Monthly Archives: August 2007

Governance and discipline of the Chinese Internet

With more than 30 million registered bloggers by the end of June 2006 and more than 100 million Chinese Internet users visiting blogs regularly, government officials have become increasingly worried about the spreading of ‘unhealthy and defamatory information’. The state broadcast authorities also imposed new regulations on performing artists and Internet users to ensure the promotion of only a ‘healthy socialist culture.’

Have no fear. They have been joined in their governance efforts by more than ten major Chinese blog service providers who agreed to sign the ‘self-discipline code for blog services’ drawn up by the Internet Society of China (ISC). Together with Jingjing and Chacha (two avatars from the Shenzhen policy network) and 30,000 state security personnel in 700 cities, they are monitoring websites, chat rooms and private e-mail messages to ensure law and order in China. Soon, the Beijing police will start patrolling the Web using animated beat officers that pop up on a user’s browser and walk, bike or drive across the screen warning them to stay away from illegal Internet content.
If that wasn’t enough, website blocking and filtering (graciously provided by Western companies) coupled with assistance from citizens (via online reporting centers) have helped establish a powerful propaganda presence online.

All-in-all, the Party still seems to possess enormous resources for social control, in particular in preventing online public opinion leading to collective action in real space. Beware though. Barbarians are at the gate. Every day an underground economy anonymous proxy server addresses comes alive, connecting to servers made available by volunteers around the globe. Several organizations (Peacefire, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Picidae) offer circumventing solutions which range from software to ‘adoption campaigns’’ by making the hosting of Chinese blogs a distributed and collaborative process. In addition, Chinese bloggers are taking bold steps too:

P.S.: Last week, a Chinese couple tried to name baby “@”…

Of standards, national champions and techno-nationalism

Ever heard of TD-SCDMA, WAPI, AVS or EVD? They are standards pertaining to mobile telephony, wireless LAN, audio-video coding for broadcasting, DVD format and are all developed in… China, as part of the country’s ambition to develop its own intellectual property and create high-technology national champions whose product will flood world markets.

During the last decade, the Chinese government has adopted a policy of strong support to its domestic ICT industry through the creation of national champions (China Mobile, Lenovo) and the development of domestic standards.

Has it worked? Not quite, or at least not yet. EVD is going back to the drawing board because Hollywood movies don’t come in the EVD format. WAPI has been rejected by ISO (International Standard Organisation) to the Chinese delegation’s great displeasure. The fate of AVS and TD-SCDMA is less clear. Both may benefit from the tremendous technological enthusiasm created by the 2008 Beijing Olympics. China Netcom (one of the largest telecommunication companies in China) has announced that AVS will be used as the only standard for IPTV while most Chinese mobile operators are running trial TD-SCDMA networks. If that wasn’t enough, the Chinese government announced last week a government-backed venture capital investment, which will support mainly high-technology and telecommunication industries.

Does it make sense? In certain cases, firms were given a significant competitive advantage when their countries created a system which eventually became a worldwide standard – just imagine what a Chinese installed-base means in terms of economies of scale! On the other side, the history of technology is littered with (very) expensive examples of failed policies in standards-setting.

The good news is that once a country starts to own intellectual property (IP), it starts to protect IP rights!

Two drivers for innovation in the 21st century… or at least the next 20 years

Try to imagine (or remember) how life was 20 years ago.

For most of us outside MIT or ARPA, it was a world of clunky typewriters and filing cabinets, of monopolistic telecom operators who’d charge exorbitant fees for long-distance calls. It was of course, before the era of the PC, the Internet and Skype.

Japanese multinationals had successfully entered the car and electronics market, bought a couple of landmarks in the US (Rockefeller Center and movie studios) and everybody was afraid Japan Inc. was going to take over.

Well. 20 years have past. Japan didn’t take over (at least not yet). It is now racing to keep up with the emergence of China and India (more than 2 billion customers and graduating each year between 450’000 and 950’000 engineers, depending on whom you believe) and you might be reading this post on your iPhone.

You may think there is only one Chinese computer brand (Lenovo) or believe that Chinese companies will forever be stuck as OEM producers. If this is the case, think about what “made in Japan” meant 30 years ago and what it means today (if you are still not convinced, dig out archive pictures of Toyota Celica and compare them with the latest catalogue of Lexus’ hybrid cars).

For the past 500 hundreds years we have had the tendency to look West for innovation. Well, add up the power of information and communication technologies to the emergence of China and… time has come to look East, at least for the next 20 years!

P.S.: Don’t worry. China Inc. will not take over either…