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Showing posts with label Microsoft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Microsoft. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Windows on Changsha

Sometimes things don't go as planned.

Windows desktop screen appearing on a digital billboard
At Huangxing Square in Changsha

More soon.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Apple on Windows Above Apple in Shanghai

Above the Nanjing East Road Apple Store in Shanghai, a mall's digital billboard displayed an advertisement for the Apple Watch.

Apple Watch advertisement on large video screen above an Apple Store in Shanghai


And like what I saw at a mall in Haikou, I discovered the digital billboard runs on Windows.

Apple Watch advertisement on large video screen with an open Windows folder visible above an Apple Store in Shanghai


This case just included an added touch of irony.



Perhaps-not-needed-but-would-rather-error-on-the-side-of-openness-disclosure: I previously worked as a user experience researcher at Microsoft China. I didn't work on any projects directly related to digital billboards, partly because they are difficult to carry around.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Genuine Microsoft Store in Shanghai

Lower level of Metro City and 1st floor of Buynow in Shanghai
1st floor of Buynow and lower level of Metro City

Recently at the Buynow (百脑汇) electronics shopping center in Shanghai's Metro City mall, I saw a Microsoft store set in two separate locations. I didn't see any reason to assume it was a "fake", and Microsoft's store finder identifies this shopping center as holding one of the 18 stores it currently lists in China. Much of the store space and a nearby promotion focused on the Xbox. There were tables with Surface tablets and Windows Phones as well. Notably, other than the Xbox games, I didn't see any software for sale.

Microsoft store in the Metro Mall Buynow in Shanghai

Microsoft store in the Metro Mall Buynow in Shanghai

Microsoft store in the Metro Mall Buynow in Shanghai

Xbox promotion in the Metro Mall Buynow in Shanghai


I will refrain from commenting further*. After sharing so much in the past about the many unauthorized Apple stores in China and the Android store in Zhuhai, I just figured I would take advantage of this opportunity to throw in a few Microsoft store scenes for some balance and a small taste of what Microsoft is now doing in China.



*Disclosure: I previously worked as a user experience researcher for Microsoft China.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Giant Desktop in Haikou

A post related to China's Great Firewall and VPNs I had hoped to finish today still needs some more work and should makes its appearance tomorrow. In the meantime, here is a photo of some other technology in China.

giant screen in front of the Seaview International Plaza displaying a Windows OS desktop
The Seaview International Plaza in Haikou, Hainan

I don't think the giant screen at the shopping mall was being put to use as intended, but seeing a giant Windows desktop made ponder some possible personal uses for a computer monitor of that size.

More later.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Flying Above the Kampung Kling Mosque

I spent this evening sorting out some upcoming travel plans, including a likely air flight. In that spirit, here is a flight I recently saw above the Kampung Kling Mosque in Melaka, Malaysia.

bird flying above the Kampung Kling Mosque

More later...

Friday, September 7, 2012

Android Shirts and Samsung Sales at a Store in Shenzhen

One day at Shenzhen's Dongmen shopping area two young men walked by with shirts I could not help noticing:

two employees wearing Android shirts in Shenzhen, China

Their blue shirts reminded me of the shirts worn by employees at Apple Stores, except the Apple logo was replaced with Android logos. I wondered if it was possible they worked at a store that might rival the Android store I found in nearby Zhuhai. After a brief chat, they happily pointed me in the right direction to find it.

Although the store proved to be ordinary (for China) in most respects and sold a variety of phones, I was mildly surprised to see that not everyone was wearing an Android shirt. Some of the employees wore similar shirts with an Apple logo similar (if not identical) to those seen at Apple Stores -- not the first time I have seen that in China.

I proceeded to have a in-depth conversation with one of the store managers who opened up on a variety of topics. One issue I found notable was that this manager thought some of the Nokia phones they were selling, such as the N9, ran Windows Phone 8. However, the N9 and the other Nokias available at the store ran other operating systems. I suspect his confusion is a sign of deeper issues, but I will refrain from saying more at this point.

I also found it interesting to hear his account of the store's sales and why he thought various models sold better than others. The biggest nugget in it all was that their best seller was Samsung smartphones running Android. Given what I had recently seen elsewhere in China and reports of Samsung's current strength in China, this did not come as a surprise.

So, the store seems to be another sign of good news for Google in China's dynamic mobile phone market. And like the Android store in Zhuhai, maybe the shirts can provide some inspiration as well. Though Google might prefer a different color.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Not Black & White: Access in China to Amazon, Facebook, Google+, Windows Live, Yahoo! and More

China's blocking of numerous sites with its "Great Firewall" has been the subject of much attention here, but I haven't touched on the subject recently. So I decided to conduct some "tests" in order to get a sense of current conditions in China for accessing a variety of major websites. As publicly available in-depth reports on the topic are hard to find, I am happy to share what I've found. While I've noticed that an earlier post of mine on the accessibility of Google+ in China was cited in testimony (see here) provided to the The Congressional-Executive Commission on China in the U.S., my primary goal is simply to help readers who are outside of China better appreciate the online experience of website blocking in China. It's often not as clear cut as some may expect.

While there exist several websites that provide the status of websites' accessibility in China, I felt it was worth undertaking my own exploration since none of those services (as far as I am aware) examine whether any blocking is only occurring at the DNS level. This is an important distinction since DNS-blocking is usually very easy to overcome (for some links to information about DNS-blocking see here). Also, DNS-blocking may suggest that China is not fully concerned about the website or that a "formal" decision to block the site has not been made. Other potential problems with using semi-automated websites include their apparent inabilities to test internal pages of sites requiring a login (particularly relevant for many social networking services) and to distinguish cases between a website being significantly slowed or disrupted instead of being fully blocked.

I conducted the tests on January 21 and January 23 while in Guangzhou, China. On each day every website was tested under each of these conditions: using default locally available DNS servers; using non-China-based DNS servers; using a VPN (while also using a non-China-based DNS server). Therefore, every website was tested at least 6 times in total. After changing DNS settings, I deleted all Internet cookies in the browser and rebooted the computer (there are methods for changing DNS settings which should not require rebooting, but I've found them to be less than 100% reliable).

When using a VPN, which can be used to "get through" China's Great Firewall and allow a user to access the Internet as if they were outside of mainland China, all of the reported websites responded normally. This suggests that the problems I observed while not using a VPN were not due to general problems with the websites or my computer. All results reported below are from conditions where a VPN was not used (the "normal" situation for many in China).

First I'll present sites that were completely inaccessible. Second, I'll present sites that were fully accessible. Third, I'll present sites that weren't fully blocked, but did not load normally.

Unlike explorations I conducted last year (see here for the most recent prior tests I conducted on Google+), I noticed no apparent differences for any of the tested websites when using a local versus non-local DNS server. I also found no obvious differences in any site's performance between the two days of testing. Therefore, all results that follow are collapsed across those two conditions.

Sites I could not access from China:

Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, YouTube

None of these services were accessible. In all cases there was a definitive failed response after some period of time (and not an indefinite wait with no response). Based on previous reports & experience, there are no surprises here as all of these services have been known to be blocked in China.

Sites I could access from China without problem:

eBay -- eBay's U.S. website loaded very quickly on a consistent basis and no problems were seen. Because of this, I used it as a baseline in comparing other sites. If another site loaded slowly, I could use eBay to demonstrate that the problem wasn't due to general slowness in the Internet connection or in connecting to web sites outside of China.

Amazon China -- The Chinese version of Amazon's site loaded very quickly, and I never noticed a problem.

Windows Live & MSN -- I had no problem logging into or using Live (including Hotmail and browser-based Messenger) and MSN.

NPR -- Again, I had no problem accessing the site nor in listening to its streaming audio reports.

Sites I could access, but with problems:

Google+ and Gmail -- My post from last summer "Access to Google+ in China" includes reports from more than 10 days up until the beginning of August. It indicates that DNS-blocking of Google+ appears to have become the norm during the period of testing. However, in the current testing Google+ was not blocked, although sometimes logging in or accessing new information could require waiting several minutes or reloading the page. On one occasion, images (not including Google's icons) wouldn't appear, either in the streams or pages dedicated for photos. Here's an example of a public post by journalist Malcolm Moore when no images were appearing:

post from Google+ with question mark symbols in place of images

It's worth noting that article referenced in the post, "China rushes to jail activists before political handover", was available in China, although the sidebar content on The Telegraph took significantly longer to load than the main content.

Gmail was similar to Google+. I could access it but sometimes I needed to wait for a period of time to access new information. Additionally, Google Chat would occasionally loose connection (I've heard friends in China regularly report a similar experience).

So, both Google+ and Gmail could be a pain to use at times (and sometimes they had no problems at all) but they never appeared to be fully blocked.

Yahoo! -- Yahoo! presented one of the more interesting cases. When first accessing the main page at www.yahoo.com it took approximately 9 minutes for the page to load. That length of time was very consistent across several testings. When the page finally did load it was not rendered correctly as seen here in three screen shots of sections from the same page:

improperly rendered Yahoo page with two Yahoo logos overlaid
Top of main page for Yahoo!

improperly rendered Yahoo page with icons incorrectly displayed in a long column
This column of icons continued at great length

improperly rendered Yahoo page
This content also rendered incorrectly and should appear near the top.
Instead, it followed pages and pages of the icons seen in the previous photo.

However, there was no problem accessing other sites at Yahoo! such as news.yahoo.com or mail.yahoo.com. On several occasions the main page would correctly load after first waiting for the incorrectly rendered Yahoo! main page to load and either 1. reloading the page or 2. going to another Yahoo! site & then returning the main page. However, this behavior was not consistent and sometimes another 9 minutes would be needed for the main page to reload.

Amazon.com -- Typically, the first time trying to access Amazon's U.S. website led to complete failure. However, a reload would cause the main page to quickly appear. The site would typically be usable for a period of time then occasionally it would become temporarily inaccessible again. Such behavior never occurred on Amazon's China-based site.

Bing -- Microsoft's Bing performed without problem. However, on one occasion it became inaccessible for several minutes. I was not able to replicate the experience.

CNN -- A quick overview of CNN indicated no problems except that all videos and video sections of the website would not load.

This blog: Isidor's Fugue -- Similar to the main page of Yahoo!, this blog wasn't blocked but is rendered incorrectly. For example, all of the non-post content on the right side of the page incorrectly appears at the end of all posts on the page. Additionally, some of the space between lines of text is compressed as seen here:


...


Also, for the "Blog Archive" normally only the most recent month's posts appear without clicking on the triangle figures. However, as seen above other months (but not all) appeared as well. Additionally, it is typical that some of the images in posts will not not appear (all images are hosted by Google). A refresh of the page can cause missing images to appear, but then sometimes others images will not load. I'm not aware of any pattern other than that I have yet to see every photo successfully load and the banner photo never loads. That some likely explains why I have data indicating that it's not uncommon for visitors from China to reload pages.

I should note that I don't think any of the interference is directed specifically at the blog but is instead due to it being hosted on Google's service Blogger. However, I haven't yet specifically tested this.

Conclusion:

If there's only one thing I could say, it would be that accessibility of sites in China isn't as simple as "yes" or "no". It's much more nuanced as seen in the last set of sites presented above. This means that checking automated reports of a website's accessibility in China won't necessarily provide key details. For example, my ability to use Google+ stands in contrast to the status at the time for plus.google.com on greatfirewallofchina.org (failed for 5 locations in China, but none are Guangzhou) and websitepulse.com (failed for Guangzhou). This isn't the only difference I've found (they also list Yahoo! as ok). They may be due to testing/reporting methods used or variations, especially in DNS-blocking, in different locations in China (it's also possible that the Great Firewall engages in user-specific blocking based on a variety of factors). While I suspect location is not the main explanation for many (if not all) of the differences if found, I can make no strong claim at the moment as to whether I would find similar results if I were in other locations in China. Ideally, people would conduct identical tests at the same time on multiple occasions in several locations. Well, actually... ideally the Chinese government would provide an explanation of what they were doing.

How are the peculiar results for some of the sites caused? In large part due to the variety of the results found and the complexity of the various technologies possibly involved, I'm not now able to provide any certain answers. I'd certainly welcome input from readers.

Why would the Great Firewall only partially interfere with a website? In some cases, the Chinese government's goals may be best met by not fully blocking a website, but merely making it sufficiently annoying to use so people are disuaded from using it. Other cases may be a result of no clear or country-wide directive existing as to whether a particular website should be blocked. But I also suspect that not all interference is necessarily intended and some of it may instead be "leftovers" of past actions by the Great Firewall or the result of actions not targeted towards the site in question. That the Great Firewall may behave in such a "messy" manner comes as no great surprise. For a more in-depth discussion on the workings of the Great Firewall see an in-depth article by James Fallows here.

Finally, although there was a crackdown on VPNs in China last year, recently I have had no problem using a VPN and all sites loaded normally while using it. I'll have more to say on the VPN issue in a later post. I've noticed a curious pattern of results there, too.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bing Maps and Google Maps: The China-India Border

In my earlier post, I pointed out that both Bing Maps and Google Maps appear to explicitly indicate China's border surrounding the regions of the South China Sea and Taiwan in their China-based versions but do not do so in their US-based versions.  Leon White, who is working on his master's degree in international relations, commented on another disputed border of China that shows a similar pattern in how it is represented, but with a slight twist:
"I am currently writing my thesis on the 60 year old China-India border conflict, and the images of whole China at the end struck me as interesting...

... my main reason for writing is to highlight the differences in how these different mapping services portray the disputed border between China and India. The area most sensitive to China is the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims as Southern Tibet. China has not exercised control over this area since it briefly advanced to its own claim lines in the border war of 1962 - the current Line of Actual Control (LAC) runs along the controversial McMahon Line, which connects Bhutan to Myanmar starting just north of Tawang town, roughly at the north-east point of the roughly rectangular shape of Bhutan.

All of these mapping services show the border according to China's claim, i.e. at the SOUTH-east point of Bhutan's border:
http://ditu.google.cn/?ll=27.176469,92.60376&spn=7.979828,14.27124&z=7&brcurrent=3,0x3761317e9c4a2cc1:0x1fc12c628413da99,1%3B5,0,1

http://cn.bing.com/ditu/default.aspx?v=2&FORM=LMLTCP&cp=25.681137~95.515137&style=r&lvl=5&tilt=-90&dir=0&alt=-1000&phx=0&phy=0&phscl=1&encType=1

http://map.baidu.com/?newmap=1&l=7&tn=B_NORMAL_MAP&c=9855441,2907956&cc=&s=tpl%3ACity&sc=0

China does NOT actually control this territory, and both parties recognise it as under dispute!

Bing appears to be trying to have it both ways, according to their Indian mapping service:
http://www.bing.com/mapindia/default.aspx?v=2&FORM=LMLTCP&cp=26.951453~95.756836&style=r&lvl=6&tilt=-90&dir=0&alt=-1000&phx=0&phy=0&phscl=1&encType=1

Only Google Maps US, which loads sporadically for me here in Beijing with the VPN off, is honest about the border dispute. Note the second part of the dispute in the west, confused up with the whole Kashmir issue:
http://maps.google.com/maps?q=china&hl=en&ll=28.767659,94.152832&spn=16.273866,28.54248&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=58.076329,114.169922&z=6

And, just for laughs, the Chinese government's official mapping service:
http://tianditu.cn/

Because every mapping services needs a flashy splash screen. I couldn't seem to find a link function on that site, but it did kindly provide me with a little red car in the middle of Sichuan for some reason. Reshma Patil, the correspondent for the Hindustan Times in Beijing, had the following to say about this service:
http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/restofasia/China-s-Google-Earth-rival-claims-Arunachal/Article1-616619.aspx

http://blogs.hindustantimes.com/middle-order/2010/10/24/borderline/

Sorry for the barrage of links. I suppose the conclusions to be drawn from this are fairly obvious. In order to operate in China, you must toe the line on where the government says the borders are, even though there is no hope in hell they are getting all of that territory back, just as India will never control the Aksai Chin under dispute in the west. Most academics and even the press in China realise this, although Tawang (birthplace of the 6th Dalai Lama and potential reincarnation site of the next one) is still under serious dispute."
Based on what I found before, I'm not surprised by the variations in representing the disputed border between China and India.

That Google Maps US clearly represents this border as disputed but does not do so for Taiwan or the South China Sea is worth notice.  I suspect at least part of the reason is due to how Google Maps US represents the borders for islands that have no internal international borders - for example, Taiwan, Madagascar, and Hawaii.  In short, there is nothing explicitly indicating whether islands are part of another country or independent -- for example, no country border lines around Madagascar and no dashed line to explicitly show that Hawaii is part of the US.  However, one could infer Hawaii is part of the US due to it being labeled with its state abbreviation (HI) at certain zoom levels similar to other US states.  One could also infer that Taiwan is not a part of China according to Google Maps US.  At a zoom level where China's provinces are only labeled in Chinese, Taiwan is labeled in both Chinese and English (it is peculiar that Google Maps US does not provide the names of China's provinces in English).

The details provided by Leon White regarding the disputed border between China and India brought to mind something I've been pondering recently.  What is the difference between censoring information according to government rules and providing maps of disputed regions that conform to government rules?  Both can have great impact on how people see the world around them.  I'll share some of my thoughts on this topic later.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Maps in (and of) China: Baidu, Bing, and Google

In an earlier post I compared Google Maps and Baidu Map.  There were several key areas in which Google Maps was clearly superior even though Baidu Map has what some find to be a very visually appealing hand-drawn 3D view.  Combined with some of what I've found regarding the impressions of Google Maps held by Chinese youth I suggested that there could be a lot at play in Google Map's recent application for a license to continue operating in China.  If you didn't read the post taking a look at it here will provide more context for the following.

I've since received feedback from a few people indicating they like to use Microsoft's Bing Maps for some of their needs in China.  I'll take a look at how it stacks up to Google Maps and Baidu Map using the same metrics as before.

Here is a section of Zigong, Sichuan province, the same as used in the earlier post, in Bing Maps:

Zigong in Bing Maps

In comparison to either Google Maps or Baidu Map, Bing Maps shows very little detail for Zigong.  For example, the map shows none of the many roads in this area.

The level of detail in Bing Maps for Zigong is similar to many other places I've checked in China, including Shanghai.  While Beijing appears to have a bit more detail, including some streets, and Hong Kong is very detailed, they are not typical of other cities.  Needless to say, based on this it would seem that Bing Maps would be very limited in its usefulness in Mainland China.

However, there's an important piece of information I haven't mentioned.  The map above is from the version of Bing Maps for the US (I will now refer to it as Bing Maps US).  If you go to the version of Bing Maps for China at cn.bing.com/ditu (I will now refer to it as Bing Maps China) you'll see a very different level of detail.  Here's a map of approximately the same area as above, but seen in Bing Maps China:

Zigong in Bing Maps China

The detail of streets at this level of zoom is obviously much better and compares to Google Maps and Baidu Map.  And unlike Baidu Map, it accurately represents the river.  In that respect Baidu Map has been outdone on its own turf by two non-Chinese companies.

To be clear, all of the examples from Google Maps in the earlier post were from the version of Google Maps for China (I will now refer to it as Google Maps China).  So, in the version for the US (I will now refer to it as Google Maps US) is the view of Zigong sparse in details similar to Bing Maps US?

Zigong in Google Maps US

Not at all.  The above view of Zigong in Google Maps US appears to be the same map as seen in Google Maps China except that English or pinyin (a way to write Chinese words using the Roman alphabet) is also included depending on which is the most appropriate (not always an easy decision, a topic for another day).

In fact, if you zoom in a bit more, you'll see that it even provides other important details in English such as those seen here:

Google Maps doesn't miss the McDonald's and KFC

Yes, indeed Zigong has a McDonald's and KFC just where the map shows.  I walked by them several times while I was in Zigong (though, there are some local specialties I'd highly recommend instead, a possible subject for a later post).  There are also several local business shown on the map as well.  I can't be sure of their accuracy but I can say that more exist than what is shown.  However, neither Baidu Map nor Bing Maps China shows a larger number of businesses in the area and neither offers any information in English.

Is everything there looking better for Google Maps US?  No.  A not-so-small street next to the KFC is missing from the map.  It's also missing from Bing Maps (the more I explore Baidu Bing Maps China and Google Maps the more it appears that at least in Zigong they are using very similar if not identical sources for street data). 

However, here is slightly overlapping section of Zigong as seen in Baidu Map:

Baidu Map captures a street missing in Bing Maps and Google Maps

The traffic light symbol at the intersection in the lower right is where KFC is located.  The road that extends diagonally up to the left is part of what is missing on Google Maps and Bing Maps China.  It seems to deserve being placed on a map and is not just some tiny side street.  I'm rather confident about that since I walked on it several months ago.  Fortunately, I also have a photo of it:

A street that most certainly exists

At another point on the road is this view:

A view of a section of Zigong

There are numerous apartment complexes and small businesses along the road including these:

More of the street in Zigong that certainly exists

As I mentioned in the earlier post, I've found mistakes or omissions in both Google Maps and Baidu Map in various locations in China, but I have not yet noticed any issues in Google Maps that equaled Baidu Map's mangling of Zigong's river.

Regardless, where I claimed Google Maps was most clearly superior to Baidu Map was in its coverage of regions outside of China.  While I shared what North America looked like in Baidu Map (reminder, mostly just grayness without any features) I didn't share a view from Google Maps because I assumed it would be obvious that it was much better.  That may not be the case anymore so to resolve any doubts here is North America as seen in Google Maps China (ditu.google.cn):

North America in Google Maps China

After zooming in quite a bit more, here is a map of the city where I did my undergraduate & graduate studies long ago:

The Baltimore, Maryland area in Google Maps China

Many of the locations on the map are identified in both Chinese and English.  If people in China know of Dundalk by its Chinese name and want to find it that they can do so with Google Maps.  While some in Baltimore may scoff at the idea that people in China would ever need to do this, Dundalkers may feel otherwise.

If you zoom in more, the map is almost entirely in English.  However, my old alma mater does have its name in Chinese provided: 约翰霍普金斯大学 (I need to get that on a sweatshirt).  While Google Maps China doesn't provide the same degree of translation as found in the coverage of China by Google Maps US, its coverage of the US is clearly vastly superior to Baidu Map.

Since Bing Maps shows a very different view of China depending on whether one uses the version for the US or China, one could be particularly suspicious about how North America would appear in Bing Maps China.  Here is what it offers:

North America in Bing Maps China

That's as detailed as it gets.  Zooming in actually causes rivers such as the mighty Mississippi to disappear and for most locations the viewing area will be entirely filled with a light beige color.  There is no mention of the USA but there is a label for Washington, D.C.  It's a little more detailed than Baidu Map but not much more and still of rather limited use.  And Dundalkers you're not alone in being swiped from the face of the earth.  The rest of the world outside of China is equally lacking in detail.

There could be a variety of reasons as to why Bing Maps US and Bing Maps China are each lacking detailed coverage of areas that are offered in the other -- for example, the effort it would take to translate maps, licensing issues, etc.  I've noticed some curious patterns in the global coverage in Bing Maps US that add further intrigue to the issue (I may share these in a later post) so I'll refrain on making any bets for now.  If anyone from Microsoft would like to offer their thoughts I'd certainly be interested to hear them.  Whatever the reasons, the lack of coverage in both cases could lead to some disappointing moments for people using Bing Maps and could hurt its chances in being used by other online services (such as for global hotel reservations).

Since much of what I've shared pivots around what is inside and outside of China, I'll briefly touch on an important related issue for map services in China -- the borders of China.  Here is "China" in Bing Maps China and Google Maps China:

China in Baidu Bing Maps China

China in Google Maps China

Notice that in both there is a dashed line around the South China Sea and around Taiwan to presumably make it clear they are parts of China.  To say the least, these are both areas where any such claims China may make are under significant dispute.  The dashed lines do not appear in Google Maps US and Bing Maps US.  The China-based versions seem to indicate how both Google and Microsoft are trying meet the Chinese government's regulations for map services.

As I mentioned in another post, I think companies such as Google and Microsoft can serve an important role in better connecting the Chinese people to the outside world, helping them to better understand it, and helping the world to better understand China.  I think it can be worthwhile even if it means a significantly higher level of censorship than typically practiced or, as in the cases above, adding in some dashed lines. 

As I mentioned in yet another post, Microsoft Bing's new partnership with Baidu may be of value in this regards (while also possibly putting Google Search in more peril of being blocked).  However, in its current form Bing Maps China won't greatly help in achieving any such lofty goals.

Of the map services in China I've reviewed, only Google Maps effectively offers people in China a detailed view of the US and people in the US a detailed view of China.  This isn't only good for helping people learn more about the world, but also good for Google's business.

Again, Google's strength in its map services in China may mean it will face some special challenges.  For now, both Google and Microsoft continue to wait to see if licenses will be granted for their map services in China.  How that plays out may shed some light on the differences between them. 

Regardless, based on what I've seen it's not hard to imagine what Baidu is hoping for.


Disclosure:  I worked at Microsoft China in the past.  My work did not cover Bing Maps.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Baidu, Microsoft Deal Could Significantly Impact Google in China

There is recent news that Baidu and Bing have made a deal that could have a lot of ramifications for Internet search services in China.  Bloomberg reports:
"The agreement will let Baidu users see English search results generated by the U.S. company’s Bing technology to users in China, Viola Wang, a spokeswoman at Microsoft’s MSN venture in China, said by phone today. A service jointly offered by the companies will start this year, Baidu said in an e-mailed statement today."
This could be especially bad news for Google Search in China for two reasons in particular.

1.  Now there is competition for Google Search in its perceived strength from a Chinese company

As I point out here in a post about a Chinese person's thoughts about Google's challenges in China, it is not uncommon for some in China to use both Baidu and Google.  One common reason for this behavior is the perception that Baidu is better for seeking material that's in Chinese and Google is better for seeking material that's in English or outside of China.

However, if Baidu is able to provide (and market) a significantly improved service for non-Chinese searches, people who use Baidu for Chinese searches may be less likely to also use Google Search.  Even if Google Search is perceived as better than what Baidu can offer with Bing, the difference may no longer be great enough to motivate people to switch between search services depending on their needs.

2.  Increased likelihood of Google Search being fully blocked in China

Google Search currently redirects searches in China to its servers in Hong Kong so that it does not have to self-censor (as it used to before the service was redirected) per the rules of the Chinese government for China-based search services.  In short, the Chinese government now censors the service itself by blocking "bad" search terms and pages with "bad" links without entirely blocking Google Search.  Google Search may have avoided YouTube's fate of being entirely blocked at least in part because the Chinese government may recognize that a significant number of people in China, both in the business and academic worlds, have a critical need for what Google Search can offer.  Like the case I made here with Google Maps, no Chinese company's service can take its place.

However, now the Chinese government may believe that Baidu, through its partnership with Bing, will be able to meet China's non-local search needs.  While some in China would likely complain if Google Search were to be entirely blocked, the Chinese government may simply tell them that Baidu is able to meet their needs and that Google Search will be welcomed back if it agrees to self-censor as the Chinese government wants.

Not only would fully blocking Google Search mean that China's Great Firewall need not worry about selectively blocking Google Search (presumably more complex to carry out than a complete block) but it would likely cause increased online traffic (business) to be directed towards Baidu, a Chinese company.  These are both things the Chinese government likely wants.

As I mentioned here earlier, I think it can be for the net good for the Chinese people to be better connected to the outside world, even when sacrifices for censorship need to be made.  From that perspective, I think the news about the deal between Microsoft and Baidu is positive.  People in China will be more exposed to world-class options for finding and discovering material outside of China.  However, if it comes at the cost of Google Search not being available in China, then I'm not sure the Chinese people will have made any significant gains in that respect.

We'll just have to see what happens.