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Researching China’s Social Media Platforms

Outline the scope of the individual research project and draw on the autoethnographic literature to indicate how the methodology will inform the investigation.

In my individual research project I’d like to look into a few different angles of social media. I’m going to look at Chinese social media, in particular their equivalences to western social media platforms, and more broadly, how their social media space differs from the west’s. To do this I plan to do a few things to help myself understand the platforms, primarily this will be using an autoethnographic method in that I will personally attempt to sign up to all the leading social media platforms and document my experience, possibly even record myself at the same time.

Source: Weibo.com login page

Source: Weibo.com login page google translated into english

In Brad Crawford’s documentary “100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience” he often makes the comparison between the ‘traditional’ arcade scene and the ‘up-and-coming console generation’. To compare my personal research project to this documentary, social media platforms in China, like Weibo, Renren and Tencent are primarily used by Chinese citizens, or at least Chinese speaking people, that is they survive, and were developed off the culture surrounding the platform. Similarly Japanese arcades were created in Japan, to entertain the Japanese people, the culture surrounding the platform has kept it active, and when the culture changes, so must the platform.

  • Some reasons for autoethnography in my project/signing up to the social media platforms – to better understand the differences in approaches, execution and culture of the platforms and thus be able to better compare it to western social media platforms

–  To create an informed first hand experience of the new (to me) platforms. Subsequently, I will do some data collection to help be able to compare statistical data between the different cultures.

– To look into how a culturally driven service i.e. they tailor the product to the users change between vastly different cultures, cross cultural difference in standards and emphasis on communication in the case of the social media platforms.

– Without actually using the platform, you can’t compare it to an adequate standard. Such a social, diverse and changing environment – would not benefit from a static research method – this point lends itself to the nature of technology and social media in general i.e. to keep up with peoples lives in ‘real time’.

– Generate a personal opinion from personal use.

To use a different approach to analyse the different media platforms would surely leave out important details and intricacies in how exactly the platforms are used, for what purpose they are used, and who exactly uses them. Observing such a social and culturally involved activity would not do the analysis justice when comparing it to western media which I have extensive experience in. Likewise to use purely statistical data analysis on the different social media platforms would leave out the important social differences and thus the analysis would lack a human aspect. This is why using an autoethnographic approach to the research benefits the analysis/comparison most, as it provides a means to comparing the two cultures, and opposing media platforms to a similar standard.

Just look at the Renren homepage, if I didn’t know any better I’d say it’s some kind of scam page out to steal my data.

Source: Renren homepage

Source: Renren homepage

References:

Crawford, B. (2016). 100 YEN: THE JAPANESE ARCADE EXPERIENCE [English subtitles]. [online] YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saqXPY4K-t0 [Accessed 15 Sep. 2016].

Ellis, Carolyn; Adams, Tony E. & Bochner, Arthur P. (2010). Autoethnography: An Overview [40 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12(1), Art. 10, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs1101108.

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Reflecting On The Usability of Sina Weibo

So as I wrap up my investigation of Chinese social media and my autoethnographic experience of having a Sina Weibo account, I think it’s important to discuss the usability of the site and my response to this in light of my research. To reflect on the experience, I felt it would be beneficial to explore how I went about responding to the features of the platform and how it was used by those in China, and compare this to my Australian experience of social media platforms, namely Twitter and Facebook.

Initially I found the entire experience of using Sina Weibo disorientating and frustrating due to my severe lack of understanding of Mandarin, however once I looked past the language barrier I began to find aspects of the site familiar to Facebook and Twitter. As noted by Chao, the creator, he aimed to make Weibo’s interface more closely related to Facebook’s to increase its “stickiness”, meaning users would be more likely to stay on the site longer than if he decided to replicate Twitter’s interface (Epstien 2011). In my own experience, I find that I definitely spend longer on Facebook than Twitter and choose to access Twitter through the Tweetdeck app rather than the site because I feel that’s how I can get full functionality out of the platform. I felt that the functionality of Sina Weibo was much more similar to Facebook due to its sidebar, top bar, private chat feature and comment system, however I found the way people chose to use it was more closely related to my use of Twitter.

Gao et al (2012) conducted a comparative study of the users’ of Sina Weibo and Twitter providing some insight into these differences between usage, however I could not find any comparison between Sina Weibo and Facebook usage despite the common description of Sina Weibo as being a hybrid version of Facebook and Twitter. One significant point of difference in usage was the time in which users of the site were most active. Gao et al found that Sina Weibo users posted 19% more messages per day on the weekend, whilst Twitter users posted 11% less messages during the weekend, which I believe aligns with my own use of Twitter and is reflective of each country’s differing lifestyles (p. 98, 2012).

In terms of actual usability of the platform and its technical features, it is once again more closely related to Twitter (see Breaking The Barrier). The use of hashtags, I found on Sina Weibo to be quite annoying, however later I found out that the platform had the ability to perform ‘double hashtags’, which enables hashtags to integrate better with the text and in hindsight I now see that (Ghedin 2013).

Overall, I feel like I have achieved my aim, which was to investigate Chinese social media using the methodology of creating a Sina Weibo account. Through investigating the sign up process, governance, technology and usability of Sina Weibo through an autoethnographic perspective, I feel I have learnt quite a lot about the social media use in China and am able to inform an Australian audience about this topic through a research report.

Sources:

Epstien, G, 2011, ‘Sina Weibo’, Forbes, 3 March, viewed 12/10/14, < http://www.forbes.com/global/2011/0314/features-charles-chao-twitter-fanfou-china-sina-weibo.html>

Ghedin, G, 2013, Understanding Sina Weibo: Hashtags, VIP Hastags and More, Digital In The Round, article, 4 July, viewed 6/10/14, http://www.digitalintheround.com/sina-weibo-hashtags-vips/

Gao, Q, Abel, F, Houben, G.J & Yu, Y 2012, ‘A Comparative Study of Users’ Microblogging Behavior on SIna Weibo And Twitter’, Unknown, pp.88-101.

The Yers – Thailand’s Indie music scene

 

The Yers are an alternative post-punk revival five-piece band from Thailand, formed in 2003. They are very traditional in terms of the way in which they choose to communicate with their fans and the general public using digital technologies, as well as promoting their music.

The band does not have its own website, rather operating through their record label, ‘Genie Records’ which is a primarily Thai label that features the Yers.

After exploring this website to get a feel for the way in which The Yers are represented online, I discovered that the website was almost identical to Western record labels online – it featured tabs for artists; blog; store; music; and news. Although the site was written in Thai, there were English translations provided for me underneath – without me having to manually change the language.

I believe it to be very smart of Genie Records in doing this – it allowed them to break the language barrier that often exists between Western and Asian communities, and also gives the bands featured on the label the opportunity to be discovered by those who may be located in different areas or markets.

In saying this however, the band does have an official Facebook page that is updated regularly with news, music and communications from the band, primarily written in Thai. It features essential information fans need to know, as well as shared photos and videos to get a feel for what the Yers are attempting to promote as a group.

It is interesting to note that although the band is quite active in terms of Facebook use, there is little to no activity on other social media platforms, such as Twitter and Instagram. Although the band does have an official Twitter account, they have not made a tweet in over a year – this shows that they obviously prefer Facebook as their preferred method of communication with their fans and communities around the world.

It would be interesting to delve into this matter further – WHY do some celebrities or groups favour some platforms over others? Is it because of the different functionalities across the varieties? This is something that I would like to explore during the progress of my personal research project into alternative Asian music artists.

One Buck Short – Malaysian pop-punk

One Buck Short are a Malaysian alternative, pop punk band that are from Kuala Lumpur. The band was formed in high school in 2001, in which two of the members began playing local shows, events and competitions together, before breaking out into the local and regional scene. Although the band is Malaysian, it features a very heavy influence from the Western punk genre – most of their albums are named in English. Although in saying this, after listening to a few of their songs through YouTube, the songs themselves feature Malaysian names and lyrics.

The band has since broken into the Western punk scene, as they have supported various American pop-punk bands such as Sum 41, Good Charlotte and Fall Out Boy, on national tours around Asian countries such as Malaysia and Singapore.

One Buck Short has a clearly defined role across social media platforms, with public Facebook and Twitter accounts being updated regularly about the progress of the band as well as general updates about shows and new music.

After further looking through One Buck Short’s twitter feed, I discovered that the majority of their tweets are written in English, similar to their music. They are also rather informal, and do not seem to be scheduled. This indicates that the band members themselves would run the page, rather than an appointed publicist or someone similar. The band’s Twitter was also very interesting to explore as they spent a lot of time interacting with fans that had attempted to connect through the page. There was a great deal of tweets written in Malaysian directed to local fans, who had written to One Buck Short also in Malaysian. This is important to note, as the tweets that were directed to the general public were in contrast, written in English.

I decided to follow and ‘Like’ One Buck Short on both Twitter and Facebook on my personal accounts, in order to keep in touch with what the band is up to, as well as their interaction with fans and the public. This is a great way for me to gain a real insight into my topic of choice, the alternative and punk music in various Asian countries from a digital perspective. As I delve further into the topic, it will be interesting to look at other bands in the same genre from the same area and see how they compare in terms of their use of digital and social technologies for promotion.

How do I sign up?

 Mixi is the most popular social media website used in Japan. Interested in social media I stumbled upon this page. My first impressions on this website that it wasn’t very culturally friendly as all of the writing was written in Japanese.

It has a completely different vibe to Facebook (which would be the #1 western social networking site) as it there is a lot going on. There are many flashing images of Asian women or other random Japanese content which personally doesn’t really make any sense to be on a social networking website. Although on the other hand I have no idea what is being written around it – so who knows maybe it has some sort of meaningful connection.

Although completely different to Facebook I assumed that the two blank boxes were the ‘log in’ tool. I attempted to create an account – keeping in mind I am Japanese illiterate so it was really a guessing game.

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 4.57.52 pmScreen Shot 2014-08-07 at 4.46.01 pm

After starring at the Japanese writing for a solid 5 minutes I had no idea what to do. I thought that there had to be a way for me to change it to English. After changing browsers I found that google chrome has the ability to change the language. Now that I’m able to read what is happening I realise that there is actually no way for me to sign up…

Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 4.58.11 pmScreen Shot 2014-08-07 at 4.41.12 pm

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make an account and I was confused as to why not. It didn’t give you a ‘sign up’ option which interested me. I started to do a little research into the site ‘Mixi’ and apparently one needs to be invited by an existing member in order to have an account.

Therefore I can’t access this website unless I can hunt down a Japanese individual to shoot me a friend request. Unlike Facebook ,”Mixi’s site design and navigation are extremely intuitive. Your homepage displays a selection of your friends, a list of their latest blog posts and photos and the latest news from your communities.” (Top 6 social networking sites)

– Nicole