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The Great Firewall of China

January 25, 2010
Last week, I was in Shanghai to do search marketing training and exercises to help improve our search marketing efforts in China and the Asia Pacific region. It was pretty interesting timing given the whole Google-China debacle going on right now.

What I found most interesting was hearing some local perspective on the issue. The small group of people I spoke with (probably about 20 or so) all agreed that Google moving out of China would be a bad thing – they believed (and hoped) that it wouldn’t happen, and that a truse would eventually be made with the Chinese Government. I guess time will tell.

So going in, I was aware of the censorship issues in China, but I guess I didn’t appreciate the extent of it – particularly where social media is concerned – and how disconnected I felt. Literally, it was like losing a limb. Here’s an example of five popular social tools I tried out:

Facebook is blocked. I remember being in China less than two years ago and was able to access Facebook just fine. But when I think about it, the social media scene has come a long way in just two years.

Twitter is blocked and I was unable to access it through TweetDeck or any other desktop application. In Brizzly, you are able to log in, but the feed doesn’t show up, making it about as useful as not being able to log in in the first place.

Blogspot should be re-named Blockspot. At least last week I had a good excuse for not posting to my blog since I couldn’t access it! However, I am told that blogs (just not those on Blogspot, I guess) are quite popular amongst the Chinese audience.

Foursquare is not blocked. I can see how the government could find Foursquare useful, but I suspect that it’s availability may be due to the uptake not being as high as tools like Twitter and Facebook (yet). If you “Check In” or do a “Shout Out” on Foursquare it does feed through to your Twitter account, so everyone on Twitter can see it (just not you!).

YouTube is blocked, of course, and didn’t appear in any of the search results.

The interesting thing is that despite many of these popular tools being blocked, China is still quite active in the social space (as an example, check out Forrester’s Social Technographics Profiling Tool). They are active, just not in the same channels as we may use in the west.

So what do the people of China use? An important question for a company’s global social media strategy.

  • There are a number of local Twitter equivalents going around, though I can’t yet comment as to how popular these are, or the profile of the users.
  • Sina is a very popular website destination for local news and information, with about 10 million active users. On the site, they host a Forum where people can post and discuss issues.
  • In addition to Forums, Blogs (of the non-Blogspot variety) are also popular.
  • Probably the most noticeable (and closest to real-time) tool I saw being used was MSN messenger (or equivalent). It kind of takes me back to the early 2000’s, but nonetheless this seems to be a very popular social tool. Whilst sitting in meetings, almost everyone had messenger constantly running with messages popping up every few seconds, accompanied by cute “Manga-style” avatars.

So that was my first-hand experience of going cold-turkey in China (Note: These were results based on going through “normal” channels that most people would use. I’m sure there are clever ways to bypass the firewall).

Whilst researching for my trip I also found that there was not a whole lot of information about how to optimize pages for the biggest search engine in China – Baidu. So in my next post, I’m going to share what I did manage to find out.

From → Social Media

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