卖抠 and the Tianya BBS ExperienceWritten by Julen Madariaga on May 3rd, 2010
Here is the post I promised analyzing the fate of our friend Michael in the Tianya BBS. Michael (卖抠) is the main character in the little Chinese story I wrote last week. I didn’t write the story particularly for this purpose, but once it was there I thought it would be a good idea to repost it to the Chinese BBS forums. Most of my readers here are not Chinese speakers, and I was curious to see how it fared among natives.
Many of us visit forums like Tianya or Mop to read the hottest topics and get a feel of what is trending on the Chinese internet. However, we don’t usually take an actively role, at least I had never tried posting before. This experience with Michael has taught me a few things about how these forums work, and in particular one of the biggest, Tianya. I know many people out there are interested in this, so here are the points I noted for your info:
1- There are around 200,000 people at any given time on Tianya, a big part of them looking at the front page of the most popular discussion boards, “entertainment” and “mixed comments”. I posted on “mixed comments”, because some regulars told me that this section usually appreciates 原创 (original creation) posts.
2- The key to attracting readers is to have your post on the front page for as long as possible. New posts start on top and slide down as other posts or comments appear. Usually the site is so busy that 1 or 2 minutes is enough to sweep you off the front page. Every post goes to the top again when someone posts a comment on it, even if it is the author.
3- Therefore, the best way to reach the millions of reads is by creating a snowball effect: ie. attracting a discussion that ensures that every minute someone will post a comment, thereby making the post remain in front page. This can be better kickstarted if you have some Tianya friends that support you in the beginning, but it can also be done by re-commenting yourself (there seems to be no limit on the number of self-comments, I took advantage of this to shamelessly promote Michael).
4- To create this snowball effect, the posts that work best contain controversial statements that spark discussion among significant groups, ideally men vs women, or Shanghainese vs outsiders, or conservatives vs modern, whatever. An example: A story explaining why a woman should allow her husband to cheat on her hit the millions of readers, attracting obvious flames from both sides.
5- In spite of all the crazy things we read about the Chinese BBS, the people at Tianya are mostly civil. I didn’t get any racist or xenophobic remark, just one 20 yo who asked me *please* to not take a Chinese girlfriend because they don’t have so many girls here for them. In fact, there is far less racism, flames, trolls, in Tianya than in similar large forums I have seen in the West. Most people commented sincerely and some even took the trouble to give me detailed advice on language.
6- In the end my post stabilized at around 5000 views and 70 comments, a fair part of them mine. I guess one reason why Michael didn’t fly is that I was too honest. I never hid it was fiction and I asked for advice on language. I am pretty sure it would have been more successful if I tried to post it as a true story. One of the main buzz generating subjects is the true/fake assessment in posts, but I gave myself away there.
7- Another interesting thing in Tianya BBS (and many other big BBS as well) is that it is an almost purely raw content website. There is no place for design or web 2.0 gimmicks, the posts allow no HTTP and no revisions. The site itself is almost entirely raw text except for the adverts and the simple logo of Tianya shown above. Some part of me really, really likes this concept.
In conclusion, I have no idea how this translates into useful business purposes, but what I am sure is that it is quite feasible to get a post rolling into top Tianya hits if you design it for that. I am not particularly interested in the business perspective myself, but perhaps this is useful for those of you who are.
As for me, I found the experience really good fun, and I am grateful to the kind readers of Tianya for their support. I think I will repeat it soon with a more viral story, see you all in the BBS!