China internet revisited

I published this post on another (now defunct) blog two years ago at about the time Google fell out with the Chinese government. I’m not sure I would now agree with my prediction that indigenous innovation would suffer, but certainly the climate for internet services doesn’t seem very much better.

I was in Shanghai last week when the disagreement between Google and the Chinese Government stepped up a gear and Google pointed local traffic to unsensored results in Hong Kong. The immediate effect was very erratic services for many Google services as the Chinese Government worked out what to do. Google has started providing its own update of the state of its various services and you can see the continuing fall out.
Facebook and Twitter were also blocked last week – but that is now normal.
Some commentators are arguing that Google should reconsider and get back into the market in mainland China as the market is too big and fast-growing to ignore. Whatever the merits of that argument, the current policy the Chinese Government is pursuing is more likely to hurt China than help it, I think.
True, there are now very vibrant Chinese companies serving the same functions as the global giants – Baidu for search for instance, or Qzone for social networking – but without competition from global players innovation is likely to stagnate. And a China cut off from the network effects of the global internet economy will be a poorer place in the long run.

Will Apple miss the next big thing?

Will Apple be smart enough to capitalise on the next big opportunity in personal computing – turning the smart phone into the CPU for computing anywhere?

I remember back to the time when there was a huge debate about “convergence” – the big question about whether consumers would accept one multi-functional mobile device (the Swiss Army Knife approach) or would want a series of specialized devices such as a phone, camera, GPS. MP3 player and so on. The iPhone settled that debate completely with hardware and software (apps) which cater for just about every need. It now seems incredible that anyone even argued the point.

Well, we are fast approaching a re-run of that debate. Why have a computer and a smartphone when you could use a phone as your CPU, operating system and file store and simply link via Bluetooth to a screen, keyboard and mouse? Any why not make that screen your TV?

Apple is actually very well placed to make this move. It is already converging its operating systems – OS X looks increasingly like IOS especially after Mountain Lion. And they produce a superb range of Bluetooth-enabled peripherals and brilliant screens.

But this is a big leap for a company which makes so much money from computer hardware – $6.3bn in the last quarter of 2011. Risking that is a big bet for any company, let alone one that is riding the wave with its iconic highly designed and desirable computers.

If not Apple, then maybe Android? Already there have been Android phones launched with full versions of Ubuntu Linux loaded on them.  And Android’s makers Google doesn’t have a hardware business to cannibalise. In fact, it would make massive sense for Google to back a move like this – it is trying to push an alternative to Microsoft’s Office Suite (Google Apps) and what better Trojan Horse than consumers determined to carry their computing device with them wherever they go?

Even Microsoft may be better placed to capitalise on this trend than Apple. Microsoft doesn’t actually make computers (although their OEM partners clearly do) so although there would be much painful disruption if Windows 8 became the operating system on choice on the mobile portable computing device of the future, the company could but only profit in the long run.

I may be wrong, but I bet we will see this trend play out; it remains to be seen who will ride the wave.

Community from spam

Sometime last week I started to get spam email from a Middle Eastern site called GulfMalayaly. I just deleted as I mostly do with this kind of spam as I have found in the past that the “unsubscribe” options is only partially effective and, anyway,  I’ve got better things to do with my time.

Pretty soon though I started to get emails from people who were in a similar boat asking to be unsubscribed, while later others emailed (again the whole list) to ask fellow victims not to reply as they were beginning to escalate into spam session.

Then two interesting things happened. Firstly, someone suggested that instead of spamming each other perhaps we should create a LinkedIn group and find out more about each other to see what we all had in common. The group is called  Unified by Spam – The Social Experiment and on it you can see a growing band of people joining and talking to each other, and even a poll which identifies which industries/parts of the world the participants come from etc.

Secondly, a sub-set of the original recipients have ignored both the initial advice to desist from trying to message back to the original perpetrator and the invitation to join the social experiment. They are busy still spamming in an increasingly irate and profane way – the result of which is that I am getting a notification every few minutes that a message is being quarantined by the Exchange Profanity Filter. There is nothing I can now do about these messages.

I was struck by how neatly this episode summarises the two basic types of participants in web discussions everywhere.