:: you’re an active consumer, but you don’t trust advertising or mainstream media. You’re new in the city, and you want to find some great places to eat, but you don’t know anyone who can give you any tips. You want to go south for the holidays but you don’t want to end up getting fleeced in some Disney-fied tourist trap. Or you’ve just bought an amazing / terrible new digital camera and you want to convince the rest of the world to buy one too / not buy one. Where is the best place to accomplish this, share your point of view, and get answers to your questions? The web of course! The Chinese Internet has a wealth of resources for rating products, from restaurants and travel destinations, to cosmetics and technology. Heck, you can even find out which universities and professors to avoid.
Of course, you’re not going to simply believe anyone who claims to be an “ordinary netizen,” so you’ll have to rely on other Web2.0 community tools to get a feel for which reviewers are trustworthy. And if the review website appears to have integrity, you’ll probably be inclined to view its brand partners favorably as well. Brand presence on review sites is mostly limited to straightforward advertising at the moment, but there are a few interesting partnerships going on, and lots of opportunity for further development and full-on brand engagement in ways that add value / unique information to review site communities.
Dianping (大众点评 http://www.dianping.com/ ), which managed to grab a URL that all other review sites now wish they had, started out in 2003 as a website on which Shanghai residents could review local restaurants. It gradually expanded to Beijing and Hangzhou, and then to other parts of the country, and attracted investment from Sequoia Capital. Eateries are still the main focus of the site: members rate establishments on taste, environment, service, and average price per person, and their ratings are analyzed into various rankings: best restaurants (http://bit.ly/3NIhKi ), tastiest (http://bit.ly/qmfWG ), hot this week (http://bit.ly/vUImd ), top OL (“office lady”) choices (http://bit.ly/PBZhZ ), and top student picks (http://bit.ly/10Ixjy ). The website also provides an online reservation service, and has photos and menus contributed by community members. Other categories in addition to food include shopping (http://bit.ly/13sAfA ), entertainment (http://bit.ly/lqKo ), and services (http://bit.ly/oCtqv ) — it turns out that no one really thinks all that highly of Beijing Railway Station, for example (http://bit.ly/EteS3 ). For the past few years, Dianping has been publishing annual print guides to restaurants in major Chinese cities (http://bit.ly/2XMVUS ) that are produced using ratings and comments from netizens. The website has also been at the forefront of copyright disputes (who owns netizen comments?) and libel disputes (can restaurants sue over bad netizen reviews?); a summary is available here (http://bit.ly/YeYOG ). In terms of business partnerships, Dianping offers a membership card that is good for discounts at many of the restaurants it indexes and that accumulates points redeemable for mobile phone cards and gadgets. Promotional offers available to card-holders (http://bit.ly/jdoyG ) often take the form of a week or two of Dianping-related incentives to visit local businesses. Currently, Dianping members can get a free cup of coffee at any Sculpting in Time cafe (http://bit.ly/12bMOm ).
Visiting someplace new with an untested tour agency can be an unsettling prospect, so many Chinese netizens turn to specific websites that offer peer recommendations and ratings. General review sites for travel include the popular portal for booking plane tickets and hotels, Ctrip (http://www.ctrip.com/ ). CTrip features a destination guide (http://destguides.ctrip.com ) whose landing page lists top-rated destinations, which at the moment are Hunan’s Zhangjiajie (http://bit.ly/oPHbt ), with over 11,626 reviews, and Yunnan’s Lijiang (http://bit.ly/yoij8 ), with around 1,600 reviews. Each review page has a combination of photographs, routes to nearby tourist and scenic spots (such as the Tiger Leaping Gorge outside of Lijiang), and a temperature graph for the area. In addition to rating the sites, netizens can ask and answer specific questions. The review section of travel portal Let’s Travel Together (http://www.17u.com/comment/ ) is more comprehensive, with destinations in every major city including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong, and smaller ones such as Wuhan and Suzhou. The website has community features in addition to straightforward reviewing: 17u hosts a blog section (http://www.17u.com/blog/ ) whose posts can be promoted through a “digg”-type system. On a smaller scale is the Yododo travel website (http://www.yododo.com/ ), which lets netizens search for reviews and upload videos from their favorite destinations (http://bit.ly/LYxf1 ). Yododo’s reviews are short and quick (http://www.yododo.com/review/ ), more like a message board than the in-depth analysis encouraged on other sites, and feature only one or two lines for each city. The range of travel review websites is quite broad: many individual destinations have websites devoted to them alone, where netizens can appraise food, lodging, and attractions. Zhangjiajie, for example, has a travel site with a review section (http://www.zjjok.com/dianping/ ), and the city of Wuhan hosts a travel website (http://www.gotowuhan.com.cn ) with a review subsite (http://dp.gotowuhan.com.cn/ ), as well as blogs (http://blog.gotowuhan.com.cn/ ) and a BBS discussion forum (http://bbs.gotowuhan.com.cn/ ).
Cosmetics and personal care products are quite possibly the most popular items for netizens to review online. I Am 2ya (http://www.i2ya.com/ ) is a multimedia cosmetics review site. Members can rate products and upload photos of their own stash (http://www.i2ya.com/ddx.aspx ). Highly-recommended products are listed among the site’s top rankings (http://bit.ly/VDscT ). Apart from web ads, brand presence comes in the form of “test groups,” promotion activities in which qualified members are offered the chance to review new products. The current campaign is from Yves Rocher, a French natural beauty label (http://bit.ly/4hhHl1 ). Ten sets of Yves Rocher body-slimming products will be handed out to registered reviewers who will have to write up a review if they’re chosen. The page features existing reviews of the product by girls in their twenties, some of whom have lost weight using the product. I Am 2Ya is affiliated with Niu’er Beauty Net (http://www.niuer.com.cn/ ), a cosmetics portal run by Niu’er, who’s apparently a well-known beautician. He’s got a special section on I Am 2Ya, too (http://bit.ly/176apD ), and clips of his presentations, as well as excerpts of a Taiwan beauty show (http://bit.ly/ixYy1 ), form the multimedia section of the site. Beauty Make-Up (http://www.5i5p.net/ ), whose URL decodes to mean “I Love Being Beautiful” (我爱我漂亮), bills itself as a “professional cosmetics review website.” Top reviewers, some of whom have assessed more than one hundred products, are listed on the front page alongside a category breakdown that lists products by type and region of origin (domestic, Korean / Japanese, Euro/American, and other). The website also hosts a forum (http://www.5i5p.net/bbs/ ) where members share shopping strategies and swap beauty tips. More radically, some review sites focus on plastic surgery procedures and specialists. Plastic Surgery Review Net (http://dp100.net/ ) reviews plastic surgeons and hospitals, and displays pertinent information such as professional CV, specialty, and age. The front page currently features nose-jobs (http://dp100.net/xiangmu/65 ), with five doctors and three hospitals recommended for the procedure. Recognizing the possibility for astro-turfing, the website allows netizens to evaluate the usefulness of other netizen’s reviews by voting them “useful” (有用) or “fake” (太假).
After cosmetics, IT seems to be the most popular product category for netizens to review. Major tech sites like Donews (http://donews.com ) and ZOL (http://zol.com.cn ) provide ratings functionality alongside more professional reviews and product promotions, and IT is featured prominently on more general-interest review sites. For example, Holaba (http://www.holaba.com.cn/ ), a Shanghai-based review website with a brand-based concept, features IT as the top category on the front page, and at the moment most of the featured products are IT-related. Members can rate brands and their products on a 1-10 scale, and leave more detailed ratings in comments, which themselves can be rated by other members. What’s most interesting about the Holaba site is its “Brand War” feature (http://www.holaba.com.cn/brandwar ), which right now is pitting Motorola, Nokia, and Apple-branded mobile phones against each other (as of this writing, more than 3,000 ratings have been entered for each brand and Apple is in the lead with 9.7, versus Nokia’s 9.4 and Motorola’s 9.2. Members who vote get a chance to win a prizes: in the first stage, 600 10-yuan phone cards, in the second stage (currently in progress), 150 100-yuan phone cards, and in the third stage, an actual mobile phone (the model depends on which brand wins the Brand War). Members can choose to recommended (and not-recommended) products, which are then featured on their member page (here’s one from leading commenter “apang” http://bit.ly/1qHbyS ). The site’s contact page (http://bit.ly/WbBzC ) has a “business cooperation” category, but it’s not clear on the rest of the site if any brands featured are a result of a partnership. 92DP (http://www.92dp.com/ ), whose digit-name translates as “I just love reviewing” (就爱点评), has a mix of cosmetics and IT on the front page. Its unique offering is video-based reviews: members upload clips of their impressions of products they own. In this clip (http://bit.ly/18oscq ), user “shuyuting843″ reviews the Sony T700 digital camera using a typical post-90s overhead camera angle. To foster community participation, the website encourages new users to post their “mug shot” in an introductory thread (http://bit.ly/10nqMw ), and other special activities are frequently updated on the features page (http://www.92dp.com/zhuanti/ ). Brand participation is mostly limited to web ads (tech has a presence in the form of ads for the iPod Nano), but there are also a number of brand landing pages, such as Canon (http://www.92dp.com/brand/canon ) and Shiseido (资生堂 http://www.92dp.com/brand/ ), which is linked directly off the front page. There’s virtually no limit to how specialized review sites can be, so long as there’s a ready audience. The Wow8 (http://wow8.org/ ) website is a source of maps for Warcraft and other RPGs. It has a fairly standard BBS discussion forum, but it also has one subsite devoted to map ratings (http://dp.wow8.org/ ), where netizens can rate and leave comments on the maps featured on the site.
Rate Teachers (评师 http://www.pinglaoshi.com/ ) claims to cover a million instructors at over 3,000 institutes of higher learning. Smack on the front page are links to pages rating teachers at China’s most prestigious universities, such as Peking and Tsinghua, and rankings of professors by quantitative merit (http://bit.ly/vVSem ), charm (http://bit.ly/H6TJJ ), and a more qualitative aggregation of user comments (http://bit.ly/zfkDS ). Site members grade professors according to course difficulty (易), helpfulness (助), clarity (晰), and course interest (趣), as well as personal charm (魅力). Here’s a page for a professor at the Central Academy of Drama (http://bit.ly/GABsS ) who is generally liked by students (one even has a crush on him), although a few think he’s a little abnormal. Teachers can respond to reviews left on their page once they have verified their identity, but that function doesn’t seem to be used much. As befits an education-related site, sponsorship is from book-related sites such as Amazon.cn. The Rate Teachers caused a bit of controversy back in 2007 (http://bit.ly/r7vOd ) when the mainland media reported that some teachers were upset about negative reviews they received, and other observers suggested that the site could be subject to libel claims. However, those concerns seem to have been in the minority, and the website takes pains to focus on the best teachers rather than the worst. RVedu (http://www.rvedu.com/ ), a website run by e-learning provider Ambow (http://www.ambow.com.cn/ ), is a general education portal with a focus on ratings (the subtitle of the site is “Education Ratings Net” 教育点评网). At RVedu, schools rather than teachers are the focus of ratings (http://www.rvedu.com/daxue ), and the website covers state-run, private (http://www.rvedu.com/minban ), art school (http://www.rvedu.com/art ), exchange programs (http://www.rvedu.com/liuxue ), and individual majors (http://www.rvedu.com/zhuanye ). Would you believe that city planning (城市规划) is currently the hottest major on the site?
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