There’s a whole second Internet out there, in mainland China. It’s hugely innovative and we in the west can learn a lot from what’s going on there.
We have Google and Bing: in China they have Baidu. Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo are the Twitter equivalents, Renren is Facebook. The Chinese eBay is Taobao (owned by Alibaba). NetEase is like Yahoo without the miasma. There’s a robust variety of big Chinese websites. Online games, too, Western juggernauts like World of Wacraft are also-rans compared to local games.
Here in the US we tend to dismiss the Chinese Internet as a backwater, some second-rate place that clones American technologies while laboring under the yoke of communist oppression. Nothing could be further from the truth, there’s a lot of interesting innovation and an enormous ecosystem developing independently in China. As a small example, consider maps. Baidu launched indoor maps before Google. Sina Weibo just blew past Twitter in mapping microblog posts. And no one can touch Baidu’s awesomely unique isometric pixel art maps.
I’m trying to learn more about Internet development in China but unfortunately I don’t read Chinese and surfing via Google translate is pretty bad. (Maybe I should try Baidu Fanyi). But thanks to a tip from Richard Chen I’ve been reading the Tech in Asia blog, a great bit of news coverage of consumer Internet stuff in Asia. About 10 posts a day, not just China, most quite readable. The Economist’s new expanded Chinese coverage is also helpful for a broad perspective.
What I haven’t found is a good source for technical innovations. Where is the Chinese open source community, what is their GitHub, their Hacker News? There’s Chinese Linux distros; are there app server frameworks, NoSQL datastores, nerd fights over semicolons? There’s a lot of very smart computer scientists in China, where is their hacker output?
I can’t post this without a word on why the Internet in China is a separate place. Most US coverage talks about China’s censorship, in particular the “Great Firewall” that blocks politically sensitive topics (like Gu). Censorship is absolutely part of the Chinese Internet and is deplorable. But I think most of the division is simple language and cultural boundaries. A quarter of Web content is in Chinese and Americans never read it; why should we expect Chinese to read English content? There’s also a healthy dose of trade protectionism: China is explicitly trying to develop its own Internet industry to be independent of the US. Maybe we should start cloning some of the Chinese innovations.