SHANGHAI – The speed of revolution among Chinese Internet social sites is so fast that it makes Google, Yahoo and Amazon look molasses in January on the Siberian border, according to discussions between EE Times and semiconductor industry executives in Shanghai and Beijing.
Considering that Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are all banned in China, my first reaction to this wild claim was: “Well, with all due respect, the main reason Chinese social networking sites are flourishing is that the Chinese government’s policy is to suppress and discourage Western social media sites.” Honestly, I didn’t quite get how the speed of innovation was relevant in this discussion.
There is a pattern in China of restricting Western Internet sites, acknowledged Jian-Yue Pan, corporate vice president, Asia Pacific region at Synopsys in Beijing. But by dwelling on it, he implied, one could easily miss the bigger picture. Pan emphatically said, “None of the multi-national Internet social sites including eBay, match.com and Amazon [none of which are banned] has succeeded in China thus far because they lack the speed in implementing changes.”
I found these comments mildly offensive, and I still wasn’t sold on the theory.
So, Pan went on selling: “Chinese Internet service companies thrive on quick decisions. Based on the instantaneous feedback they get from their local users, local guys can make a change overnight. Meanwhile, for multinational Internet companies, it takes them three months [to institute similar changes].”
Allen Wu, president of ARM China in Shanghai, agrees. “Think about new features you want to add to your sites, based on your customers’ requests in China.” He said that such feature suggestions would join, back at U.S. headquarters, a long list of other new features that website elves are working on — one by one, each in its own turn. Suggestions might not get lost, but it certainly wouldn’t jump to the front of the queue. Hence, weeks or months of waiting pass before the new feature appears — or doesn’t.
Successful local sites in China include: Baidu, China’s number one search engine; QQ (Tencent), China’s largest instant messaging service provider; Sina.com.cn, China’s biggest portal site; Taobao.com, the most popular shopping website in China, an equivalent to eBay. All of them process new features at breakneck pace, because their competitors are doing the same.
There’s a term for this sort of thing. Let me think.
Here are some basic facts and figures about the state of China’s Internet usage today.
According to ITU, the world is home to 7 billion people, one third of which are using the Internet. Today, Internet users in China represent almost 25% of the world’s total Internet users and 37% of those in developing countries.
Share of Internet users in the global population
Source: ITU World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators database
Further, according to ARM’s Wu, China is seeing an explosion on the mobile Internet. China’s mobile Internet population is expected to grow by 29 percent this year.
China’s Internet population
Source: Tencent, CINNIC; DCCI; iimedia; Orient Securities