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3 Things you need to know about China

Yesterday I had the opportunity to interview Web Strategist, blogger, and Found|READ contributor, Jeremiah Owyang . He talked about all the things he learned on a recent business tour of Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan.

Turns out he learned a lot, and not just about these three geographies. From conversations with dozens of entrepreneurs in those countries, Jeremiah picked up a few key observations about some big neighboring markets, too. Like how social media is percieved and used in mainland China and the latest technology innovations sweeping consumers’ fancy in South Korea.

Jeremiah, who wants to be “a conduit” for web strategy-knowledge, offered to share a few of his detailed takeaways with us. We definitely think they can be put to strategic use by founders interested in exporting their web2.0 businesses to Asia — or those merely interested in understanding the comparative application(s) of business and technology trends in different cultures. (The latter, all on its own, will make you better founders!)

We’ve dubbed the first of Jeremiah’s takeaways “3 Things you need to know about China.”

1) The Chinese don’t share or collaborate for the sake of sharing sharing’s sake.

Social media’s value proposition is different for the mainland Chinese than it is for Americans — or Hong Kong Chinese or Taiwanese (where consumers act more like they do in North America). In mainland China consumers are very exchange-oriented. When Chinese consumers put something into an experience, they expect to get something out of it.

This includes their experiences on the Web. This is one reason why, in China, social networking sites that exist primarily for the sake of sharing or collaborating, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, aren’t as popular as they are here. Mainland Chinese perfer MMO-video games, virtual worlds and other digital media sites, where a discrete form of entertainment is what they ‘get out of it.’

“We Americans, on the other hand, will spend hours collaborating on a social network without knowing what exactly we’re going to get out of it in the end. This is why I say, in China, the Web is still viewed as a resource for consumption, not a tool for interaction.”

So what does this mean for you?: If you take your site to China, make sure it delivers a commodity viewers canconsume. “Connecting is not enoug. You have to offer a gold carrot that people there will want to eat.

2) Animation is not just for looks. It matters, a lot.

Don’t just take your site to Asia and slap a new TLD onto it. ‘MySpace.cn’ was laughed at in China! It is because of this need for an entertaiment-commodity that Chinese sites use so much more animation and iconography than we do. It isn’t window-dressing. It is vital. American sites can look boring and corporate by comparison.

This drills deeper into what the Chinese are looking to get out of the Web, and it isn’t anything personal. As Jeremiah puts it: “They don’t want people-to-people interaction. They want people-to-computer interaction.” Animation, or narrative iconogrpahy, is one aspect of this. In fact, the social networks in China that do well are often organized around animated figures, such as Outblaze, a community organized around female fans of the animated character, Hello Kitty.

So what does this mean for you?: Expect to invest in your site to make it visually more entertaining, and more relevant to the unique, person-to-computer interaction desired by Chinese consumers. Animation and iconography is a must.

3) China has a ‘LinkedIn for businesses.’ Why don’t we?

With their focus on commerce and exchange-oriented interactions, maybe it shouldn’t surprise that the Chinese have developed a kind of LinkedIn, but one that isn’t for individuals. It is caled Alibaba, and it serves small to medium-sized businesses, who use it primarily as an online market for sourcing and manufacturing partnerships between businesses.

Again, the if the Chinese are going to use a social network, they expect to get something out of it. Alibaba is about to go public, and enthusiasm for the offering is BIG. Why don’t we have a LinkedIn for businesses in America? yahoo! tried it, and it’s just not the same (surprise, surprise). Salesforce.com could build it off their apps exchange, but they haven’t done that yet.

What does this mean for you? Uh, it’s a massive business opportunity. That’s what.

Read more about what Jeremiah learned on his trip on his blog, where he’s publishing a 4-part series, called Web Strategy Field Report, starting today.

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