Thursday, June 30, 2011

Different Obstacles in China for Google and Facebook

In my post "Facebook in China: A Chance to Connect and Understand" I highlighted that Facebook stands apart from Chinese social-networking sites in its ability to meet a key need & desire for many in China: connecting with the world.  I felt that Facebook could serve a positive role, both for China and the world, even given the fact that it would likely have to censor material on its site as required by the Chinese government.

So this clearly means that I think Google Search made a mistake in not keeping a censored version of its service in China, right?

Not necessarily.

On the issue of needing to self-censor Facebook and Google Search are different.

Last year, Google decided to redirect its search service in Mainland China to its servers in Hong Kong so that it would no longer be required to censor per the rules of the Chinese government (although it does presumably now "censor" according to the far less strict requirements in Hong Kong).  At that point China essentially took over the active duties of censoring the site.  China can block individual search requests or block individual pages of results depending on the content.  The experience one can having using Google Search in China can vary depending on the Great Firewall's apparent mood of the day, but essentially a user in China can go to Google Search, enter a "bad" search term, be "blocked", return to the search page (sometimes there may be a delay before the page is accessible), and then do something else.

In short, it is possible for China's Great Firewall to block "bad" things on Google Search without entirely stopping someone from using it.

However, if Facebook takes a stand to not censor material according to the rules of the Chinese government then there's no way for them to operate in a similar fashion.  Imagine if China reviews every incoming page from Facebook and only blocks pages that include "bad" material.  What if the news feed on a person's homepage includes a "bad" link that has been posted by a friend? China would block the page and that's it.  The person can't use Facebook at all.

As Facebook is currently designed there is likely now no way for it to be practically available in China unless Facebook itself censors material.  However, there may be hope that any censorship requirements for Facebook may not be as draconian as some may imagine.  A recent article by Loretta Chao in the Wall Street Journal that provides an overview of the competition between various Chinese social-networking sites (see here) touches on this:
"Chinese websites, including Sina, are required to police themselves to keep their government-issued operational licenses, a costly task involving dozens of employees who monitor the sites around the clock.

Although Sina is known for its heated discussions, at times over controversial issues such as local government corruption and soaring property prices, most talk on the site isn't political. When sensitive topics arise, the company can be creative in limiting conversation without cutting it off altogether—for example, by blocking searches of sensitive keywords but not stopping people from publishing them on their own microblogs."
Facebook may be able to allow similar "freedoms".  Although, it should be noted that as a foreign company they may be held to stricter standards than local companies for a variety of reasons.  As I've noted before regarding Google (see here), life is not always "fair" in China.

The only way for Facebook to take Google Search's route of not censoring themselves would be for Facebook to massively redesign its service.  Since China would still attempt to censor parts of the site, Facebook would have to ask itself whether it would be worth it.  For Google Search it was more simple.  Not censoring only meant less, not more, work for them since no fundamental changes to the design of the service were required (whether taking this route has led to more "interference" for Google's services in China is another issue).

This is why holding Google Search and Facebook to different expectations for self-censorship in China can be reasonable.  If China completely blocked Google Search then I would hope it would self-censor for reasons similar to those I've outlined for Facebook.  [Added note: Yes, I realize Google tried this once before and decided that it wasn't working for them.  Whether they should try again (if it's the only option) partly depends on the exact issues that previously caused them to stop self-censoring per China's rules.  My point is simply that a censored Google would be better for people in China than no Google.  Whether it is practical for Google to do so (China may not apply censorship rules consistently or fairly to Google) is another issue.]

The impact of the different situations faced by Google Search and Facebook relates to another issue Google is now facing: maintaining the operation of Google Maps in China.  As I previously discussed in my comparison of Google Maps and Baidu Map (see here), I think there are signs that Google Maps is strongly positioned in China and this may be why they're reportedly willing to form a joint venture with a Chinese company to meet new regulations.  In this case, there is presumably no option to offer Google Maps in China by redirecting traffic to servers in Hong Kong -- China would simply block the entire site.

There is also much talk about Google's new offerings in Google+.  See here for an in-depth overview by Steven Levy on and here for a piece by Ben Parr on Mashable.  Earlier today, I noted (see here) that at the time the entry portal to the service appeared to be blocked in China due to DNS issues that could be easily "fixed".  Later, the Shanghaiist reported (see here) that the service could be accessed in China but was very slow.  Regardless, Google+ will likely face it's own particular challenges if it wants to operate in China.

I feel that Facebook, Google, and other companies who can help Chinese people connect with the world all should do their best to have a presence in China.  They can all offer something special for people in China, each in their own way.  Depending on their services they may have to make different sacrifices to do so, but in many cases they will be worth it for the companies, their customers, and their users.

Google+ Blocked in China

[UPDATE: Information below is from 2011. More recent post (January 2012) on access to Google+ and other websites in China can be found here: Not Black & White: Access in China to Amazon, Facebook, Google+, Windows Live, Yahoo! and More.

7 previous updates are at end of this post.]

TechCrunch is reporting that the new service Google+ is already blocked in China:
"That didn’t take long. Tons of people haven’t even gained access to the Google+ field trial yet, but that hasn’t stopped Chinese authorities from blocking Google’s brand new social networking project, reports Ren Media.

Indeed, Just Ping and the website both confirm that is not accessible from mainland China."
I just checked from Shanghai, China and it is indeed blocked.  But there are many ways that Internet sites can be blocked in China and this appears to be a case of DNS (Domain Name System) tampering.  This is one of the easiest forms of blocking to get around.  If you're not familiar with China's Great Firewall see here and if your not familiar with DNS see here.  For more details on DNS tampering in China, sometimes referred to as the "Great DNS Wall of China", see here and this paper by a group at NYU here.

As long I wasn't using a local DNS server (which is easy to switch) I was able to go to Google+ and explore it with not apparent problems.

Here is the Google+ home page as seen in China using a "good" DNS server:

Here is the login page:

Here I'm being told it's just a field trial but I can leave an email address for them to contact me later:

And here is where I can provide my contact information:

Unfortunately, I can't test whether the actual service is similarly blocked only through DNS tampering since I don't have an invite.

Does this get me one?

UPDATE: I've received an invite.  I'll do another post if I notice anything curious specific to access in China.

UPDATE 2:  Google+ now not blocked and I have full access.  There are still DNS issues, though.  See here for details on my latest experience: 

UPDATE 3:  Around 9:30 pm on July 5, I was not able to access Google+ through a local DNS server.  See here for more:

UPDATE 4:  Around 2am on July 6, the situation remains the same.  I was not able to access Google+ through a local DNS server.  However, as before, after switching to a non-Chinese DNS server I could access Google+.

UPDATE 5:  Around 11:30pm on July 6, I was able to access Google+ while using a local DNS server.  More here.

Added note: The Shanghaiist here earlier on Wednesday also noted that Google+ was blocked in China.  At that time...

UPDATE 6: Between 3-4pm on July 7, Google+ is once again "DNS-blocked" using a local DNS server in Shanghai, China.  I tested on multiple browsers in two different locations with the same results.  Again, switching to a non-Chinese DNS server resolves the problem.

UPDATE 7:  Any future updates will be placed here:  "Access to Google+ in China".

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

China's Great Firewall Helping Chinese Companies Get American Business

Warner Bros. Entertainment's joint venture in China has reportedly made a deal with Youku, sometimes referred to as the "YouTube of China".  Reuters reports:
"Under a three-year agreement with Warner Bros, Youku will add between 400 to 450 Warner Bros movies to its Youku Premium library.

"People are increasingly willing to pay for high quality content, and we take the growth of Youku Premium as a sign that the market is improving for paid services," Dele Liu, Youku's chief financial officer, said in a statement."
Why would Warner Bros. make a deal with Youku instead of say... YouTube?  Well, one reason probably of high importance is that YouTube is currently blocked in China.  Pretty simple.

So, from an American perspective is the news about Warner Bros. new deal good because an American company can further profit in China?  Is it good because possibly more content from the US will be seen in China?

Or is it bad because Warner Bros. is presumably helping the business of a Chinese company that heavily censors its material?

Will Warner Bros. receive as much backlash for this deal as YouTube would if it were to announce that it planned to heavily censor in China so that it could conduct business there?

What's the difference?

Just something to ponder.

Note: I can't be positive that YouTube agreeing to censor would lead to it being available in China and raise the possibility for the sake of making a point.

Update:  Regarding the statement "Warner Bros. is presumably helping the business of a Chinese company" there is an interesting update in the Reuters article:
"Youku shares up 15 pct on NYSE, among top gainers"

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Starfish for Lunch

I will soon have some some follow-up pieces for my posts "Google Maps and Baidu Map in China" and "Facebook in China: A Chance to Connect and Understand".  I'd like to point out that I made some updates for purposes of clarification in the Facebook post to the section now titled "Censorship and Public Opinion Elsewhere".  It's worth checking out the section if you read the post (here) this past weekend (June 25/26) or earlier.

In the meantime, I've received some requests for food photos (seems some readers are foodies) so I'll take a break of sorts and share a scene I encountered in Qingdao, Shandong province:

cart with food to grill and starfishes
Food cart in Qingdao

At the cart in the photo you could get all sorts of grilled goodies, including the featured item which was squid.  But your eyes may have been drawn to a more conspicuous item available for eating -- starfish.

Later, after some deliberation I found this in my hand:

holding a starfish
A dead starfish ready for eating.

After getting some instruction on how to eat it I dug in.  Basically, the underside of the arms easily open up and there is a orangish clumpy material you can suck or scoop out.  I don't know how to describe the taste other than it is very "sea-ish".

For one who has grown up in the US, China offers many new eating adventures.  One trick I sometimes use when I require some extra fortitude is to just not think too much about what I'm eating.  In this case, when I could no longer resist thinking I recalled some highschool biology from long ago and wondered if I was eating starfish gonads.

According to some online sources, including this one, I now believe I was mainly eating digestive glands.  I think that's an improvement, no?

Regardless, digestive glands weren't my thing.  After giving it a solid try with a couple of arms I decided to call it quits -- too salty for my tastes.  I then gave it a proper burial in the nearby Qingdao Bay.  If you want to try some yourself just go to Qingdao.  I saw them for sale in quite a few locations.

OK foodies, I hope that appeases you for a bit.

Back to other topics soon.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Facebook in China: A Chance to Connect and Understand

Recently, there's been much speculation about Facebook possibly entering or, depending on how you look at it, re-entering China.  Facebook was once available in China but for the past year it has been blocked and inaccessible through normal means.  It can be accessed by breaking through China's Great Firewall, but many in China don't make such efforts for a variety of reasons (for more on how the Great Firewall works see here).  In short, being blocked is still very bad for an online business in China.  Now, Facebook is reportedly considering creating a China-specific version of its services, possibly in partnership with a Chinese company, that would meet local regulations and therefore be more available to Chinese citizens (for one earlier overview of the speculation see here).

It's a complex topic with many angles to consider.  Much has already been written.  I'd like to contribute some of my own perspectives, at least some of which I haven't seen presented elsewhere, that in part stem from my work as a user experience researcher in the technology domain in China.

In short, I strongly believe Facebook should come to China.  Not only do I think Facebook has much to gain from it, but so do the Chinese people.

I'll cover how Facebook can uniquely meet some key needs and desires in China, discuss why having to build a China-specific version of Facebook could be a blessing-in-disguise, and share some thoughts on the impact a China-specific service could have for Facebook in the US.  Much of what I write may in one way or another pertain to companies such as Microsoft or Google as well, but I will couch it specifically in terms of Facebook given the possibility of them making a "fresh" start in China.

But first, I'd like to introduce you to four young Chinese I met in very different parts of China.  The names are made-up.  The stories are very real.  And they matter.

Four Youth in China

Looking for a way out.

I met Zhao Yu at a basketball court in a university in Zigong, Sichuan province, the same city featured in my recent piece comparing Google Maps and Baidu Map in China (see here).

Zhao Yu is frustrated.  Very frustrated.  He feels that he is caught in a system that has already judged and labeled him for life.

He had little choice over his college or his major and he is satisfied with neither.  He would like to switch to another major but doing so would be extremely difficult -- not uncommon in universities in China.  He feels his school is not providing him an education that will help him succeed in life.  Furthermore, he doesn't believe it is very well regarded and is concerned that he'll be forever labeled by his college degree, regardless of his abilities.

In his own words, he feels "crushed" by the system around him.  Yes, he believes China has made great strides.  Yes, his life is probably better than his parents at his age.  But he's not satisfied with his lot -- it doesn't feel fair.  To him, the only hope he has is to break out.  His dream is to study abroad. Whether it is education or work experience, he believes that other countries offer him the opportunity to achieve his dreams.

What do the foreigners really think?

I met Zhang Li at a university in Tianjin after I noticed an student recruitment event held by Kaixin, one of the leading social network sites in China.  We talked about a variety of issues and eventually I broached the topic of Liu Xiaobo, the human rights activist and winner of last year's Nobel Peace Prize who is now held in China as a political prisoner.  She vaguely knew about him, although she only knew part of his name and some very general facts about the Peace Prize.

While I was very interested to hear her thoughts on Liu Xiaobo, what most caught my attention was her strong interest to hear my own views.  When I expressed some thoughts on freedom of speech she said she sympathized with speech being restricted in China because "Chinese are too emotional and people say irrational things" -- something I've heard said by a number of college students across China.  When I asked her why people in Hong Kong are able to enjoy such freedoms with no apparent problem she became puzzled.  She had never thought about it before and had no reply.

There was another fascinating moment while we were discussing how she learned about Liu Xiaobo.  In the middle of the conversation she paused for a while.  Then, as she gazed into the distance she thoughtfully said, "if this guy is in jail, there must be others."

I have something to tell you.

I met Fan Suhong on a nearly 3 hour train ride from Laibin to Nanning in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.  I was standing in the aisle because there were no seats available.  Initially, she and her friends were standing in another section of the rail car, but I later noticed she was standing just to my side.  I was very confident she wanted to speak to me.  However, I just stood there to see if her desire to speak was strong enough to initiate the conversation herself.

It was.  And soon I was asking her about her life at a college in Nanning, where she was returning after a trip to visit her family during a short holiday.  During a pause in the conversation, she conspicuously flipped though pictures on her mobile phone.  It was clear she hoped I would ask her about the photos.  Again, I patiently waited to see if she would take the first step.

She did.  As we looked though her photos she was particularly interested in showing me some from her dormitory room including her roommates.  Very quickly, I noticed something special.  In China, it can be very typical to see girls walking arm in arm, holding hands, or interacting in other ways that would seem a bit too close or physical for friends in places such as the US.  But the photos of one of her roommates in particular suggested something much more than a simple friendship.  I looked at Fan Suhong and had no doubt she was hoping I would ask her a question.  Again, I waited to see if she would broach the topic herself.

She did.  She finally said very matter-of-factly, "I'm lesbian."  We then had a deep discussion of her current situation.  For example, she found her friends supportive, and even some teachers, but she didn't dare tell her parents.  What would she do about her relationship in the future?  She didn't know (see here for an article written by Chinese college students about lesbians in China "seeking refuge" in other countries).

This wasn't the first time for a young lady to proactively tell me she was a lesbian.  I've spoken to an American female who does some research similar to mine who has also noted that several females opened up to her in a very similar fashion.  Why?

Feeling safe to share.

Huang Beiping lives and works in Xian, Shaanxi province.  Near the end of an extensive discussion I had with him he shared some of his personal views about relationships in China.  He told me I was the first person to hear these thoughts of his.  He had never told his best friends, his close brother, or his parents.  I asked him why he told me.  Very emphatically while pointing his finger at me with every word he said, "You won't judge me."  As he described it, he couldn't share certain views that were atypical in China without fear of negative consequences for being labeled as "different".  However, he felt that foreigners were, in his own words, more open-minded and accepting of different viewpoints.  For this reason, he enjoyed opportunities in his work when he was able to interact with people from abroad.

A Common Theme

The four Chinese I've introduced are very different people from very different parts of China.  Each with their own dreams, yet all in their own way treasuring the opportunity or desiring to connect with the world outside of China.  These are just snapshots of the many youth in China, all with their own stories to tell.

While there are many differences that can be found in youth in China, there are many who share the desire to connect with the world outside.  However, what is exactly being sought after and why it's being sought may not be identical.  For some youth it is related to their growing personal connections to the international world, whether due to their studies or work.  For others it may be about connecting with people who are "outside" of their community and about whom they needn't worry or care about being judged.  For some it is about feeling like they are part of a global community, that they can see their passions and dreams are shared by others -- whether that means expressing a viewpoint or knowing that their favorite brand is also beloved by Americans.

Meeting these needs and desires isn't likely going to be achieved by a single design solution in a social networking service.  It will take careful efforts to discover the right combination of features and services.  And Facebook is in a unique position to better create and provide them.

A Unique Offering

I pointed out in a recent post that one of the areas where Google Maps was clearly stronger than Baidu Map was in its coverage of the world outside of China (see here).

There is another aspect where Chinese companies are lacking in their coverage of the world.  Currently, no Chinese company with a social networking service has a significant number of active users globally.  Renren doesn't.  Kaixin doesn't.  Sina Weibo doesn't.

However, of course Facebook does.  This matters for two reasons in particular.

One, as I've already discussed there is a desire by many Chinese to connect with the outside world. Facebook can offer this in a way no Chinese company can now match.

The second reason has a lot to do with how things work in China.

If Facebook opens a China-dedicated service, whatever innovative things they may do there is a good chance one of their main competitors will try to copy it.  In that case, why would people switch to Facebook if it doesn't offer anything different and people are already connected to friends on other services?  However, no company in China can copy Facebook's global reach.  Of course, Facebook will benefit from designs that meet purely "local" Chinese needs.  But it is in finding innovative ways to connect people to the outside world that Facebook will be extremely distinct from local Chinese services and provide a reason for people in China to adopt it.

Some say there is already too much competition in China's market for online social networking for Facebook to now jump in.  I believe this actually works to Facebook's advantage as their competitors will be competing with each other with their China-specific offerings while Facebook will be alone in offering a China-plus-world network to join.

A Service Special to China

Much has been written about the "sacrifices" Facebook would presumably have to make because of the possible need to create a separate China-specific version of Facebook.  However, I believe this is in fact an immense opportunity for several reasons.

1.  Successful localized design

Many foreign companies in the online services or software domain have either failed or significantly struggled in China.  Competition may not always be "fair" in China (for example, see here for a Chinese person's take on Google's recent struggles), but foreign companies should be well aware of how the Chinese market works before entering.

However, "fairness" isn't the only problem.  In some cases, foreign companies' desire to maintain "global standards" has prevented them from competing with Chinese companies who provide more locally tailored solutions.  I know of teams in China who conducted research in China and had design solutions for the local market, only to be rebuffed by senior leaders abroad who didn't want to do things differently than normal.  Now, some of those companies are effectively gone.

Needing to develop a China-specific version will provide a better opportunity for a local team to have the freedom to be different and to do it right for China.

2.  Driving Global Innovation

Facebook is entering a critical period for its growth and future.  Obviously, it has found much success and is the envy of many other companies.  But, this is also a time where some companies become so successful or large that further innovation becomes stilted, sometimes due to fearing changing what has worked in the past.

Having a distinct site that focuses on China will allow a new breed of innovation to appear with less risk to Facebook globally.  Often, very successful design localized for a particular market will find uses in other markets, even if used in a different manner or for different reasons.

In short, come to China.  Innovate and experiment.  Inspire the rest of your company.

3.  Respect

For many Chinese, gaining respect is very important.  And many Chinese feel that the world doesn't respect China.

A China-specific Facebook, if designed and marketed correctly, could indicate that Facebook has an immense amount of respect for China and create a strong bond with many Chinese users.  It will show Facebook cares.

4.  Good for China

Some Chinese have no problems buying fake international products in part because they don't see any need to spend what little money they have to buy the real version just so some already rich foreigner can add to their bank account.  Yes, Facebook is largely free for its users, but there is no doubt that it is providing the service to make profits.  Some Chinese simply want to use something "Made in China".

By having a China-specific version that's made in China, Facebook can better communicate that its profits and success will be benefiting China, whether through new jobs created, supporting local causes, etc.  It would be more challenging to convince people of this if Facebook was using a generic version controlled by far away California.

Censorship & Public Opinion Elsewhere

Many have written about the PR problems and resistance Facebook could face in places such as the US if they enter China, particularly regarding censorship and surveillance (for one example, see here).  I'm not going to get deeply into how Facebook could manage its global PR, but I'll cover a couple of issues.

For one, Facebook already censors in other markets.  So does Google.  So does Microsoft.  See here for an in-depth perspective by The Brookings Institution on the impact companies such as Facebook and Google and the rules of various countries have on free speech around the world.  It highlights how challenging it can be to define what is truly free and uncensored.  Of course, the censorship may not be to the extent that occurs in China and people may prefer giving it a different name but there is material that is blocked in many countries around the world.

Companies such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, etc. probably don't think it's always to their advantage to highlight that they censor, whether it is in Germany, Italy, Turkey, or yes, even in the US.  But, presented in the right way, it may be possible for Facebook to make an important point to potential critics.  Regardless of some degree of censorship, many countries still have a flourishing online community.  The same is true in its own way in China.

While Facebook may not want to highlight this as it approaches the Chinese government for a license, it is simply impossible to completely censor the internet.  Certainly censorship in China has had an impact, yet many Chinese are very savvy in finding creative ways to work around censorship, whether it is using new names for blocked phrases or through other forms of indirect communication.  Facebook can completely follow Chinese regulations and people can still find ways to share any ideas they want.

In part, Facebook needs to try to make the case to concerned people that a) operating in China without censorship is not at all an option and b) Chinese are better off with a censored Facebook than no Facebook at all.  It's easy for Americans to say Facebook should stay out of China when it in no way is a sacrifice for them.  Would they feel otherwise if they moved to China and had to operate behind the Great Firewall?  Unless they're happy to give up Facebook, I suspect many would change their minds.  And don't forget the stories of Chinese like the ones I've shared.  Facebook could play an important part in their lives.  Do people in the US really want to deny them of it just because the rules of the Chinese government are seen as too restrictive?  I'm not suggesting that Facebook should necessarily raise these points in such a direct fashion.  However, the ideas behind them could be useful in formulating a campaign to convince more people that it's a net positive for Facebook to operate in China, even if it must follow Chinese laws on censorship.

Regardless, making a case like this to the public isn't easy and some public backlash in places such as America is probably inevitable.  In fact, there may even be push back from the US Government (see here for a perspective from the Wall Street Journal).  As long as it doesn't significantly impact their global operations, I have one word if that occurs:  Good!

Having a few tussles with the US Government could be played by Facebook to its advantage in China.  As I discussed in an earlier post (see here), some youth in China with a very positive perception of Google had a drastic change of opinion after a speech by Hillary Clinton that referenced Google while also condemning censorship in China.  In a single stroke, it became easy for Chinese to believe that Google was simply an arm of the US government.  This was not at all to Google's benefit in China.  A public dispute between Facebook and the US government would help prevent such perceptions of Facebook taking hold.

I'm definitely not saying Facebook should deliberately try to generate a negative reaction in the US.  If they can successfully make their case, then fantastic.  I'm just pointing out that if there are lemons in the US, there's lemonade they can sell in China.

And to be clear, I dream of the day when censorship is drastically reduced in China.  I would be absolutely thrilled to see China's Great Firewall vanish.  But Facebook can't come into China and change everything.  I simply believe that Facebook connecting Chinese to the outside world can be such a good thing, both for China and the world, that accepting censorship is worth it.


There are certainly many other issues for Facebook to consider before entering China.  For some other possibilities see a series of posts by Silicon Hutong here, here and here and another post by Steven Levy here.  I may address several of the issues raised by those posts and some others as well later.

Yes, I think Facebook should come to China.  Yes, I think it will be challenging.  Yes, there are risks, but the potential rewards are huge.

Facebook has something to offer that if designed and packaged correctly will be embraced by many Chinese.  This will be good for Facebook.  But more importantly this will be good for China and the rest of the world -- so they can better connect and understand each other.

I've certainly found in my own experiences in China that listening to people and respecting what they have to say can lead to some wondrous things.  But it can't happen without a way to communicate.


Added notes for clarification:

1.  Regardless of any opportunity that exists, it may not be feasible for Facebook to operate in China for a variety of reasons.  For example, the Chinese government may not be willing to allow Facebook to operate even if it agrees to censor or other concessions from Facebook may be required.  Again, see the links provided above for a number of issues not discussed in this post.

2.  The potential benefits of localized design do not necessarily mean a China-based version of Facebook would need to be very different.  For example, sometimes small changes can have a significant impact (whether in usability or perceived "localness"), and some localizations may be more focused on associated applications or services.  The nature of any potential localizations is a topic for another day.  Of course, there are also benefits to Facebook in trying to keep as universal a design as possible.

3.  I don't believe localization of services is the only way Facebook can show "respect" and that it is "good for China".  As briefly mentioned above, I believe there are other efforts that could also have an impact in these areas.

[The section "Censorship & Public Relations Elsewhere" was edited on June 6.  The edits primarily involved shifting several sentences and adding some content for clarity.  In the spirit of openness the original is here.  Also, the world "possibly" was added to the first sentence in "A Service Special to China".]

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Documentary of "A Concept of Existence in its Totality"

Imagine a work so large that it mirrors the entire world.
One is only an instrument the universe plays upon.
Gustav Mahler

I'm going to try to sell you on watching at least just a few minutes of a fantastic video on an incredible piece of artistic expression.

Gustav Mahler (July 7, 1860 - May 18, 1911) is typically considered one of history's great composers.  While his name may not be as universally familiar as Mozart or Beethoven his compositions have had an immense impact on music in the 20th and 21st centuries and are regularly played in concert houses around the world.

Most of his work can be found in his series of massive symphonies.  Of these, the longest was Symphony No. 3.  It's not just about "music" but directly draws upon ideas in philosophy, theology, literature,  and science.  This is not the elevator music I think many associate with the term "classical music".  It has an emotional breadth, depth, and intensity that can leave one staggered.  As described by Tony Duggan:
It was largely composed in the summer of 1895 after an exhausting and troubling period that pitched him into feverish creative activity.  Bruno Walter visited him at that time and as Mahler met him off the ferry Walter looked up at the spectacular alpine vistas around him only to be told: "No use looking up there, that’s all been composed by me."  Mahler was inspired by the grandeur around him at the very deepest level of feeling and also by visions of Pan and Dionysus.  In fact by a sense of every natural creative force in the universe infusing him into "one great hymn to the glory of every aspect of creation", or, as Deryck Cooke put it: "a concept of existence in its totality."
For many, such a large piece can be intimidating -- especially since it lasts at least 90 minutes.  However, recently I've come across a documentary "What the Universe Tells Me - Unraveling the Mysteries of Mahler's Third Symphony" that helps make this piece more accessible.  It's probably the best documentary I've seen for a piece of classical music -- especially in terms of acting as a guide for people with no formal training in or significant exposure to classical music.  H/T to a tweet by Net Jacobsson (see here for purchase and reviews).

Much of Mahler's music is programmatic, it has a story to tell, and Mahler's Third is no different.  The documentary reveals that a reviewer of one of the first performances of the symphony wrote that the 3rd movement reminded him of a particular poem.  When Mahler later saw the review he was "astounded" and later called in the reviewer to express that it was exactly the poem he had in mind.

For now at least, the documentary is available on YouTube.  I hope the publishers allow it to remain there as I think it can attract help attract attention from people who otherwise would have never considered purchasing this or similar documentaries.

Whatever you may feel about classical music, I highly recommend giving the video at least 5-6 minutes of your time.  See what you think -- you may be surprised.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

If that caught your attention I further recommend listening to the actual symphony.  Try to set aside the 90+ minutes to listen to it in a single sitting without interruption (although a break after the first movement is common for live performances).  As one learns the "language" of the piece more of its beauty, intricacy, and ideas will be revealed with every listening.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Google and the New Rules for Online Map Services in China

In my previous post "Google Maps and Baidu Map in China" I glossed over the details about the newly required license for online map services in China.  Some readers have had questions so I'll provide some more information.

The requirement for a license was announced last year.  Google missed filing an application before one deadline on March 31 of this year.  After March 31, any company operating without a license would be "exposed" but could continue to operate.  At that point Google was reportedly still in discussions with the Chinese government.  However, July 1 marks a deadline where any company operating online maps in China without a license could be prosecuted.  Google has recently submitted its application.  While it was clear since last year that a license would be required, it was only earlier this month (at least publicly) that it was announced by Chinese authorities that a joint venture with a Chinese company would be required for foreign companies to operate online map services in China.  Google has reportedly attempted to meet this requirement by proposing to operate the service "through Beijing Guxiang Information Technology Co., a joint venture by Google and".

A post at (here) highlights some of the other requirements:
  • The service provider must boast proper mapping qualifications
  • The service provider must store all its mapping data on servers located within Mainland China
  • The service provider must be able to effectively regulate location uploading and marking by its users
  • The service provider must have no record of security leaks within the past three years
Loretta Chao at the Wall Street Journal in an article (here) shares another requirement:
"...companies must demonstrate that they have systems in place to ensure that their maps, including disputed territories, are labeled in accordance with Chinese rules and that sensitive information like military addresses is removed."
There has still been no public announcement whether a license has been approved for Google Maps.

On another note... yes, I'm aware this impacts other foreign companies as well.  For example, both Nokia and Microsoft have also formed joint ventures for their online map services.  Nokia has received its license while Microsoft is still awaiting approval.  However, I still believe it is possible that the new rules could have been at least partially motivated by concern over Google's (and possibly other foreign companies') strength in maps.  There may have been a desire to either make life difficult for foreign companies such as Google or ensure that local entities would benefit from any success.  Given Google's recent struggles in China, I found it curious that there would be increased requirements specifically in an area where I saw signs that Google had a significant advantage.  The new rules may not only be about "protecting China's national security" unless that phrase is very broadly interpretted.

Again, regardless of the motivations behind the new requirements, that Google is apparently agreeing to them is telling.  And for a variety of reasons I think it's the right choice for Google.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Google Maps and Baidu Map in China

A couple of months ago there were reports that Google was "in talks with the Chinese government about its online map product" after Google had missed one deadline to apply for the newly required state license to operate an online mapping service in China.  Reportedly, the new license was to ensure maps did not reveal information that was considered sensitive to China's national security.  While some of Google's services in China, such as search, now redirect to servers in Hong Kong, Google Maps currently remains "in China".

Since those initial reports, I've noticed some curious patterns in my research on Chinese youth (those approxiately 18-25 years old) that made me wonder if there is something more to the story, as there often is in China.  I'll provide an overview of what I noticed in my research, some comparisons of Google's and Baidu's online map services, and a few comments on what I think this all may say regarding the above mentioned and more recent news about Google Maps in China.

In short, I've seen some indications that younger people across a number of regions in China (2nd tier cities and smaller) prefer Google Maps over the online map service offered by Google's main competitor in China, Baidu.

There are four things in what I've heard from younger people that particularly stand out.  One, a strong preference for Google Maps can be expressed even when the person rarely or never uses any of Google's other services.  Two, some were very animated when talking about Google Maps -- it seems to have really connected with them.  Three, I have heard the same thing from people in a variety of regions ranging from Shandong in the east to Sichuan in the southwest.  Four, it has been uncommon for someone to express an overall preference for Baidu Map.

Given the nature of the interviews (very exploratory in nature and no observation of people actually using online maps), I can't be sure of "why" this may be.  Some youth commented that Google Maps was easier to use while others mentioned the richer visual imagery available.  I'd want to do more in-depth research before commenting further.

To provide a sense on some of the reasons youth may prefer Google Maps over Baidu Map I'll make some comparisons.

To start, Baidu has a relatively new view for its map service that has even caught some attention in the US.

Baidu Map's 3D view of the Xujiahui District in Shanghai

This hand-drawn 3D view includes quite a bit of detail.  Above is a part of Shanghai were I've lived and worked.  The 3D view received some positive comments in the US such as "the maps are pretty rad" by Nicholas Jackson of The Atlantic. titled a post "Baidu beats Google when it comes to mapping" and Jason Chen at Gizmodo expressed hope that Google would create similar maps.

So, should Google be jealous or concerned?  While I appreciate the appeal and possible applications of Baidu's 3D view, overall I don't believe Google has much to worry about at the moment.

Baidu's 3D view is lacking in several important aspects.  One, even in a major city such as Shanghai, only the very central districts are covered.  See here for what is found just next to the region shown above:

I can say with great confidence that those blank regions are very urban regions and not fields or beach front.  IKEA must be disappointed that its building so narrowly missed being included -- it's located just to the left of the highway intersection in the center of the image.

Another limitation can be seen in the details. It appears that not all of the buildings are up-to-date.  For example, one area shows an "under-construction" building that was completed a number of years ago.  I'd be curious to know what Baidu uses as a source to guide visual design of the map.  Given the vast amount of construction and rebuilding in China, regularly updating the map would be all the more important.

Another issue is that the 3D view is not aligned with the regular map view.  When toggling between the two views the scene is rotated by about 20-30 degrees -- a somewhat disorienting experience both due to the change and to the resulting unusual orientation of the map (north is no longer straight up).

Even with these limitations, Shanghai is "lucky".  Another key issue is that the 3D view is not available at all for most cities in China.

So, how do Google Maps and Baidu Map compare in the majority of cases where Baidu Map does not offer 3D view?

For one example, take a look at Zigong in Sichuan province -- a city where I heard some youth express their preference for Google Maps.  Here is a map of a section of Zigong as seen through Google Maps China-based service:

Zigong in Google Maps

Here is a map at a similar zoom in Baidu Map:

Zigong in Baidu Map

As you can see, there are some significant differences, but you may notice something particularly different -- the river.  On Baidu Map it abruptly stops at either end and extends to a region in the east where Google Maps shows no river.  Maybe Baidu Map is correct and it's really a narrow lake or the river travels underground in parts.

How to know for sure?  Well, there's no obvious way on Baidu Map, but on Google Maps one can easily switch to the satellite view (I should note it now appears to be well aligned with the map view, which wasn't the case earlier for Google's maps of China):

Zigong in Google Maps' Satellite View

Unless Google is manipulating the satellite imagery, it's readily apparent their map of the river is far more accurate.

There are a variety of comparisons one could make between Google's and Baidu's online maps and Google Maps doesn't always come out on top.  For example, when I was in Dunhua, Jilin province (see here for some scenes of Dunhua) I noticed several differences because Google Maps was missing a street I needed to find and it appeared on Baidu Map.  I further noticed they didn't agree on some street names and I walked around to see who was correct -- based on the street signs it was Baidu Map.  However, Google Maps had identified some landmarks such as a park that were not identified on Baidu Map.

What about maps for outside of China?  Well, Baidu of course has maps of other locations, such as North America.  However, the level of detail may surprise you:

All the detail you need for North America

The above map in Baidu is as detailed as it gets.  Zoom in any more and all you will see is a screen of grayness.  Too bad, I was really looking forward to seeing if the Mississippi River remained intact.  Other non-Chinese parts of the world have a similar amount of detail.  Seeing Baidu Map's different levels of detail for China and elsewhere reminded me of famous map of a New Yorker's view of the world.  You can explore Google Maps' view of North America yourself if you question whether it provides any more detail than above.

It would be complex to do a full comparison of Google Maps and Baidu Maps coverage of China in terms of streets, places, services available, etc.  However, while neither is perfect, typically any missing or mistaken information I've noticed on Google Maps does not involve large scale errors so obvious as missing large sections of a river.   Furthermore, the coverage of China by the satellite view of Google Maps, even if only including detailed views, readily appears to be far greater than that of Baidu Map's 3D view.

Google clearly offers an experience on online maps that in some respects Baidu simply can't match right now.  This plus what I've heard from Chinese youth makes me strongly suspect that Google is noticing Google Maps is receiving significant attention in China.  In fact, they may not be the only ones in China aware of this.

I think these points are key for two main reasons.

One, the relative strength of Google Maps may be another reason why Google is reportedly being asked to jump through new hurdles to maintain the service in China.  As discussed in an earlier post about Google's problems in China (see here), any success Google finds in China may motivate others to make life more difficult for it because better connected Chinese companies will be "losing out".

Two, it may explain why Google is now reportedly planning to partner with a Chinese company to ensure they can keep their obtain the map license in order to meet new requirements Google has reportedly been willing to partner with a Chinese company in its recently submitted application for an online map license.  Google may believe that they have something special with Google Maps in China and are willing to make a pragmatic choice in order to keep it as fully operational as possible in China.  Creating a partnership with the right company in China would not only help Google Maps meet China's new rules but also possibly help better protect Google Maps in the future since a more local (and possibly better connected) company would be involved.  If this is true it may be an important hint about Google's outlook & strategy for moving ahead in China.

Finally, regardless of the motivations behind the new rules for online maps in China and how Google is responding, the difference in what Google Maps can offer in comparison to Baidu Map is both vast and important.  In an upcoming post I'll write about another company that would like to establish a strong online presence in China and who can also provide something desired by many Chinese yet not currently available through any Chinese company.  In their own way, like Google they don't have blank maps for most of the world.

Added Note:  For more details see the post: Google and the New Rules for Online Map Services in China

2nd Added Note:  For how Bing Maps compares as well plus additional analysis of Google Maps and Baidu Map see: Maps in (and of) China: Baidu, Bing, and Google

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Seeing the Signs

Recently I asked for thoughts on the intended meaning of the signs and the purpose of the ramps on a bridge in Chengdu, China (if you missed out on the post, you may find it helpful to read it here before continuing).  To refresh, here is one of the photos:

I'll share a sampling that captures most of the responses.

A reader in the US wrote:
"maybe you're only supposed to bike one-way since there's an arrow??"
Another reader in the US had a suggestion I had not previously considered:
 "No riding across the bridge without a cat."
A reader in Taiwan wondered:
"Maybe that means no riding bikes but other vehicles are allowed."
A reader in India provided several possibilities but was not satisfied with any of them:
"all these guesses don't make sense for various different reasons, but:
1. No bicycles allowed (only motorbikes, etc)
2. No riding in the direction indicated by the arrow
3. No parking your bike on the bridge
4. No sitting on your bike and using your hands while riding... only ride standing and no hands"
A Belorussian-Mexican residing in Switzerland (really) provided a particularly in-depth and colorful analysis:
"On the first photo I thought the sign referred to one-way Chinese bikers street.  Since this is definitely not the case, I see now only two possibility.... The most likely one is that this sign means "This will NOT be a smooth ride ahead", with bumps and all...  The second possibility is that this is an invitation to not ride towards the left during the course of this ride, for you'll crash against other riders or fall off the bridge... not too good....

Well, there's actually a 3rd possibility, and that's how I would in all seriousness interpret the sign. It probably means "Don't speed up! This is a fucking bridge for Heaven's sake, and perhaps you don't know it, but there's a fucking ramp ahead!"...(and at the bottom of the ramp the sign means "Don't speed up!  This is a fucking ramp for Heaven's sake, and you never know when it will become a straight bridge".  Since the sign was perhaps not self-explanatory enough, and a handful of Chinese individuals fell off the bridge/ramp, the authorities had to put some bumps to sort of control the chaos - yet, the sign shall just sit there for eternities... That's my explanation in all seriousness...."
[*note at the end of the post about my views on quotes involving colorful language.]

In a second attempt, the Taiwanese reader was the only person who submitted the "correct" answer.  Based on this, the varied responses, and the lack of confidence many expressed it seems clear that the signs are not effective in communicating their intended meaning -- at least to readers of this blog.

Before revealing the intended meaning of the signs, I'll share a few scenes from a similar bridge:

In this case, the stairs had a sign as well.  Since it seems that the stairs and their purpose are readily apparent it may not be clear why such a sign would be posted.  However, there is more context to provide.

Further down the sidewalk there was a ramp up the bridge.  But this ramp had a couple more signs than the ramps on the other bridge:

The sign with Chinese text asks pedestrians to use the stairs.

So, now what do you think?  Even with the additional signs you may still be unsure.

OK.  Now for the answer.  See here:


The sign indicates that it is not permissible to ride a bike on the ramp.  Instead, people are expected to walk their bikes.  However, the ramps are not intended for pedestrians.  The sign near the stairs is likely to further emphasize that they, and not the ramp, should be used by pedestrians.

The small hint I referred to in the earlier post was a partially obstructed view of a person walking their bike up the curved ramp.  And why did those ramps have what appear to be speed bumps?  I suspect it was a pragmatic response to manage the speed of bikers since the signs were not being observed.  Somehow, it feels poetic to simply quote the Belorussian-Mexican reader again and say, "yet, the sign shall just sit there for eternities."

There are host of issues one could explore regarding this example, for example the merits of "do" and "do not" signs in various contexts and whether people continuing to ride their bikes on the ramps is more due to the signs being ignored, the signs not being understood, or something else.  For now, I'd like to just briefly focus on one of the challenges in appreciating how others may interpret designs such as signs.

When I presented the photographs of the signs to a few people in Chengdu who had not seen them before their responses were similar to some of the responses I received from readers (none mentioned anything about cats, though).  However, when I asked some people sitting nearby the bridge about the meaning of the sign they responded with the "correct" answer as if it was obvious and they seemed incredulous that it wasn't the same for others.

In many cases, after one learns the meaning of such a sign it can seem to be "common sense" and be difficult to appreciate how others see it.  For related reasons, it can be challenging for a designer to appreciate how others will perceive and interpret what they've designed, whether it's a sign, a piece of software, an online service, a mobile phone, etc.  This is a large part of why an understanding of human psychology and how to conduct meaningful research can be crucial for successful design.

The impact of familiarity also relates to why for some types of research, it can be particularly advantageous to study a culture different from your own -- whether you're an American in China or a Chinese in the US.  Sometimes, having a "fresh" viewpoint will better enable you identify certain issues.  I'll be writing more about this in the future.

In the meantime, I'll make sure to keep an eye out for any Americans riding their bikes across bridges with their cats.


[*Note on how I quote: I generally will not edit/censor "bad words" when they are part of a relevant portion of a quote and when they are not used in a threatening manner.  If I error, I will do so on the side of allowing people to present their ideas in the manner they choose, whether to emphasize a point, add humor, express emotions, etc.  Others are free to interpret them how they want.  I think it's worth keeping in mind what can be easily and freely seen on someone's jacket while one walks down a street in the US.]

Friday, June 17, 2011

Faces of China: Chengdu Youth

I think it's useful to put a face to the many stories you may hear about "youth" in China.  Here are just a few from Chengdu, Sichuan that I saw at the large and central Tianfu Square and at a nearby popular shopping street.

I can't resist pointing out that in several of the photos you'll see people holding their mobile phones.  As I've mentioned before (such as here), it is not uncommon for Chinese to have their mobile "out", even when they're not using them.

However, I think the photos express something much deeper.  In conducting my research and explorations across China, I am continually amazed by both the commonalities and uniqueness of the various youth I meet  -- whether it is in how they use the Internet, what they think about their government, or how they express themselves.  I think these photos help capture some of that.

Look at the fashion.  Look at the body language.  Look at the expressions.

In some cases you may immediately think of "stories" for the photos below.  Some of what you're thinking may be accurate.  Some of what you're thinking likely more reflects your own biases and assumptions.

Regardless, looking can help inspire questions you may not have thought to ask otherwise.

The answers to those questions won't just tell you more about other people, but yourself as well.

Friend visiting another from afar

College student with her photography tutor

Irresistible photo opportunity 

Snack time


Taking a break to chat

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bridge Signs in Chengdu, China: What Do They Mean?

In previous posts I've written about the challenges of creating meaningful signs and how signs may be ignored even when they're clear.

To follow up on those themes and to do an informal experiment, take a look at some scenes from this bridge over a busy street in Chengdu:

There were stairs going up to it:

And also a ramp with a prominently displayed sign:

The other side of the bridge had stairs and a curved ramp:

And the bottom of the ramp had the same sign:

As you can see in the above photos of the ramps and this one:

There are speed bumps.

So... When you first saw the sign what did you think it meant?  What is the intended use of the ramps?  Did your impression change after seeing additional photos?

Email me your answers/guesses/thoughts (  I'll later post some of the replies.  I'll assume you want to remain anonymous unless you state otherwise.  It would be helpful, though, to know if you're from China or if you have experience with such signs.

By the way, there is a small detail in one of the photos above that may provide you a hint as to the intended meaning of the sign.  Bonus points for catching it.

P.S.  Coincidentally, James Fallows also has a new post here about signs in China.

[Added note:  I suggested contacting me via e-mail just so people are less likely to be influenced by others' ideas.  You can also reply through the comment section.  However, I won't publish them until I do the follow-up post.]

UPDATE:  Follow-up post with readers' thoughts, a few additional photos, and the "answer" is here:

Impact of China's Growing Mobile Phone Industry

An article by Greg Lindsay on Fast Company (see here) argues that the increasing penetration of mobile phones designed in China into other countries has had a wide range of impact, including aiding the recent revolutions in the Middle East.

While the Middle East claim is intriguing, I'd like to see more evidence.  For example, it would be helpful to know the penetration of Chinese-designed phones in Egypt and what the consumers would have done had the phones not been available.  Regardless, in making his case Lindsay raises several issues related to some earlier posts here.

He discusses how the making of mobile phones in China became far more practical due to the availability of a cheap way to design them:
"In 2004, a Taiwanese electronics firm named MediaTek unveiled its latest product--a cell-phone-in-a-box aimed at manufacturers, equipped with everything they needed to make the guts of a working phone on one chipset. Write some software, add features, and snap a plastic case on the front and you've produced a new model. It was an immediate hit with China’s notorious counterfeiters, the shanzhai.

In 2004, MediaTek sold 3 million of its chips; six years later, its sales had soared to 500 million, more than a third of the worldwide market. Nearly half of those went to shanzhai. The sudden ability to design, manufacture, and ship millions of dirt-cheap handsets in total secrecy led to an explosion in Internet-enabled devices in China. “Five years ago, there were no counterfeit phones,” the sales manager at a Chinese component manufacturer told The New York Times in 2009. “You needed a design house. You needed software guys. You needed hardware design. But now, a company with five guys can do it.”"
I believe that the increased numbers of people making mobile phones in China relates to another issue I've raised here and here -- that while copying remains relatively common in China, innovation is also occurring.  Relevant to this point, Lindsay writes:
"The key to the cheap phones was the combination of MediaTek’s chipsets and the vast component bazaars of Shenzhen. While MediaTek’s engineers focused on adding software features such as touchscreen recognition and instant messaging to their chips, shanzhaitricked out basic models with speakers, telescopic photo lenses, and flashlight-strength LEDs. Before long, “Nckias” and “Blockberrys” began appearing across Shenzhen and Shanghai.

With their tiny production runs, shanzhai could manufacture a thousand phones, seed the local markets, see if they caught on, and then crank out some more. Established players like Nokia were soon crying foul, even as they scrambled to keep up. Development cycles collapsed from 9 to 12 months to as little as three months. Instead of knockoffs, the counterfeiters were churning out innovation and forcing large companies to play catch up."
Lindsay also points out that the cheap Chinese-brand mobile phone manufactures are expanding their sales to regions where such phones may be strongly desired, such as India:
"India, with its low PC penetration, high fixed-broadband costs, and proximity to China, was a natural fit. In 2009, shanzhai phones began flooding the market, offering “good functionality at a fraction of the cost of established brands,” according to BCG."
As shared in a reader's comments here not only may Chinese-brand mobile be appealing in other countries for their lower cost, but also for the functionality they may offer, such as dual SIM card support.

Finally, in his article Lindsay refers to the Chinese phones as "shanzhai" -- a term usually reserved for mobile phones made in China that copy established brands.  In part due to the innovation that Lindsay himself notes and that there are Chinese brands of mobile phones that appear to be making an effort to distinguish themselves from better known brands, I don't think the term is always appropriate when discussing mobile phones designed in China.  Scroll though the many photos included here (all of my posts on mobile phones) and see what you think based just on looking at the many examples of Chinese designed phones.  Should Oppo and BBK really be classified with Nckia and Blockberry?  There's of course more to this than looking at a few photos, but I think they help make a point.

I'm not sure how Lindsay was using the term but in general the way the term "shanzhai" is sometimes used can gloss over some very key distinctions about mobile phones designed in China.  More on this topic later.  For now, I'll just add that when you see the term "shanzhai" you may want to consider how the word is being used.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dairy Queen and the Goji Berry in China

Previously, I commented on Dairy Queen localizing it's menu in Kunming, Yunnan with some options including mango (see here).  I also included this photo:

DQ menu with mango smoothie/slushy options

However, recently in Chengdu, Sichuan I saw a DQ with a slightly different menu:

DQ menu with goji berry smoothie/slushy options

I had never tried a goji berry, also know as wolfberry, drink and hadn't seen it in the Kunming DQ stores so I tried the goji berry crushed ice drink.  The sacrifices I make for research...

DQ goji berry "slushy"

As you may note, the color of the drink is a bit different from that shown on the sign.  In fact, it almost looked mango-colored.  However, the taste was definitely not mango-ish.  It was, dare I say, wolfberry-ish.  I think.

I can't say whether the goji berry being featured instead of mango is indicative of a general shift in menu options in DQ across China, a new potential option being tested in a specific market, an attempt to localize the DQ menu to specific regions of China, or something else.

I'll keep an eye out on DQ's elsewhere to see if any patterns become apparent (I may limit my sampling of DQ products, though).  If any readers are aware of other differences in DQ's in other regions of China I'd be curious to hear about it.

UPDATE:  After some more "research" I've discovered that the goji berry option definitely isn't only limited to Chengdu.  Also, at least in other locations now featuring goji berry, the mango option remains, just no longer featured.

Mobile Phones in China: Chengdu's Mobile Phone Street

In two earlier posts here and here I shared some examples of mobile phones available in Zhaotong, Yunnan and Zigong, Sichuan.  To further emphasize the immense variety of mobile phones available in China I'll now share some examples from the much larger city of Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province and a key economic center of Southwest China.

While mobile phones are sold in many locations around Chengdu, I'll focus on the area including Tidu Street and Taisheng South Road in the downtown district as it is known for its large number of mobile phone stores.

Several larger stores, such as this one:

Xunjie Communication City

sell a variety of brands and do not sell any obvious fakes, knockoffs, etc.

Two salespeople in the mobile phone store

The selection at Xunjie included several of the Chinese brands I've mentioned before

The U Like Oppo phone

and also foreign brands such a Nokia and iPhone.  In fact, it was at Xunjie that I noticed the BlackBerry's and the promotion including Barack Obama I wrote about earlier (see here).

There were also many stores in the area that sold a particular brand of phone.  Here are a few of them:

LG store

Meizu store

Nokia store

Samsung store

A little about Meizu since it may be particularly unfamiliar to those outside of China...  It's a Chinese brand and its earlier M8 mobile phone ran on a version of Microsoft Windows CE 6 while its newer M9 version is based on Android.  Production of the M8 was shut down due to an intellectual property dispute raised by Apple (more here).  If you look at Meizu's web site for the M8 here you may find yourself sympathizing with Apple.

In addition to the larger stores and the brand specific stores, there were also many smaller stores along the street.

Many smaller mobile phone stores

It's at places such as these that one can often find the most variety.  Take a look:

Any favorites?

Just looking at the visual design alone makes it apparent that there are phones potentially appealing to a wide range of tastes.

As in the selection seen at the smaller stores in Zhaotong there are a number of phones that seem to have trademark infringement issues.  Examples in the above photos include Scny Ecirsscn (Sony Ericsson), Anycoll (Anycall), TPhone (iPhone), iPhome (iPhone), etc.  It is also questionable whether the Hello Kitty and Winnie the Pooh phones have been properly licensed.

In contrast to Zhaotong, there are some smaller stores selling genuine (I think...) high end smart phones, including those running Windows Mobile 7 and Android.

So, to sum it all up briefly: Chengdu is similar to Zhaotong and Zigong in terms of having a wide range of mobile phones.  However, Chengdu appears to offer much more in terms of higher end smart phones.

That's all for now -- just some more perspective & color on the variety of mobile phones sold in China.