Take WeChat as an example. It is home to the vast majority of China’s original writing, and yet:
It doesn’t allow any external links;
Its posts are not indexed by search engines such as Google or Baidu, and its own search engine is practically useless;
You can’t check the author’s other posts if open the page outside of the WeChat app. In other words, each WeChat article is an orphan, not linked to anything else on the Internet, not even the author’s previous work.
Search engine indexing is key to content discovery in the knowledge creation domain, but in a mobile-first world, it is extremely difficult to pull content across the walled gardens, whether or not there is a profit incentive to do so.
Again, the issue here is not censorship. Had China relaxed its speech restrictions, a search start-up would’ve faced the same level of resistance from content platforms when trying to index their content, and content platforms would’ve been equally reluctant to create their own search engines, as they could serve ads and profit without a functional search engine.
Bullet comments, or 弹幕 (“danmu”), are text-based user reactions superimposed onto online videos: a visual commentary track to which anyone can contribute.
A fascinating article by Christina Xu on this overwhelming collaborative UI overlaid on Chinese video-sharing sites:
In the West, the Chinese internet is mostly depicted in negative terms: what websites and social platforms are blocked, what keywords are banned, what conversations and viral posts are scrubbed clean from the web overnight. This austere view is not inaccurate, but it leaves out what exactly the nearly 750 million internet users in China do get up to.
Take a look at bullet comments, and you’ll have a decent answer to that question. They represent the essence of Chinese internet culture: fast-paced and impish, playfully collaborative, thick with rapidly evolving inside jokes and memes. They are a social feature beloved by a generation known for being antisocial. And most importantly, they allow for a type of spontaneous, cumulative, and public conversation between strangers that is increasingly rare on the Chinese internet.
The terrific Hugo-winning short story about inequality, urban planning, and automation, written by Hao Jinfang and translated by Ken Liu (who translated The Three Body Problem series).
Hao Jinfang also wrote this essay about the story:
I’ve been troubled by inequality for a long time. When I majored in physics as an undergraduate, I once stared at the distribution curve for American household income that showed profound inequality, and tried to fit the data against black-body distribution or Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution. I wanted to know how such a curve came about, and whether it implied some kind of universality: something as natural as particle energy distribution functions, so natural it led to despair.
Bruce widens our horizons with this in-depth look at where and how people are accessing the web around the world.
In this article, we’ve explored where the next 4 billion connected people will come from, as well as some of the innovations that the standards community has made to better serve them. In the next part, we’ll look at some of the demand-side problems that prevent people from accessing the web easily and what can be done to overcome them.
A fascinating analysis of a super-cheap phone from another world.
Welcome to the Galapagos of Chinese “open” source. I call it “gongkai” (公开). Gongkai is the transliteration of “open” as applied to “open source”. I feel it deserves a term of its own, as the phenomenon has grown beyond the so-called “shanzhai” (山寨) and is becoming a self-sustaining innovation ecosystem of its own.
Just as the Galapagos Islands is a unique biological ecosystem evolved in the absence of continental species, gongkai is a unique innovation ecosystem evolved with little western influence, thanks to political, language, and cultural isolation.
Once my talk was done, I took some questions from the audience and was then showered with good wishes and tea-related gifts. They really made me feel like a rockstar there; I’ve never had so many people want to have their picture taken with me or have me sign their copies of my books—the publishers of the Chinese translations of DOM Scripting and Bulletproof Ajax were also at the conference.
W3C Tech was held on the east side of the river so I spent the first few days in the futuristic surroundings of Pudong. Once the event wrapped up, myself and Jessica moved across to a more central location just off Nanjing road. I quite liked the hustle and bustle, especially once I remembered the cheat code of “bu yao!” to ward off the overly-enthusiastic street merchants. I wish there were something similar for the chuggers here in the UK, but I have the feeling that the literal translation—“do not want!”—will just make me sound like a lolcat.
During the interview, the subject of books came up. I knew that Dyson occasionally reviewed a book or two, having read his article about James Gleick’s The Information. He mentioned that one of the finest books he had recently read was …The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes.
The coincidence was too much. I decided I had to have this book. I jotted down the name of it in my notebook. Then I remembered …I had my Kindle with me.
Risking motion sickness, I turned it on just long enough to navigate to Amazon and download the book, overcoming my loathing of its hateful DRM.
Just to recap: based on recommendations received through audio signals sent from a handheld device that stored time-shifted conversations, I connected to a global network of machines to exchange currency and download a file onto another handheld device—all whilst travelling in a moving vehicle.
Living in the future feels pretty cool.
It was even cooler when I entered a heavier-than-air metal craft that was capable of counteracting the force of gravity long enough to take me halfway around the world in just half a day.
Wandering around Shanghai in a semi-jetlagged state also feels like living in the future—given timezone considerations, I kind of am in the future—and it also feels pretty cool.
The problem with seeing so many new sights and experiencing so many new experiences is that I have grown used to sharing them with the world via Twitter. Alas, the Great Firewall of China was forcing me to go cold turkey.
But then Jessica discovered something: it turns out that the 3G Kindle can circumvent China’s censorship (for now). My feeling of disconnectedness vanished the moment I pulled up mobile.twitter.com and saw the beautifully mundane updates from my friends across the world.
I still hate the DRM and I still have issues with the ludicrous pricing models of digital books but that’s twice now in as many days that the Kindle has given me something more than just a good reading experience.