Saturday, January 30, 2010

They don't know what they don't know

Over a lonely weekend on my recent trip to China, I wrote a few posts in the bar on my laptop while drinking a Tsingtao. I wrote the post Baked Beans while I enjoyed the quiet and solitude that sometimes comes with travel. Don’t get me wrong, business travel has it's downside, but quality time with a good beer is not one of them. My bartender, Aiden, was an inquisitive young man. He interrupted me several times to talk tech.

Since I was writing a blog post, he asked to see my blog. I explained that I could not show him anything because China blocked Blogger. He had no idea. The more we talked, the more it seemed he did not know of Blogger or the other foreign blogging services. To him, even Google was a second rate service when compared to Baidu (Wikipedia), China's number one search engine. He demonstrated Baidu’s capabilities while explaining why it was better than Google. During the demo, I realized Baidu was essentially Google cloned and re-branded as a Chinese product. It was yet another example of foreign product perfectly copied and then used to compete head-to-head with the original in the Chinese market. Google is competing with itself in China, they should be worried that Baidu will target America next.

Aiden had a Facebook account when it was opened to Chinese users a few years ago, but he thought they were unfair in the treatment of China and therefore did not deserve Chinese patronage. I explained free speech laws and the fact that Facebook could not silence it patrons with a negative backlash. That, if they tried to censor users, that would be the end for Facebook. Another service would step in to fill the gap. Facebook would fade away. It would be economic suicide. Aiden did not understand. He thought our President could order the objectionable content removed for the good of the American people.

In retrospect, it was an awakening of sorts for me. He was one of five people I spoke with who were unaware of Blogger while maintaining blogs on Chinese based blogging services. Most had a public account where they talked about things of interest to their friends, and a private account where they kept their innermost secrets. I asked about government intrusion, they responded that it was not possible as they were doing nothing wrong. They are blissfully innocent. To think that a generation of young computer savvy users share their private thoughts on a government run service is scary in a Orwellian sort of way.  The government does not need spies when its citizens bare their souls to the communist machine. It blows my mind.

I think the government's official policy of replacing competing services with robust Chinese alternatives is working. The people I've met do not miss Twitter, Facebook or Blogger. For the most part, they don't even know the services exist or care about what they are missing.

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