Companies seek to profit from China blogs

Local start-ups and foreign heavyweights are seeking a piece of China's growing blog market.

Blogging is blooming in China as the country's vast pool of Web users clamor to make their mark online and as ambitious local start-ups battle foreign heavyweights for a piece of the market.

China now boasts a 14.2 million blogs with a new one created every second, according to Web site Technorati.

The growing stable of e-scribes, still small by global standards, has attracted homegrown companies and foreign giants like Microsoft, Google and Yahoo offering blogging Web pages to outspoken Chinese Internet users.

The medium has already produced at least one celebrity of sorts, a woman who goes by the blog name Furong Jiejie, whose steamy online entries include passages like: "I have a physique that gives men nosebleeds."

"Users don't care too much if the blog company is foreign or local, but I think local companies have more understanding of the community," said Kevin Wen, a spokesman for Beijing-based start-up Bokee.com, whose name is Chinese for blog.

Bokee, formerly called BlogChina, has attracted $616,523 (5 million yuan) in seed funding as well as $10 million in venture capital funding from six U.S. and Chinese companies.

It hopes to become the first Chinese blogging company to list on the Nasdaq, CEO Fang Xingdong said. The company expects its revenue to grow to five times its August level by the end of this year and predicts that its user base will reach the 10 million mark, he added.

Hot IPOs
Rivals Blogbus.com and BlogCN.com have also said that they were in financing discussions with venture capital firms.

Initial public offerings of Chinese technology companies have proven popular so far, with Web search company Baidu.com being the latest to strike gold with its shares more than quadrupling in value in their U.S. market debut last week.

China is the world's second-largest Internet market after the United States with 120 million users forecast by year's end. But the number of bloggers is still relatively small at about 6 million, according to various sources.

Microsoft says more than 1 million users in China have joined its MSN Spaces service so far, which is operated out of China and was launched in the country just three months ago.

That number is growing an average rate of 30 percent a month, said Sally Ip, MSN Asia's regional trade marketing manager.

Bokee, which was set up in 2002, claims the biggest share of China's blogging market with about 2 million registered users, and said it is adding 6,000 to 10,000 daily.

Since blogging services are usually free, companies make most of their revenue from advertising. Bokee's Wen said he might begin to charge for blogging services at the end of this year, but still saw most of the company's revenue coming from advertising and wireless charges.

Bokee's site carries ads from the likes of Dell, Nokia, Hewlett-Packard and IBM, although the company declined to say how much revenue it generates.

Risky business
But speaking one's mind can be risky business in a country where the media is tightly controlled and chat forums and online bulletin boards are routinely monitored for controversial political comments.

China has been cracking down on Internet content--from politics to pornography--but has struggled to gain control over the medium as more Chinese get Web access and have used it to gain information beyond official sources.

By comparison, bloggers in the United States have come to hold considerable sway over public discourse, debunking news reports and influencing decision makers.

Whether blogging will give rise to a comparable class of self-made, pajamas-and-slippers political pundits in China may hang on the trade-offs foreign, as well as domestic, companies make in order to operate in the country.

Microsoft's blog venture in China recently came under fire for censoring words such as "freedom," "democracy," "human rights" and "Taiwan independence" from the subject lines of its free online journals.

Microsoft rivals such as Yahoo and Google and homegrown players Sina and Sohu.com have also been known to censor content in the country.

"It's hard for us to avoid the censorship, but we have to protect the business," said Bokee's Wen. "When you do business in China, you have to follow the rules."

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