Atelier was at the Chinese Internet Research Conference (www.circ.asia) held in Beijing from September 21–24, 2006. The annual meeting, which brings together China’s Internet players, is a must for getting a sense of new Web trends in China. Established leaders include Tencent based in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong. Tencent is a “company on the rise.” According to Alexa, it recently became China’s number two site, a nose ahead of Sina but still trailing Baidu. Tencent’s first success was becoming a favorite of young cybernauts, particularly with the triumph of its number-one instant messaging software QQ (that has outpaced MSN Messenger, which ranks second).

Tencent has since continued to launch new services:

web portal (www.qq.com),
mobile services Mobile QQ, (www.mq.qq.com) and Fengchang QQ Nannv,
SMS-based match-making service,
messaging (QQ Mail),
instant messaging for businesses (Tencent Messenger and especially RTX Enterprise),
online games (QQ Game),
advertising brokering, which enables it to leverage its traffic.

Tencent also let’s you play on Alibaba and eBay with a C2C auction platform called PaiPai.com, launched in September 2005 along with the TenPay online payment system similar to PayPal (eBay) and AliPay (Taobao). Tencent has also entered the already highly competitive search engine market with the official launch last March of Soso.com, a new search portal on the Chinese Internet scene, but that reportedly uses Google technology.

One of the other most interesting players to watch is Oaks Pacific Interactive. This group publishes several portal sites that leverage the community-building aspect of the web. Founder and CEO Joe Chen already made a name for himself when he created the site Chinaren, acquired by Sohu in 2000.

Oaks Pacific Interactive now manages several successful sites: Mop.com, its flagship site based on the same principle as MySpace; DoNews, one of the most influential IT news sites in China; RenRen a portal for classified ads; UUme a video-sharing site; and others.

Oaks Pacific Interactive raised $48 million in March 2006. The sites it manages total 22 million registered users and 150 million page hits each day. Contrary to Tencent, whose revenues come mainly from services, Oaks Pacific Interactive relies more on online advertising.

Deeper into Web 2.0, Qihoo is positioning itself in the blog and BBS search world. Based on the numbers, that’s a promising market: the CNNIC has identified 28 million blogs and expects there to be 50 million by the end of 2006. Qihoo was founded by the former CEO of Yahoo China, hence the similar sounding name.

Pomoho is an interesting discovery. Like YouTube, this company is among those offering online video services, which have really taken off in China in recent months: Toudou, Yoqoo and Wangyou, to name a few. Such companies have attracted a wide audience and some have secured financing (Toodu raised $8.5 million in May), but their survival has become very uncertain since the SARFT imposed restrictions on them this August. Pomoho CEO Genliang Wu admitted to us that the company has not yet obtained SARFT authorization to broadcast video content. He filed jointly for the notorious license with another company (whose name was not revealed to us).

Sogua.com is a unique player in the music-content market. Created in 2001, this portal offers a music search engine, online karaoke, and music blogs on various topics. Interestingly, Sogua also presents its own performers, distributing their works via the Internet. Yet according to Alexa statistics, Sogua’s success has been seriously eroding since peaking in 2004.

Two Taiwanese animation studios, Green Pady and Kusophone, have found their own promising niche in mobile-phone content: creating amusing and endearing characters aimed at younger generations.

In business services, Shanghai Woocan Network Technology offers interesting web conferencing software that works effectively on narrowband networks. The applications are many: e-learning, videotelephony, application sharing, etc. These services are fairly similar to those offered by Aduno in France.

Lastly, there is OpenV, a video search engine based on the English technology Autonomy. It resembles search engines like Blinkx, but is much more user-friendly. In the demo we saw, OpenV was able not only to find the right videos, but also the desired segments within them.