Google.cn to Google.com.hk

News came out the other day that Google has finally rolled out a solution to their censorship dispute with the Chinese government. Instead of “pulling out” their business from China, they are moving their servers in Mainland China to Hong Kong. They will also adopt a new Hong Kong domain name, and direct everybody who accesses Google.cn in Mainland China to the Google.com.hk. Ideally they can provide uncensored Chinese search results on this Hong Kong site to Chinese people this way, but is this Utopian situation likely to happen? According to Google’s official blog, they do not seem to be that sure about it themselves:

“We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we’ve faced—it’s entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China. We very much hope that the Chinese government respects our decision, though we are well aware that it could at any time block access to our services.”

Many analysts in the U.S. have backed Google’s act simply by stating how dominant Google’s market share is in everywhere in the world and how Google China has only brought in a tiny bit of revenue to the overall Google colossus in the past couple of years, so Google China’s demise does not need to be a major concern to Google. But I still feel very sorry that Google is going to miss out on the big potential internet market in China, and the exploding mobile market across the Pacific Ocean. I read the other day on eMarketer that the number of mobile web users in China will soon exceed the U.S. population by the end of this year. Even though Google says it is still going to try to push out the Android mobile platform in China, Google’s ambitions for Android in this giant Chinese mobile market are surely going to be largely compromised. Also, if Google’s search engine and all other Google services that serve as the backbone to its lucrative ad business may be potentially blocked, then what is the point of Google pushing the free Android platform in China anyway? Their OS may not even be bring in the ad revenue Google needs.

Google has been on the blacklist of the Chinese government that is for sure. Xinhua News Agency, the government-backed “official” news agency has just run a fulminating article criticizing Google’s recent discord with the government titled “China declines political Google and Google’s politics” .

In response, Google in its typical simple manner, launched a plain site that tracks Google services’ accessibility in Mainland China. My first response seeing this list was: “What?! Blogger is also banned in Mainland China?!” I wonder if WordPress is accessible there. I will for sure go back to the site often to check the “status quo” in China.



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TimesPeople: The New York Times’ Response To The Social Era

Right after I finished reading the post “It’s Hard To Watch The Newsosaurs Turn A Blind Eye To Their Own Extinction” from Techcrunch, which lampoons many of print media’s slow response to the digital media revolution, I encountered one “Newsosaur” ,The New York Times, and their endeavor in adapting themselves to this new media world. The timing was just too good and the contrast just too big, I could resist blogging about it.

I remembered that not too long ago, when I was reading articles from The New York Times, it was always a pain for me to share its articles on Twitter, as the little share button at the end of each articles did not include a shortcut to Twitter. But today after I finished reading an article, I was surprised to see a little button below exclusively devoted to Twitter along side other Share and Email buttons. After I finished rejoicing about how the New York Times has finally moved to embrace Twitter, I was hit with an even bigger surprise: The New York Times has rolled out an online community for their readers: TimesPeople!

While people can join TimesPeople by logging in with their New York Times membership account, they can also use their Twitter account to register, and NYT will pull Twitter profile information and contacts to their TimesPeople account from the beginning. Score one for good interoperability! This got me right on board.

NYT defined TimesPeople here:

TimesPeople is a social network for Times readers. But it’s not a social network like Facebook or MySpace — you won’t have Times friends, and it won’t get you Times dates. Instead, you’ll assemble a network of Times readers. Then you’ll be able to share interesting things on NYTimes.com with others in the network. For example, when you recommend an article, comment on a blog post, or rate a movie or restaurant, these activities will become visible to other TimesPeople users in a special toolbar at the top of every NYTimes.com page. You’ll also have a personal page that keeps track of your TimesPeople activities and lets you browse your network of readers.

TimesPeople is a great way to discover things on NYTimes.com that you might not otherwise have found and to share your discoveries with other NYTimes.com readers.”

Looks like NYT is very clear about what they are doing with TimesPeople. It’s not another Facebook, it’s not another Myspace. It’s a community that is especially designed just for you to better find and share NYT’s content, and of course it supplies you with your pre-existing offline social networks which has been proven to be the panacea of engagement in online communities. While social media like Twitter are becoming more and more prominent news centers on the internet, traditional news sites cannot escape this trend, nor can they be ostriches putting their heads in the sand and pretending that nothing is happening. They might as well just face their problems and try to turn them to own advantage, like what The New York Times is doing now.


Were You Awake at 4am This Morning?


(Less than half an hour after the L.A. earthquake this morning, the term “earthquake” dominated the local Twitter trends in L.A.)

Unfortunately, I was, when the earthquake in the L.A. area happened around 4 am this morning. According to the US Geological Survey, it was only a 4.4 magnitude quake and was centered about 12 miles under the city of Pico Rivera. Sounded minor right? But it did feel very real to me this morning when I was lying in bed in the dark. For about ten seconds I thought I was on a flying carpet when the whole bed was jolting and the windows above my bed were whistling. A couple of seconds later, lying in the dark, hearing the car alarms going off on the street, a pretty surreal feeling struck me when I realized that an earthquake might just have happened. “Was it just further proof that I was really living in the restless city of L.A. or was it all just a dream?” I asked myself. But since everything quickly returned to normal in the middle of the night, I knew there was only one place in the world at that moment that could give me the answer.


Twitter!

I turned on my laptop, which was placed on the edge of my bed, thank goodness it hadn’t been slipped to the ground during all that shaking. I searched “earthquake L.A.” in Google about five minutes after the earthquake, and the first three results that came to the top were about old earthquake entries from USGS, but the fourth one was real time results from Twitter. According to the results, many people were already engaged in an intense discussion about the earthquake that had just happened. The discussions were not only from L.A., but also from China and South Korea. Nice, it was not a dream.


My friend Julie (glad she was awake too!) tweeted at that moment that this was the first time she turned to Twitter for news, just as I had. I have heard so many anecdotes before of how Twitter has been such a useful platform for people to exchange information during emergency circumstances like the Mumbai terrorist attack. But this time, I experienced the power of Twitter, the real-time news outlet, myself. It was for real!


Here are some interesting tweets that really helped to ease my nerves in the aftermath of the earthquake:

earthquake in LA. fault just a few miles from parents house. son’s ok but dad wondering how I heard so quickly in China. 🙂

christinelu twitter.com seconds ago

Earthquake in LA. Over 300 related tweets every 5secs. Amazing how realtime the technology is! #fb

tohir twitter.com 3 minutes ago

Is amazed at how many people are up at 4AM talking about the earthquake in LA. Hi from South Korea!

AndrewLeonardtwitter.com3 minutes ago

I think like 50% of the people I follow live in LA. Based on these earthquake tweets, at least.

oceana_rolltwitter.com3 minutes ago

Los Angeles Earthquake: 4.4 Tremblor Hits Pico Rivera

Huffington Post3 minutes ago

4.4 earthquake in CA, near LA… Glad everyone’s ok! RT @ninjabetic: 1 picture fell off the wall. Kids are a bit nervous.

martin_j001twitter.com4 minutes ago

There was an earthquake in LA? Can’t find it on any media but my Twitter is filled with updates on the case.

minieerikkitwitter.com4 minutes ago



Privacy: The Price of Being Online?

As much as I wish I could be at this year’s SXSWi, I have enjoyed reading the keynote speech reports from social media scouts like Techcrunch and also the tidbits floating on social media venues from my friends who are there. That is the beauty of this new media world, instant- knowledge sharing, and impact-amplification. Joining this new knowledge-sharing force, I personally feel I have become a thousand times more resourceful and knowledgeable than I could ever be otherwise. That is one of the things I love most about social media.


But there are always pay-offs for the advantages that social media have brought to us. SXSWi’s keynote speaker Danah Boyd’s speech about how social media messes with people’s personal and public lives really struck a cord with me, as recently I have been trying to redraw the line between my personal and public activities on the internet. It is especially hard for me to do so because social media to me is not just a personal space, it is also a professional setting since I want to develop a career within it.


For most of my friends who do not have this dual identity issue with social media, they may probably have easier answers to this problem: purge employer-unfriendly content from their profiles before they apply for a job, or just completely close off their Facebook account and limit the content only to private friends. The pre-requisite here is that people believe and actually do have control over their content online. In Boyd’s speech, she also noted how important this sense of control plays in people’s feelings of their online privacy, and when this control gets breached, people will feel their privacy has been violated.


But do people actually have as tight a grip over their online content as they feel they do? Unfortunately, not all the time. Even though sometimes they do, this control is still very vulnerable and largely subject to a social media platform’s arbitrary changes. In Boyd’s speech, she named the two recent privacy blunders by Google Buzz and Facebook. Everybody has already known about the damage Google caused due to their eagerness to get people immediately Buzzing on their network, and therefore forgot that “you want to help users understand the proposition. You need to ease them in, invite them to contribute their content.”(Boyd)


But for Facebook, I assume even until today most Facebook users still have not even noticed the damage they have caused. Three months ago, Facebook changed the default setting for people’s profile to open to “everyone”. I have been noticing in the past three months, for every new person I have met, though their Facebook profile may be locked, their pictures are totally open for me to view. I’ll bet 90% of these people do not have any idea that their pictures are open to everyone on Facebook. Boyd also noted this unfortunate situation: she asked around and had not yet found any non-techie Facebook users whose actual Facebook privacy settings matched the settings they thought were in place. That is a really terrible breach of people’s trust of their content to Facebook. Whoever is reading this blog post, please go back and check your Facebook pictures’ privacy settings and make the necessary adjustments.


Thanks Jason Kincaid for bringing Boyd’s speech to us, these are other great takeaways from Boyd’s speech:


“Different groups of people think about privacy. Teenagers are much more conscious about what they have to gain by being in public, whereas adults are more concerned about what they have to lose.”


“Most techies think about Personally Identifiable Information, but that the vast majority of people are thinking about personally embarrassing information. People often share private information with their friends in part because it allows them to bond, it makes them somewhat vulnerable and establishes trust.”

Given these findings, there is really a great deal for social media platform designers to think about when they handle the content and privacy people have put into their hands. When they are writing the code for their platform, designers are also setting up the laws for interacting in a digital age. As responsible legislators of the online world, they have to seriously consider if these laws being drafted can effectively uphold the order of that world and can protect their citizens’ security. More careful thoughts and consideration needs to be invested, otherwise these citizens may riot and retreat from that unstable world.

Why Would Chinese Singers Accept Piracy-tinted Music Awards?

Last week, while I was watching a popular Chinese entertainment channel on satellite TV, I was bewildered by a scene of many of China’s most popular music stars happily accepting MTV Video Music Award-type trophies from Chinese search engine Baidu during an award ceremony co-hosted by Baidu and a national TV station. Seeing these celebrities dressed in sleek couture walk on stage to proudly receive awards like “Most Searched Artist on Baidu” gave me a very surreal feeling. I can still remotely recall that not even five years ago, these singers led waves of campaigns seeking public support in battling illegal online music downloads. In these campaigns, China’s largest local search engine, Baidu, was portrayed as an accomplice of illegal music download sites because Baidu first gained massive popularity by prominently displaying illegal MP3 music download sites in its search results, to the delight of hordes of music fans. As a result of that, Baidu has constantly found itself in many disputes and even got sued by major music labels and singers in the past.

Not many years have passed, but things have changed drastically. These singers and music labels are no longer at war with Baidu, even though Baidu today is still providing easy access to millions of illegal music download sites, and has even come up with more music lists such as “Top 100 Most Popular Downloaded Songs” to help guide people’s illegal downloading. It looks like these music labels and singers have given up on battling online piracy and have aligned with their ex-enemy. What turned these past foes into today’s bed-fellows? I later found a good answer, courtesy of my classmate Lisa who introduced me to Chris Anderson’s new book: Free: The Future of a Radical Price.

As said in Lisa’s review of Anderson’s book, Anderson optimistically, yet assertively, painted a picture of information flowing free like water, seeking lower ground in today’s digital world as the reproduction and distribution costs for information products are getting lower and lower. This has prompted our society’s evolution towards a new “Free” economy. In Anderson’s book, he gave numerous examples of how companies benefit from this Free business model. One chapter is devoted to the “Freemium” model adopted by information giant Google, which gives out many of their popular services like Gmail and Google Map for free, then build a 20 billion dollar advertising business out of the immense content generated by users on these free services. Anderson also states that 80% of internet companies today are built on the same Freemium business model in which they give out basic services for free to the majority of their users, and charge a small percentage of their users for upgraded services after these users have gotten hooked on the basic service. Though some of these so-called Freemium models do sound like “digital age ‘bait and switch’ marketing or stand cross-subsidy economics” according to Lisa, she believes that Anderson did a good job in his book defining “how [the] traditional brick and mortar or atom-based economy defines value by money, money, money and how the digital/bits economy defines value “by attention (traffic) and reputation (links).”

This new digital age measurement of value through attention and reputation helped answer my earlier question of why the Chinese music industry would align with its former foe, Baidu, as it is becoming increasingly clear that Baidu can bring them attention and reputation through its search service. The current digital environment has witnessed an irreversible trend where songs can be turned into free-flowing bits, and this is especially true in China, a country which has a cultural tradition of tolerating piracy of intellectual property. After the revenues of Chinese music labels were crushed by the online spread of pirated music, and without a viable legal alternative for revenue in the digital age like Apple’s iTunes in the U.S. (even iTunes gets popular in China, I highly doubt people would pay for cheap music if they can get it elsewhere for free easily), music labels have accepted the situation and started to fight in a different battle field—for fame and reputation, which can still bring them millions of revenue through concert tickets and endorsing other brands with their reputation. At this point, I recall that executive Long Danni, from one of China’s most successful entertainment agencies, Tianyu, once said in an interview that today albums are like a singer’s business card, which they use to introduce themselves to their audience instead of making money out of it. Long Danni’s remarks provide a good explanation for the state of the music industry. Chris Anderson also made some comments specifically about how the music industry should respond to new digital trends coincides with Long’s remark, according to another review of his book by Malcolm Gladwell from The New Yorker: “To musicians who believe that their music is being pirated, Anderson is blunt. They should stop complaining, and capitalize on the added exposure that piracy provides by making money through touring, merchandise sales, and “yes, the sale of some of [their] music to people who still want CDs or prefer to buy their music online.” “

In Gladwell’s article, he takes the Freemium concept advocated in Anderson’s book with a grain of salts and also threw in a couple real life examples of how the internet business stays free when they try to sell free. One example he mentions is online video site Youtube. It is without a doubt that Youtube has garnered unparalleled fame and reputation in the internet world, but it still has reported financial losses for the past several years. According to Gladwell, because of the nature of Youtube’s amateur content, it is quite hard for Youtube to make huge profits by selling ads on these videos.

I agree with some of Gladwell’s other critical perspectives on Anderson’s Free economy, but I have to disagree with Gladwell on this particular point for focusing on the short term monetization value for Youtube. I believe by being the undisputed leader in the online video field, Youtube possesses incredible power, which they may not have fully unleashed yet. But even at this point the site has added huge intangible value to Google’s overall search businesses, which by itself does pay off and has exceeded the cost to run Youtube within the Freemium model. The potential expansion of Youtube’s revenue streams has also been noted by many Wall Street analysts, and a recent comment by Google CEO Eric Schmidt even suggests that Youtube may bring in profit for the company this year. In the near future, when Google finishes building its integrated content empire, these amateur videos on Youtube will be an essential element in it. At that time Youtube’s monetization powers will also be fully unleashed. I have no doubt that the money Google paid for this Free video sharing site will prove to be worth it.

No matter if you agree with Anderson’s of advocacy of the Free economy power or not, the Free age has arrived. Look around on the internet, the most popular and promising internet businesses such as Facebook, Twitter have all been handed to their users for free. Facebook has reported huge revenues by selling targeted ads while Twitter is still trying to figure out its way to make money. While I believe selling ads should not be the only or primary way for these Free online businesses to make profits, I do keep an open mind to potential new monetization business models that have yet to be revealed in the coming decade. I believe whoever can successfully build these original business models in this Free world will be the next Bill Gates for the 21st century.


The Golden Key to SEO


Last night, Gregory Markel from InfuseCreative revealed to our class the myth of SEO. Enjoying a dual rock-star status in both the SEO industry and the “real” world, Gregory has been working on SEO since the pre-Google days. With his frank speaking style, Gregory jokingly pointed out that at that nascent stage of technology, SEO was as primitive and simple as “a bunch of geeks trying to fool search engines.”

Looking back at his d
ecade-plus work in the SEO field, Gregory has witnessed how times have changed since then, and how SEO has evolved alongside the growth of search engines and their search algorithms. From the early days’ emphasis on keywords, to today’s focus on inbound links and site structural aspects, there are so many factors nowadays that determine whether a site will be optimized to be picked up in search engine results. Search engines like Google have become more omniscient and sophisticated in assessing if a site is worth being presented to its users. As we all know, Google’s goal is helping its users find quality websites which provide relevant content, and providing its users with a good web experience. As a result, a site that does provide a good user experience will always succeed and find for itself a favorable place in Google’s world. This is also the golden key to SEO passed onto us by Gregory through his speech: after he touched base with us on numerous useful SEO technical skills, all these skills ultimately pointed towards the same direction: building a well-structured, content-relevant website that can provide a better web experience for its users. Yes, as simple as it is, it’s the core of SEO. SEO is not just about making friends with search engines, but at its core is about how to better serve your users, as they are the real bosses of search engines.


Given this, it is unarguable that SEO is really something that should be built into the genetic code of a website. It should be taken into consideration from the very first phase of planning the construction of a website: is your site well structured? Keep in mind that an error occurring on your site during your user’s visit is more likely to reduce your site’s ranking in Google’s search results, as it indicates the poor web experience you provide for your users. Are your title, content, and descriptions relevant to what you want to convey? What can you do to design a better landing page for your users? Also, is there any other way to creatively build keyword-relevant content? What can you learn about your competitors? All these questions were raised in class, and made for a fascinating discussion on the topic of SEO.

As I have become very engaged in the SEO topic, I am glad that I will get a chance to do a presentation on this topic for one of my classes in two weeks. This way, I can explore SEO more deeply, and then share my findings with all my classmates and the readers of my blog!

SEO, here we go!

Ever since I started to try to looking beyond a website’s surface appearance and dig deeper, I have consistently run into the mysterious word “SEO” (search engine optimization). Now I am very excited that my APOC class has provided us a chance to learn this concept systematically, as I truly believe that in a world of immense information, the search engine, which provides the road map for people to find your content online, is critical for successfully delivering your content to people that would find it of interest. According to many social media expert like Chris Anderson, content is not the king anymore. Context is, and search engines match things in the right context and help people find it.


Here are five tactics I came up with, at the threshold of the big SEO universe, to improve my blog “Social Media Is Great”. 2 months after it has launched, I am very happy to see the site’s has been indexed by Google for 49 times and by Yahoo for 3 times. I still have a long way to go, but at least the site is searchable through these two popular search engines now.

The first tactic is to sort the meta elements of my blog and add a meta description for my website, basically, talking to the search engine’s robot head directly, hoho. If I can more clearly describe what my blog is about, the search engine can better categorize it and search for it.

The second one would be sorting the content of my blog and taking careful note of the words I put in my article content and titles to make it easier for the search engines to recognize. I should think more carefully about what specific words I choose, because certain words may be more “hot” than others, and come up more in search results.

Third, I add tags to my article. I currently have used labels to tag and categorize my blog posts, but have not done it systematically. I think much more effort could be put here to browse through my posts and see what tags may frequently come up. That way I can have a deeper library of tags within my own blog.

Also, trying to exchange links with other sites and getting my name out there. Thanks to my APOC peers, our blog links have been exchanged a lot, but let’s keep it up! We can all help each other by linking and creating more “buzz” for everyone!

Besides that, I have been using many pictures in my blog, so remembering to add ALT tags to these images is another great way to directly talk to the search engines and let them know what my blog is posting about.

SEO, there is still so much to learn, and I am really looking forward to it!