What is Douban and why should journalists use it? 什么是豆瓣?

Douban
Douban

As a journalist, it is a good idea to get familiar with Douban, otherwise known as the ‘Chinese Reddit’ to see how can you use it to find news, comments, and opinions from the country of 1.3 billion people. Get your Google Translate ready and let’s take a look!

While most people have heard of Weibo and Wechat, not many people know their older hipster cousin Douban. Douban is a hybrid of interest-based social networking platforms has become the preferred online social network for scholars, academics and writers in China.

Douban is the third most popular social media platform in China. Because of its high-quality content, engaged user base and active communities, the platform is where a lot of big news stories are broken.

China’s cultural hub

Think of Douban (pronounced “Doe-ban”) as a combination of IMDB, Goodreads, Spotify, Pinterest, Medium, Twitter and Reddit all rolled up into one channel for Chinese users. Launched in 2005 by Yang Bo (杨勃), before WeChat (2006) and Weibo (2009), establishing itself as a social network with a reputation for high-quality content. Despite its rising popularity, Douban kept its minimalist UI design and chronological order for all postsan interface that’s become emblematic of its endurance in the world of Chinese social media.

Douban home page
Douban home page

Let’s rate and debate

You can rate books, movies, and albums of your choice, write blogs, post and curate content to your timeline, and send recommendations to your friends.

 

Each section from books to movies to music has its own homepage:

Douban Books
Douban Books

The page above shows Douban Books where you can see keyword tags on the right-hand side. Similar to Goodreads, you can use Douban to take notes on and rate each book you’ve read.

The image below is the homepage of Douban Movies.

Douban Movies
Douban Movies

If you want to see what Chinese people think about a book or movie or read their opinions on politics and social issues related, Douban is a great resource to start. You can also gain a deeper insight into the views of the Chinese public through the blog posts found on Douban.

Fire and Fury
Fire and Fury Douban reviews

Compare with Goodreads

You can compare the ratings and comments for books on Douban to those on Goodreads. For example, the reactions to political books like Michael Wolfe’s Fire and Fury can give you a window into topical issues in the world from a Chinese perspective.

Fire and Fury on Goodreads
Fire and Fury on Goodreads

 

What the public think

Most Douban users are open to discussion and keen on making their voices heard. If you see interesting comments, you can also DM the users. As you can see above, opinions on Wolfe’s book vary, with most people giving it 3 out of 5 stars. From the comments section, we can see his work might not be chosen as book of the year by the Chinese public.

Comments on Douban Books
Comments under Fire and Fury on Douban
An example of a Douban user
An example of a Douban user

Above, you can see in the right-hand corner the “Follow” button, and beside it, the “Direct Message” button. All users’ DMs are open, but they do have an option on whether to accept message requests or not.

Douban and its ‘intelligent’ user base

Douban is sometimes referred as the online home of China’s literati. By 2016, it had accumulated over 150 million registered users with 300 million active monthly users, according to a report by Technode.

Douban's audience by Alexa
Douban’s audience analysis by Alexa

It’s no surprise then that another report, by Amazon Alexa, shows that most Douban users are college educated with a large proportion browsing the site while at work.


If writing long and clever blog posts is your thing, then Douban might be just the place for you!

 

Douban’s scrapability

Data journalists are always on the look-out for new datasets and Douban, with its minimal interface, is easy to scrape, particularly its books and movies pages.

Here is a tutorial by Geekan on how to use Python to scrape Douban:

https://github.com/geekan/scrapy-examples Happy scraping!

Using Scrappy to scrape Douban
Using Scrapy to scrape Douban

Have you had any experience browsing or scraping Douban? We’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below!

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