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June 2001: Volume 43, Number 6

The Great Website of China -- Tackling a Monstrous Market with www.h2ochina.com
by Ronald Y. Perez, WC&P Senior Editor

For those of you who would rather grab a glimpse of China by insisting on digging a hole there can stop reading this column now and advance to the last paragraph. For the rest of us, we hope to provide some insight into the land of The Great Wall and a billion people through a more reasonable route. Recently, U.S. relations with the country have been more like the Hatfield and McCoys, but we digress.

Setting aside foreign policy issues for our country's news media, we take a more positive spin on China by examining its latest foray into the heavy traffic of international water websites. You may remember when this space of the magazine reviewed India's latest portal website. Well, if one nation of a billion people can do it, why can't another? Four months in preparing for h2o-china.com, its designers launched the site in October 2000. The following will track the progress made in that short time.

www.h2o-china.com
Typing in the URL address will take you directly to the Chinese version of the home page. After admiring the intricacy of the typed characters on the screen, I select the "English" button and was whisked away to more familiar linguistic ground. From the font to general layout, one gets the impression this is a no-frills site. Advertisements are non-existent. Color is minimal. Information is abundant.

One thing is clear-there's nothing pretentious about the site. Even the main buttons to home page's left are direct and, at times, vague and ambiguous (possibly something lost in translation). For example, the words Science Paper take me back to the days when I was expected to embark on a two-month homework assignment for my fifth-grade class. In this case, however, the words refer to written reports that detail topics such as surface water pollution in Shanghai and urban water management in China.

Other less than descriptive headings include Business, Project and Water Magazine. First, Business is broken down into three different categories-"Technical," "Investment" and "Advertising." It's clear that the Chinese version of the site was loosely translated into English. The short text in this section exemplifies that. Spacing between words is off, and some of the grammar can be confusing. Still, you can get through relatively trouble-free and ask for more "details." In short, though, you discover this section is basically a contact information request where general comments and inquiries are welcome.

The written word
Project, as you might guess, provides a short list of five plans that directly affect the municipal water treatment industry in various locales in China. Each entry is supported with photos or a map illustration of the area being discussed. Information is also given in the form of a short article with more in-depth details about the project.

The last button to the left is Water Magazine. A click here serves as a great resource for additional information on magazines dedicated to wastewater and water treatment issues in China. Five publications are listed along with their addresses and contact information (phone and fax numbers with email addresses). A bonus is that more website addresses are listed here on China's water treatment market (see FYI -- China). On the downside, you're only given access to two of the magazines' contents and, even then, only the first couple of months for each of the last two years.

The other buttons on the home page are direct and easy to follow. About Us contains nothing out of the ordinary. It outlines the mission and target audience for the site. Today's China is a cacophony of water-related themes associated with the country. Like the Project button, certain themes are tackled such as water pollution, seawater desalination and the environment. Unlike the Project button, however, you're presented with a full-length article on about 10 different topics. Some of the stories even include endnotes (or references, if you prefer). Without a doubt, it's one of the more interesting and informative features of the site.

Abundance of news
As if Project and Today's China weren't enough news to choose from, the site also provides a News button. Once you start reading down some of the news item blurbs that are visible on the home page itself, you see the News button carries a distinctive feature. Updated on a nearly daily basis, news from outside of China is included here to give the site a more international feel. By clicking on the headline, a separate and smaller window (a small but important feature) pops up and gives a rather lengthy press release on each item. Among the three buttons aforementioned, almost any visitor can get his fill of water news.

Keep in mind, a search button sits near the bottom left of the home page. If you see enough websites, you get accustomed to the fact that the search button usually means the end of the page or at least buttons with hyperlinks.

At h2o-china.com, a "Water Links" button is found precariously under the search function with little to distinguish it. "Water Links" takes you to over four printed pages of material. In a way, it almost reminds me of a site within a site. It even contains its own buttons including, you guessed it, more news items. For editorial support, this segment of the site relies on the academic publication, Water Industry News. The majority of items are culled from U.S.-based water-related companies. You're also invited to join the Water Industry Council. In hindsight, I see why the reason behind putting the links where they did. This button would only clutter the main thrust of the site. Plus, it's called h2o-china.com, and not h2o-usa.com.

Conclusion
Well, it's easy to see that the four months in preparing for this site to launch was time well spent. Sure, some access to information is frustratingly limited (see Water Magazine), but the overall look and maneuverability is simple enough in its design. The home page isn't cluttered, but the buttons could use some revamping in what they're called. In the end, the positives outweigh the negatives.

It's extremely difficult to cover a segment as monstrous as the water industry and condense into one navigable site. Throw in the fact that it's a country with nearly 20 percent of the world's population and you could set yourself up for a fall. But, instead of falling, this site comes to you with a full gallop and is near the full-sprint stage.

For those of you still digging that proverbial hole to China, I have a few words of advice. You can go back and read this column over and safely introduce yourself to water in China. Or you can dig far enough in the ground until you hit water anyway.

###

SUMMARY:

www.h2o-china.com-Savoring the morsels
Fast food: Access in some areas bogs this site down a bit. The magazines look quite intriguing, but you settle for picturesque covers for the most part.

Carry out: Sure, you have a search button, but if the home page buttons were more specific, the need to chase after certain subjects would be minimized.

Sit-down meal: The news content pertaining to China involved here is more than sufficient. Throw in the international items, and you got a bonus.

Five-course dinner: The water links page could almost stand by itself as a viable site. Yet, it serves as a great complement to the main site without de-emphasizing the China angle.


FYI-More sites to see about China
* www.chinawater.net
* www.chinaenvironment.com
* www.chinajournal.net/gsps.html
* www.waterwaswater.com

(Ed. note: Two of the four websites above weren't operable at press time.)