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.”)