It’s a bit hard to sum it all up, but it’s just a fundamentally different way of getting information. BBSs are just Bulletin Board Systems or forums (as the term is loosely used now) and have existed the west for a long time but are fading away as an internet culture in the west. The whole idea of Chinese BBS culture is that you more or less rely on it for news and interesting discussions rather than the mainstream media which is quite lacking, incomplete, and unreliable. Chinese BBSs tend to cover a wide variety of topics, and are vast.
There’s an interesting article in English at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/0… that may help explain to people who are not used to the concept. In particular:
In the 1980s in the United States, before widespread use of the Internet, B.B.S. stood for bulletin-board system, a collection of posts and replies accessed by dial-up or hard-wired users. Though B.B.S.’s of this original form were popular in China in the early ’90s, before the Web arrived, Chinese now use “B.B.S.” to describe any kind of online forum. Chinese go to B.B.S.’s to find broad-based communities and exchange information about everything from politics to romance.
Jin Liwen, the technology analyst, came of age in China just as Internet access was becoming available and wrote her thesis at
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on Chinese B.B.S.’s. “In the United States, traditional media are still playing the key role in setting the agenda for the public,” Jin told me. “But in China, you will see that a lot of hot topics, hot news or events actually originate from online discussions.” One factor driving B.B.S. traffic is the dearth of good information in the mainstream media. Print publications and television networks are under state control and cannot cover many controversial issues. B.B.S.’s are where the juicy stories break, spreading through the mainstream media if they get big enough.
“Chinese users just use these online forums for everything,” Jin says. “They look for solutions, they want to have discussions with others and they go there for entertainment. It’s a very sticky platform.” Jin cited a 2007 survey conducted by iResearch showing that nearly 45 percent of Chinese B.B.S. users spend between three and eight hours a day on them and that more than 15 percent spend more than eight hours. While less than a third of China’s population is on the Web, this B.B.S. activity is not as peripheral to Chinese society as it may seem. Internet users tend to be from larger, richer cities and provinces or from the elite, educated class of more remote regions and thus wield influence far greater than their numbers suggest.
Another potential good read is Jin Liwen’s thesis (I haven’t read it, but I’m sure it is very informative for people who aren’t familiar with Chinese BBS’s):