Why do chinese prefer numbers over letters in their URLs? Not only to avoid translation

Internationalized domain name (IDN) with Simpl...
Internationalized domain name (IDN) with Simplified Chinese characters. Browser is Mozilla Firefox, with proprietary icons deleted. The content of the shown webpage is free. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The preference of some Chinese sites to use numbers over letters in their domain names has something to do, as you might imagine, with the complexity of translating Chinese characters into latin characters. There is, however, a little bit more to it than it meets the eye.  Learn how 51job got to mean “I want a job”.

The digits in a domain name usually aren’t random. The Internet company NetEase uses the web address 163.com—a throwback to the days of dial-up when Chinese Internet users had to enter 163 to get online. The phone companies China Telecom and China Unicom simply reappropriated their well-known customer service numbers as domain names, 10086.cn and 10010.cn, respectively.

Digits are even more convenient when you consider that the words for numbers are homophones for other words. The URL for the massive e-commerce site Alibaba, for example, is 1688.com, pronounced “yow-leeyoh-ba-ba”—close enough! Those digits can just as often have individual meanings. The video sharing site 6.cn works because the word for “six” is a near-homophone for the word “to stream.” The number five is pronounced wu, which sounds like wo, which means “I.” The number one is pronounced yao, which with a different tone means “want.” So the job-hunting site 51job.com sounds a lot like “I want a job.” Likewise, to order McDonalds’ delivery online, just go to 4008-517-517.com, the “517” of which sounds a bit like “I want to eat.” (An English equivalent might be the old radio jingle, “How many cookies did Andrew eat? Andrew 8-8000.”)

via Chinese Number Websites: The Secret Meaning of URLs | New Republic.

Sorin Adam Matei

Sorin Adam Matei – Professor of Communication at Purdue University – studies the relationship between information technology and social groups. He published papers and articles in Journal of Communication, Communication Research, Information Society, and Foreign Policy. He is the author or co-editor of several books. The most recent is Structural differentation in social media. He also co-edited Ethical Reasoning in Big Data,Transparency in social media and Roles, Trust, and Reputation in Social Media Knowledge Markets: Theory and Methods (Computational Social Sciences) , all three the product of the NSF funded KredibleNet project. Dr. Matei’s teaching portfolio includes online interaction, and online community analytics and development classes. His teaching makes use of a number of software platforms he has codeveloped, such as Visible Effort . Dr. Matei is also known for his media work. He is a former BBC World Service journalist whose contributions have been published in Esquire and several leading Romanian newspapers. In Romania, he is known for his books Boierii Mintii (The Mind Boyars), Idolii forului (Idols of the forum), and Idei de schimb (Spare ideas).

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