[BEIJING] Unless China's science communication websites update their design and content to become more in tune with user needs they will lose the few visitors they have, warn science communicators there.
Despite the Internet's popularity in China, poor funding means that the design of science-related websites is often basic — holding little appeal for young people.
Also, poor coordination between different websites means they often carry the same information.
A survey released last week (8 July) by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences found that more than three-quarters of those interviewed said the Internet had become their primary source of information. So far, China has nearly 100 million Internet users. The country's total population is 1.3 billion.
The survey, which took place between January and March and interviewed 2,376 people from five Chinese cities — Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Changsha and Chengdu — found that 90 per cent of teenagers who use the Internet use it mainly for playing online games.
There are several thousand websites involved in science popularisation in China, of which several hundred are professional websites, which tend to be funded by government departments, research and education institutions, or individuals.
With limited public funds, the websites cannot compete with commercial ones, says Wang Yuguang, executive editor-in-chief of the China Public Network of Science and Technology website.
Wang Su, a researcher at Beijing-based China National Institute of Education Research, says young people are not attracted to Internet sites about science for a number of reasons. The websites tend to lack interesting interpretations of the science they describe, have dull page formatting, and fail to connect with teenagers' everyday lives.
Wang Yuguang agrees, saying the websites can only afford to use low-tech fonts and graphics. They rely on images from books or the print media instead of more advanced features such as animations or video.
Public funding for science websites is unlikely to increase, but this does not mean that nothing can be done to improve the situation, he says.
The limited funds available should be concentrated on leading science popularisation websites, to enable them to improve their appearance and content enough to attract the attention of more people, he suggests.Meanwhile, he adds, websites should link to each other more to avoid repeating content.
Read more about similar issues in SciDev.Net's 'E-guide to science communication'.