Despite the above-mentioned differentiation, reports from the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) indicate that the audience for online forums continues to expand each year. While the vitality of online forums has been challenged by blogs, microblogs and other Web 2.0 services, this online media so beloved by Chinese web users still has profound support long-term development prospects, and has an important and unique position in Chinese online ecology.
Strictly speaking, online forums lie somewhere between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, and they have an irreplaceable role on the internet with Chinese characteristics. Tianya, MOP, KDnet, Tiexue and other sites work on a “forum + editor” model, while the Strong Nation Forum, Sina Forum, Sohu Forum, Phoenix Forum, Baidu Post and other such sites are important components of larger news forums. All have made substantial contributions to China’s online public sphere, and they are often the places where sudden-breaking news stories unfold, where public opinion is sourced, where corrupt behavior is exposed, and where various social groups interact.
There are many examples in recent years of the way online forums have encouraged social development and prompted more open political behavior. Without the role of online forums, for example, the South China Tiger Affair might not have ended in the way it did.
In a global context, regardless of how online forums develop in the future, we can be sure that they will not draw attention in the same way they have in the past. This is because Web 2.0 has irrevocably changed the nature of the internet. Online forums undergone a process of development from small gathering places frequented by die-hards to mass public spaces.