The hottest Chinese Internet firms you've never heard of

These sites have at least 100 million users but are largely unknown outside of China

By , IDG News Service |  Internet

Netease: The company's main site, at 163.com, is the 15th most visited site in the world according to the Alexa Internet rankings, right behind LinkedIn. 163.com is a major news portal for China, and Netease also claims to operate the country's largest email service, with more than 590 million users across its various domains. Like other tech giants in China, Netease also offers search, online video and social networking. But its real money maker is online games. Some of the most popular are fantasy games it develops itself, but Netease also distributes U.S. titles like "Starcraft II" and "Diablo III."

Tianya.cn: Before China got social networking sites it had Tianya, a BBS discussion forum that launched in 1999. The site remains popular and Tianya estimates it has 200 million monthly users. While China is notorious for censorship, there's an abundance of local news about sex, crime and hypocrisy that Chinese people love to gossip about.

In some cases, Tianya and other Chinese forums like Mop.com are a platform for mass action. In 2006, the forums helped reveal the identity of a woman who was seen brutally killing a kitten in an online video. They're also used for so-called "human flesh searches" in which users band together to identify perpetrators of perceived injustices. The crusades have helped expose fraud and corruption, but they can also turn China's Internet users into a virtual lynch mob.

58.com: If you're looking for housing, a car or just trying to sell something, try 58.com, which is basically China's version of Craigslist. The site covers 380 cities and has close to 130 million monthly users who post jobs, special offers and personal ads. Unlike Craigslist, 58.com is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, part of a wave of Chinese tech companies selling shares in the U.S.

They all have room to grow. On Thursday, the China Internet Network Information Center said China has 618 million Internet users. That puts the nation's Internet penetration at 46 percent, with millions in its rural areas still to come online.

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