With its influence reaching everywhere around the world on a growing number of devices, it sure seems like Facebook is taking over the world. But it’s safe to say that since it’s blocked and inaccessible without a proxy, Facebook isn’t in a position to take over the most populous internet nation on earth. Since Facebook is out of commission in China, which social networking sites have filled the void?
Among the group are Myspace.cn and Renrenwang, but Douban has emerged a leader of the middle kingdom’s social networking pack. I’ve found it to be a great way to check out new Chinese music and movies that otherwise I would have a hard time finding.
Douban (pronounced “Doe Ban”) has been online since September 2004, has hundreds of millions of users which share and discuss their favorite movies, music, and books. After selecting a user name and inputting personal information to complete your profile, you start browsing through an almost endless listing of films, albums, and novels. As you add friends to your network they see which albums, books, and movies you want to see, have already seen, and are currently enjoying. It’s like a Chinese Last.fm that isn’t dedicated solely to music, but from the perspective of a foreigner, it’s a window into what media is currently popular with Chinese people.
To test the breadth of the Douban media catalog, I searched for a little-known album produced by a friend of mine, DJ I-Dee. His debut album, titled Solitude, was released on an independent label and has been available on the US iTunes store for over a year. Not only did it come right up on Douban with the album art, but eight users had already indicated that they had listened to the album and had awarded it a cumulative four-star rating. After passing my test with flying colors, I’m impressed not only with Douban awareness of independent music but also of the musical savvy that many Chinese listeners on Douban have. Even books “banned” in the mainland like Wild Swans appear on the site and are reviewed and rated by users.
In addition to music are movies and book sections on the site, which similarly feature everything you can imagine. Once you’ve added some of your favorite albums and movies, you can find users who’ve enjoyed the same ones, and then crawl the rest of their favorites. By doing this you’ll expose yourself to a lot of new music that otherwise you might have a hard time finding. If you want to check out more Chinese movies or music to practice your listening comprehension or otherwise, you might already know that it’s often difficult to find exactly what you’re looking for because there’s so much mediocrity. Finding friends on Douban with similar tastes is a great way to discover new movies and music based on the films and albums that you have in common.
Artist Pages & Groups
In addition to exchanging media, the other major components of Douban are it’s Artist pages (???) where bands and musicians upload and share their own music, and Groups (??) which allow administrators to broadcast messages to members.
Anyone can register an artist page and the cast of participants is broken into genre’s like Rock, Reggae, Hip Hop, and so on. Unfortunately you can’t download MP3 files hosted on Douban but you can stream them using the audio player built into each Artists page, which features a handful of songs and looks like this:
All eight songs on this artist’s page can be streamed instantly and recommended to friends. Most well known domestic bands, rappers, and other musicians have a presence on Douban and you can check out their music there. Since most Chinese musicians don’t use US sites like SoundCloud or Bandcampfor distributing their music, Douban is a heavily trafficked site that gives you a good picture of what’s going on musically in China right now.
Groups are networks of fans that rally around a brand, venue, or activity. There are groups for Chengdu itself, local bands like The Trouble, and popular watering-holes like Jia Bar and Hemp House. Once you join a group you can participate in discussions (as seen below, in the Hemp House group) and receive bulletins and invitations to events coordinated by the group administrator. It’s a good way to stay up-do-date on what’s going on at your favorite venues.
Douban appears to be under steady development, touting a new mobile version formatted for the iPhone on their official blog that’s formatted to for easy media searching. I tested it out in Safari on an iPhone Touch and it worked, although an official Douban app would be a big step up. Currently, there’s a third-party Douban browser available in App Store which is custom tailored to stream music from Artist pages. You can browse the most popular artists in genre’s from indie rock to experimental electronic and everything streams quickly and sounds good!
Have you tried Douban? What are your thoughts?