Thanks to our APOC alumnus Jeremiah Abraham, many APOCers including myself got a chance to volunteer at one of the biggest technology industry events, Twiistup, this past Thursday. This event aims to provide a platform for many entrepreneurs in the industry to showcase their innovation and ventures. It seemed to me that everybody in the social media industry came, start-ups, social media gurus, investors, and also many media groups that report on the Technology industry like ReadWriteWeb. It was also a pleasant surprise for me to run into Vince and Jordan there.
This piece of news from Engadget.com, “Stanford University shows that clothes make good batteries too“, talks about how a Stanford science group has invented a kind of cloth that can store electricity in it. This reminded me of a recent episode of ABC’s “Modern Family”, where a young girl, Alex, tricked her sister Haley into rubbing her hair to charge her cellphone. Maybe one day this act will not be considered a prank anymore, but instead something everybody does for a legitimate reason, and this day might come very soon! But for now? This episode of “Modern Family” is still funny and really makes me laugh.
According to an article from New York Times , YouTube has finally announced its entry into the film rental business today, and will start partnering with five independent films from either last year or this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Rentals for these five films will begin this Friday for $3.99 each, and run until the end of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. These five movies will serve as the first step in a much larger plan, as more movies can be expected to arrive on the site in the future.
What does this mean for the film industry, and also, for film lovers?
First, as YouTube’s entertainment market manager Sara Pollack said in the New York Times article, “Only a tiny fraction of the films submitted at Sundance were able to find some form of commercial distribution, and that YouTube would provide a new outlet for independent filmmakers.”
I believe that Youtube as a popular platform can offer many independent movies, that otherwise might never find theatrical or home video distribution, a viable way to test themselves in the market or even break through and prove they do have marketable value. And when these independent filmmakers succeed on YouTube, they can then migrate to the big screens.
Second, the article predicts the rental business of YouTube will provide a new model to monetize the current amateur videos on Youtube, meaning a huge database of YouTube short clips may unleash massive revenue streams in the future. More and more amateur video makers may turn into independent film producers, and more democracy and leverage will be handed to netizen film makers.
Third, not only can films benefit, but maybe in the future copyrighted TV show will also come to YouTube to join the rental business. When that day comes, perhaps Hulu.com has already started charging for TV shows and films, as recent rumors have suggested. The competition YouTube has brought into the market can prevent Hulu from dominating and monopolizing.
Last but not least, for film watchers, we will all be able to share our thoughts about movies we watch in real time with so many others who are also watching, similar to how Facebook/CNN’s broadcast of President Obama’s inauguration last year allowed millions of people to watch and comment in real-time. Even though Hulu currently provides commenting functions, due to the limits of its social networking features and small user base, there has never been a comparable real-time commenting phenomenon, but that could be expected in Youtube’s future. And when people are watching videos, if they do not want to hear the whispering comments of others, there should also be a function to let people lower the “volume” of live comments so they can enjoy the movie by themselves in their own private setting.
Today, by accident, I stepped in to a GE (general electives) class at USC, and the topic was “The Change of China’s Image in American Pop Media” in the past couple of decades, led by Professor Stanley Rosen. When I told him my Chinese name is “Chao” (usually this means nothing but a syllable to most people I meet here) he immediately recognized it as a character from the phrase “Chao Ji Da Guo” (super big country) and “Chao Ren” (super man) as “Chao” means “Super” in Chinese. At the beginning of the class, Professor Rosen briefly introduced the current controversy in China regarding a new Chinese movie about the ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius, which bumped “Avatar” out of movie theaters nearly a month before it was scheduled to officially exit Chinese cinemas. I read this news yesterday on many local Chinese media and Social Network Sites. Professor Rosen’s informed understanding of the current situation in China really made me anticipate what the class was going to be about.
The internet has afforded many individuals an easy venue to voice their opinion in the universal human online community, and the massive space and immense tolerance of internet has encouraged a diverse range of opinions. Many people say that internet, especially the social media trends popularized in recent years, has put democracy into common people’s hands, and encouraged the presence of individuality online. There is another school of thought that looks at the collectivism side of the internet, and the prospects of how the collectivism of the internet, powered by crowd wisdom created by Google, Wikipedia, and other collective platforms, is crushing individuality online.
Last week, The New York Times featured Jaron Lanier’s new book, “You Are Not A Gadget”, in which he voices his concern for a “cybernetic totalism” future for our internet and how that would impact our society. In this book, he does not just tap into how the “wisdom of the crowd” could turn into mobs on the internet, but he also boldly predicts the consequences that may be brought by the digitalization of intellectual property. Here is an excerpt from the Times article: “Mr. Lanier is most eloquent on how intellectual property is threatened by the economics of free Internet content, crowd dynamics and the popularity of aggregator sites. “An impenetrable tone of deafness rules Silicon Valley when it comes to the idea of authorship,” he writes, recalling the Wired editor Kevin Kelly’s 2006 prediction that the mass scanning of books would one day create a universal library in which no book would be an island — in effect, one humongous text, made searchable and remixable on the Web.” This potential might hurt content producers’ individual interests.
I am always fascinated by these visionary insiders in the digital industry and their predictions for the future. Even though it might not really happen, these predictions are definitely proactive and offer one possible future, one where content creators and consumers as well as the policy makers should be prepared for.
Personally, I agree that there are two individualism trends and collectivism trends occurring at the same time in the social media world, and I do not think they have to be conflicting with each other. Instead, they could complement each other if managed properly. A community is usually based upon collaboration to fulfill individual needs, which could be both physical and emotional, and that does not necessarily entail in sacrifice of individuality. The unique color of each individual is a brick in the foundation of the diverse online community world. Even though everyone shares some sort of common identity in the online community world, and maybe a sense of belonging, I think the ultimate purpose for a community is for people to help themselves find their individual existence in it, and to strengthen their existence through giving and taking from the online communities. If not, why would an engaging member of a community care to build up their avatars in the virtual world and earn social status in it just as they do in the real world? I hope and believe that individuality will find ways to prosper in this collaborative world.
(Google’s office in Beijing, China)
Since Google made a public statement on Tuesday afternoon that it is considering pulling out of the Chinese market due to cyber attacks it suffered from a source originating in China, in the past two days, this incident has drawn huge attention from the global media and society. Many media scrutinized the impact of this incident from every social, economic and political perspective.
At the same time, I am most interested to see what response this incident will spur from the Chinese netizens since from the very moment the news broke out, like most people who are familiar with the Chinese media environment, I am not positive that the Chinese government would budge on the issue of censored searches.
Cries From the Chinese Geek Community
In the past two days, the front pages of Chinese media portals such as Sina.com.cn and Sohu.com.cn which are under the surveillance of the government, have remained silent about this incident. You might find one or two blog entries commenting on it in obscure corners of their news webpages. However, the incident has sparked a huge wave of responses from many Chinese social media outlets such as forums and bulletin boards, a most popular form of social media in China.
Though there are a certain amount of netizens disapproving of Google’s declaration of war against the Chinese government, thinking that following the local rules and regulations is just natural for companies doing business in foreign countries, but most of the netizens showed sympathy to Google and concerns for their future access to Google products. NetizenZhangXuebiao raised a question on a popular forum xici.net if people could scale the government’s firewall to visit Google in the future, which has resonated with many other Chinese netizens.
Cries were heard from the geeks communities about having to find replacements for Google Maps and Analytics products. Since the news broke out, many Chinese netizens have started to transfer their Google docs and Gmails. Google’s action may set an example for other foreign companies considering whether or not to make huge accommodations for the Chinese market, according to an article by Computer World, but it is not likely that it will attract many foreign technology companies as followers, as the risks and norms of conducting business in China have been well-known for decades.
Various Suspicions about Why Google Is Leaving
At the same time, there is much suspicion from those in China’s technology industry that it is not ideological reasons that are driving Google away, but rather the frustration of reaching business objectives in the past couple of years since Google entered China, just like the frustration it faced from entering other Asian countries like South Korea. According to a China Daily Article “Google [took] about 35 percent of China’s search engine market in the fourth quarter of last year, according to domestic research firm Analysys International” and “Google’s major competitor (the local search engine) Baidu had a 58-percent market share in the last quarter”. After about an eventful five year journey in the Chinese market (chart above was taken from China Daily website), Google.cn is still not seeing any hope of catching up with the its local competitor, Baidu, and the revenue stream it gets from China is still “a small fraction” of its overall revenue, something that it feels it can afford to lose at this moment. But what about Google’s future business potential in China? I wonder if the world’s largest internet user population is a market that Google can really afford to lose.
Many Chinese tech industry bloggers like Chen Jiao feel “Google pulling away its search and email products will hurt the long term business potential of Google by limiting exposure to the company’s entire suite of Google Apps and other future services in the Chinese market.” Not to mention the Android phones that Google is ambitious to push into the world market; if Google is on the blacklist of the Chinese government, its prospects in China will be much more unpredictable.
Who Will Be China’s Next “Google Analytics” ?
Okay, enough about Google. For local Chinese tech companies, Google’s leaving might be bad news to some of its local agents and partners, but it is definitely great news for its competitor like Baidu and many Chinese entities who aspire to be the “Chinese Google Analytics” and “Chinese Google Calendar”. There is a long tradition of Chinese tech companies taking over a foreign model and localizing it and gaining huge success from it, for example: youku.com from Youtube, renren.com from Facebook, and t.sina.com.cn from Twitter, and QQ from ICQ (even though later on QQ evolved past ICQ). Part of the reason for their success is their deep understanding of the local market and their flexibility; also the government’s banning of many original foreign sites has created a greenhouse for these “Chinese versions” to thrive and prosper. But the best way for a company to improve is to face and compete with a strong opponent, and I would feel really bad for these Chinese companies to lose such a valuable competitor even though they might be financially better off in the “intranet” created by the Chinese government. I hope the potential for innovation and the originality of Chinese companies would not be smothered by the exit of such a good competitor.
The Hottest New Online Search Phrase: “Illegal Sending Flowers”
Finally, here comes some fun stuff. According to some local sites like enet.com.cn, yesterday, knowing that Google was about to leave the country soon, some Chinese Google lovers have self-organized to go to the Beijing Google Office to present flowers to pay their tributes and farewell to this tech giant. As they were placing flowers in front of Google’s office building, they were banished by security guards working for the tech compound Google’s office was located in, and the guards accused the fans of “illegally sending flowers”. Within the next couple of hours, “illegal sending flowers” has been the hottest searched term in the Chinese internet.
A friend of mine joked that these “illegally sent flowers” must be from the staff of Google’s local competitor Baidu because in the past two days, Google has switched its Chinese site back and forth between the localized google.cn and the international google.com, indicating that the company does not seem to have really made up its mind to leave yet; but now since all the farewells and flowers have already been sent, it would be really hard for Google to not go now. (The note in the picture says: Google is The Man)