Rag tales: Expat Websites wars about to heat up in Bejing

I love dramatic titles, especially if they include the word WAR.. even though in this case, I’d rather think about it more as “competition”..

The way things go in Beijing, for the English speaking expat population, we tend to rely on one of 3 names: The Beijinger, City Weekend and/or Time Out. Each one of these had their advantage and disadvantages in the print edition as well as online. City Weekend went out of their way to incorporate everything web 2.0 and get users involved in the site. The Beijinger has been stuck on a drupal driven site that is not the easiest to build on but nevertheless was reliable with forums and reviews. Timeout has always been the odd one out online with just the bare minimum of information on their English portal in Beijing… Things are about to change:

City Weekend

They are experimenting with new layouts and different content on a regular basis. while it’s hit or miss depending on who you ask, they’re at least trying and changing things around. I’m not a big fan of their latest layout as it takes away valuable article space. As a matter of fact, I decided against going with a thumbnail driven mainpage on Beijingdaze.com because of the frustrations associated with their latest layout. Their slideshow news are badly implemented: I’d rather have a summary of each visible at all times, not just a number (see Time Out implementation)
One thing they seem to be doing is pushing the classified section of the site, both online and offline… in all the years i’ve been checking things online, that has been one of their weakest points… overall, I’ll give them an A for effort!

The Beijinger:

Old reliable and a sentimental favorite. I know quite a few expats who do rely on The Beijinger instead of the other two because “it speaks for the common person”. It’s a bunch of foreigners who have been in Beijing for a while standing toe to toe with multinational conglomerates like Ringier Media and Time Out. You kinda have to stick with the little guys! Their classified section and forums are the rock on which the site is built… no matter how childish some of the forum users are, there is no denying their popularity. That said, they are being left behind.. slowly but surely:
The review system is outdated as one can only review a place once. I understand the rationale to avoid fraud/fake comments but there’s gotta be a better way. I want to be able to go leave a new comment on a restaurant after a year or two, not change the old comment.
While the look is outdated and the site navigation/architecture is a nightmare to navigate, they still give more useful information in the first part of the screen than their competition. TBJ is still my go to website for most things but I’m open to change

Time Out Beijing:

Their old site was always crap… the new portal however is promising! it looks like they have taken their sweet time to see what worked and what didn’t with the expat community and they’re finally ready to unleash the beast. I’m looking at their and CW sites at the moment to compare and it’s quite telling. The TO guys have a better UI / Usability person. They also have too many adds on that first part of the screen… worst one in terms of total useful information between the big 3
Granted, the site is just launching right now with tons of information still missing but I’m liking it already.. it is clean, modern, friendly, not littered with adds.. Let’s see how it develops! Much like with everything TO does, there is no place for user input, they’re sticking to editorial content…. I wish they opened things up a bit.

Other contenders:

Local Noodles:
I almost didn’t include them on here because of various reasons but I believe they have their place on the list. User reviews and content drive this site with their gigantic database. They’re getting more news and original content slowly but surely and i do know a few folks that rely on them exclusively for reviews. I don’t… The site has been a nightmare to access since day 1 as it is slower than any of the others.. That’s the biggest reason I don’t even bother unless i’m looking for an address.

Beijing Stuff:
The community is nice but I just can’t get into it. It seems like a throwback from years ago for whatever reason! That’s where the creeps hide out ( I’m sorry if this sounds rude but that’s the impression i get)

We Live in Beijing:
I really like them but they’re irregular at best. They can go one without a single post/news for months and then throw in a few good ones then disappear again. I just can’t be bothered anymore! I wish they could make better use of the excellent writers they have at their disposition.

Is there really enough of a market for all of these guys to co-exist? Which one do you rely on?

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8 Responses

  1. Josh Feola says:

    when google/baidu maps fail me i always turn to http://www.mobilenative.com/

    not sure how i came across this resource originally, i think maybe from beijing boyce, but it’s pretty handy

  2. Beijing Daze says:

    for listings, mobilenative.com still rocks. I just wish they hadn’t stopped updating the site. The SMS functionality is one of the best ones around.

  3. Dr. Mantis Toboggan says:

    I don’t like CW’s new layout either. Never even knew TO had a proper website, but looks like they’re following CW’s lead, or is it the other way around? Anyway, I still think CW has pretty solid listings, or at least, they’re more reliable than the ones on TBJ.
    I’ve gotten some bad phone numbers, incorrect addresses and just straight-up wrong info from TBJ before. They ran an article on “best cocktail bars in BJ” not long ago, and listed a bar that had been closed for months (Tryst)…fail. Didn’t know about Mobilenative, looks pretty solid though.

    • Beijing Daze says:

      indeed, TBJ has been guilty a few times in a row of having outdated information and not really fact-checking their articles before posting them on the blog…
      Mobile Native’s SMS functionality is god sent… I love it

  4. Froog says:

    I hate the way CW lumps its music listings in with ‘Nightlife’ – so you sometimes have to wade through pages and pages of restaurant promotions and ‘happy hours’ to find gig information. I find a similar problem sometimes with the TO magazine: sometimes difficult to find ‘Live Music’ hidden away amongst all the other stuff about parties and DJ events.

  5. Hanna says:

    I like the Beijinger forum, apart from the English learners there are some very useful posts. If something happens locally no matter how meaningless or important, someone will slap it on that forum. Your labeling of the place as “childish” comes across as typical expat moaning because its just a bunch of people venting. Live with it!

    • Beijing Daze says:

      Thanks for the feedback Hanna. The forums are extremely useful but there is a tendency for good posts to go bad really quickly with banter and underhanded jokes/insults. despite all that, I still check them everyday

  6. Tom Nunos says:

    Pretty tight blog. Very interesting and pretty informative..I’ll forsure be coming back again. Cheers