(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)