on Xinhua English or English Global Times or China Daily, or the characterizations of foreign reporters, for their daily dose? Just a few thoughts about relevance.
 said on
July 27, 2010
I think both adam and jen are right here, also trevelyan for the technical backdrop - i comment more on aggregation sites than articles these days. But Jen's right that people have major selectivity biases and there is so much out there that lamenting the death of the blog is premature. And Adam's right because most bloggers don't produce original content and just comment on news other people produce.

I actually wonder what the business model is for all of these blogs like The Shanghaiist. Because unlike a lot of smaller blogs they actually produce news, but I can't figure out how on earth they're making money. Probably a problem for the newspapers too. I guess we'll find out in time.
 said on
July 27, 2010
@orbital ask these sites (Shanghaiist, etc.) for an advertising quote and you'll know how they make money. It's not exactly "big business", but certainly profitable.

This topic reminds me of many others. Others where the Old Garde looses grip of "their" concept, see it go in directions they don't like and decide to declare it dead. Fortunately, as often is the case, the opposite is true. Chinablogs are evolving past their initial concept, freeing itself off the dead-weight and it's creators and leading a promising life of it's own.
 said on
July 27, 2010
@user12581,

I don't doubt that they make a decent bit of cash from advertisements. But I can't imagine it amounting to anywhere near enough to cover the costs of running things as a purely corporate effort. Jeremy mentioned in this podcast that Danwei is funded by the private sector work they do.

If you know the numbers, please share. I'd assume a site like that could pull in a couple thousand per month. Which is... enough to support one person seriously fulltime?

 said on
July 27, 2010
@orbital I don't recall the exact numbers, but it was indeed in the area of RMB50.000 or more per week, depending on the website.

Scary as it may sound, when I recruit foreigners in China, there are many willing to work for 10-20.000RMB/month.
 said on
July 28, 2010
Insightful and interesting podcast. (And thanks for the mention, Jeremy!)
 said on
July 28, 2010
I think you should have a word with Chris Devonshire-Ellis. He was mentioned (sort of) by your reader who suggested China Briefing as a model. As far as I know, he has the only blog (China Briefing) that has successfully evolved into a full-on publishing business with books and magazines. So he obviously has a business model for his blogs that work and make money. I think holding events may have something to do with it, I've been to a couple and they've been busy with people.
 said on
July 29, 2010
May I humbly suggest that your readers consider a new type of blog -- my expat medical blog, called MyHealth Beijing? It's just celebrating its one year anniversary and is read by hundreds of people a day. It provides evidence-based tips on wellness for expats not just in Beijing but all over China. I've been mentioned in many local magazines and China Daily but I would really appreciate it if Danwei and the other long-term blogs also welcomed me into their community.

Thanks,

Richard Saint Cyr MD

Family Physician - International Medical Center Beijing

Author - MyHealth Beijing
 said on
July 29, 2010
@richardsaintcyr,

Great site, and thanks for sharing. It is rare to see a lot of quality blogs these days without an explicit focus on advertising and generating revenue. I've just fixed the links in your post incidentally, so people should be able to click through if they're curious.

Best,

--david
 said on
July 29, 2010
Thanks, David! The guys at chinahealthcareblog.com also have excellent, in-depth discussions regarding health in China.
 said on
July 29, 2010
The problem with 99% of blogs is that they require little capital to set up, and are written by people as an outlet for their ego. Because there's no financial commitment, once they get bored they drop it - which is mainly what has happened to the blogs you've sited as AWOL. There's also, as has been mentioned, little incentive to continue as they are not (with maybe a rare handful of exceptions) financially rewarding. The blog community is also unregulated, which means anyone can get online and post whatever they want. Too often this has resulted in inappropriate behavior, name-calling, flame wars, or deliberately seeking to damage individuals and even businesses. Hiding behind proxy servers, posting under aliases all diminish blogging credibility. With some minor exceptions, the "professional blogs" such as China Briefing, Time, WSJ and so on have realised that blogging is only a means to a greater picture - using blogging to promote other services or products. The remainder essentially get by in attracting views by posting unscrupulous gossip, rubbish and nonsense under their so-called version of "Free Speech". Most of it is in fact trash talk, innuendo, name calling and spiteful behavior. Blogging is the lowest form of media, and while one or two good ones are out there, it'll only be a matter of time before they either give up due to lack of incentive or reward, or evolve into a more mainstream type of media. Blogging is entry level journalism, the best will move on and up, the others will all inevitably die off. It's a process of evolution you're describing, not an extinction. It will happen to you - Messrs. Moss, Goldkorn and Kaiser Kou as well. Blogging simply isn't viable, credible or sustainable in itself. It has to and needs to evolve into something else or die.

 said on
July 30, 2010
@wallaceline,

That's a pretty brutal and Darwinian argument. Pretty accurate in its assessment of a lot of the writing out there actually, but still overly negative. At the least, I don't think it's fair to call blogging the "lowest form of media" or reduce it to "entry level journalism". Both because many top bloggers are much better than their print counterparts, and also because the business models which support newspapers are collapsing.

Among the blogs I read, many are produced dominantly by one person, but they directly manage their readership like a small magazine would. Meanwhile, the New York Times is heading towards debt-implosion and much of the rest of the newspaper industry is collapsing around it. How long will the best writers and journliasts need these organizations enough to justify taking such a small portion of the money that is spent on content?

That said, like most things with no barriers to entry though - you're right - there is certainly a lot of activity and noise at the bottom, very little of which is actually worth getting filtered up.

 said on
August 4, 2010
A new "China blog" in English!!!

http://adsofchina.wordpress.com

...keep the dream alive.
 said on
August 4, 2010
I think the future is as was said, blogs are unsustainable longer term unless they either fit into a corporate marketing plan (just as that medical site does) or can make money from add-ons and become publishing businesses (like the China Briefing). Otherwise eventually there's little point in continuing it. People get bored and move on or get fed up of no income. I agree its evolutionary and like all evolution even if they looked pretty and you liked them they went extinct anyway because of those reasons. So that's a good answer I think.
 said on
August 4, 2010
China Briefing is a great example of why blogs are dying. That blog just takes one or two of the news issues of the day and regurgitates it so as to draw readers to its site to spread the news about its accountancy business. I actually preferred the days when China Briefing was a hard copy magazine because at least then we could stick it in the urinals and piss on it.

The days of originality in China blogging are over and it is this lack of creativity that has killed the blog more than anything else.
 said on
August 12, 2010
If I could see the IP addresses of your posters, I'd bet a good chunk of cash that ChinaBarrister, HoWongChin2009 and Chris Hunter are the same person.

Just a Hunch
 said on
August 12, 2010
@justahunch,

barrister's a long-time user of ours, so I think we can vouch for him. Not sure about the others.

--david


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