The Chinese government looks set to back down from its long-held intention to impose strict real-name registration for the country's 20 million bloggers after outcries from the industry.
In a draft self-discipline code for blog services published by the Internet Society of China (ISC) on Tuesday, real-name registration is only to be "encouraged" instead of being made compulsory.
Government departments have been promoting a real-name system for years, arguing it would force Internet users to watch their words and actions and to refrain from slander, pornography and dissemination of other "harmful" information.
But the proposal has triggered protests from the Internet industry and the growing number of Internet users.
"The attraction of a blog rests in its confidentiality where people can say what they want, without worrying about it affecting their real lives. One can have different names online, which represent different lives," said a Internet user "Xingxingcao".
Another user "Weiyan" said real-name registration would deter bloggers speaking the truth for fear of being identified.
The ISC, with the backing of the Ministry of Information Industry, is trying to rally industry players to sign up to the self-discipline code for the promotion of a less rigorous real-name system.
According to the draft, an author's real name is not compulsory for opening a blog, but bloggers are encouraged to register their real names and real information with service providers when they open.
Those who voluntarily register their real names may choose whether or not to publish their real names, or they can use pseudonyms in blog articles. Blog service providers must ensure security and confidentiality of information that bloggers prefer to keep secret, the draft code said.
Zhang Chaoyang, CEO of Sohu.com Inc, said real-name blog registration is not technically feasible and won't solve the problem of online abuse.
"It (real-name) will impair the free spirit of the Internet," said Zhang, whose company Sohu has registered millions of pseudonym blog users.
Zhang's comments were echoed by Fang Xingdong, CEO of China's main blog service provider bokee.com, which has about 15 million registered users.
Fang said it is simply impossible for websites to verify the identification information of blog applicants, as it would involves huge costs of manpower and money beyond their means.
"Chinese blog users will escape and open their blogs with foreign service providers if real-name registration is carried out in China," he said, adding it would be sad if China's Internet businesses lose their own customers.
However, Chen Tong, chief editor of Sina.com.cn, applauded the practice of real-name registration, saying it would help regulators but adds that anonymous posting and blogging must be preserved as it is an attraction of the Internet.
The code, published on the Internet to solicit public opinions, was drafted by a blog research group within the ISC. The group consists of blog providers and industry experts and was set up in October 2006 to discuss issues relating to the development and regulation of the blogging industry.
It aims to prescribe the obligations of both blog service providers and bloggers through self-discipline, requiring providers to improve their services and standardize their businesses as well as reminding blog users of their social responsibilities.
China has more than 20 million registered blogs. Government officials have raised concerns over the spread of "unhealthy" information in some blogs.