Home Business IT Networking SBS plans Chinese social network

Public broadcaster SBS will launch a social networking site for Chinese speakers by the end of the year. Intended as a pilot service, the company hopes to follow with other language sites in the future as it seeks to offer a venue for more foreign language content and community information.

One issue that the broadcaster will almost certainly have to navigate is the potential for the Chinese language site - aimed at Mandarin and Cantonese speakers - to become a political hot potato. This would undoubtedly be the case were an organisation such as Falun Gong to load material on a site ultimately owned by the Australian Government.

Late last year the ABC pulled a film about Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer, rather than risk upsetting Australia's relationship with China. SBS may have to negotiate similar sensitivities over its online site.

Matt Costain, online technical director for SBS, said that the site would be moderated by SBS editorial staff and the Chinese speaking community, although he acknowledged that could be 'pretty dangerous.'

Mr Costain is responsible for a network of more than 70 online sites at SBS which attract more than 1.2 visitors a month. Mr Costain said that the planned Chinese language site was intended as a; 'Destination for content and a community focus.'

He said that if it was successful similar sites would be rolled out for other languages and the Government would be lobbied for additional funds for the sites.

At present SBS receives no additional Government funding for its online initiatives, with the online group forced instead to go cap in hand to the SBS board or different groups within the broadcaster for funds for online initiatives.

This year has been one of the busiest for online traffic at the broadcaster, driven in part by sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup and the Tour de France. During the World Cup the online site recorded 40 million page impressions, streamed 4 million videos and drew 1.4 million unique browsers according to Mr Costain.

SBS' agreement with FIFA means that it can supply access to football match video for up to four years to attract 'the bit of a long tail,' associated with the World Cup according to Mr Costain. Although the page impressions were roughly in line with expectations, the actual demand for video download was slightly lower than expected which Mr Costain attributed to SBS 2 assuming the mantle of de facto replay channel during the World Cup.

The technical underpinnings for SBS' online sites are provided by managed applications service provider Hostworks.  Mr Costain said that the service performed without a hitch during the soccer.

He said that one of the busiest periods came during an early morning match which the Socceroos played against Ghana. The load on the site ramped four fold, with 2,000 requests per second, and 15,000 concurrent sessions being recorded.

Mr Costain said that SBS telephoned Hostworks which provided additional computing capacity within two minutes.


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Beverley Head

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Beverley Head is a Sydney-based freelance writer who specialises in exploring how and why technology changes everything - society, business, government, education, health. Beverley started writing about the business of technology in London in 1983 before moving to Australia in 1986. She was the technology editor of the Financial Review for almost a decade, and then became the newspaper's features editor before embarking on a freelance career, during which time she has written on a broad array of technology related topics for the Sydney Morning Herald, Age, Boss, BRW, Banking Day, Campus Review, Education Review, Insite and Government Technology Review. Beverley holds a degree in Metallurgy and the Science of Materials from Oxford University and a deep affection for things which are shaken not stirred.






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