This week, another one bit the dust in China. Medium has been blocked throughout the country a few days after announcing plans to expand from being a simple blogging platform and developing relationships with major American news publishers.
The number of foreign-hosted social media networks accessible in mainland China has dwindled to a meager handful, proving that the country’s dead-last ranking on Freedom House’s Freedom on Net report is well deserved.
But a small number of international social networks have managed to escape the banhammer – so far. How come?
When Tencent first launched WeChat back in January, 2011, nobody predicted that the bare-bones, mobile-only messenger was just five years away from being an ecommerce and social media Juggernaut with well over half a billion users.
The last half decade saw China’s former social media giants get used to living in WeChat’s shade. Renren, “China’s Facebook,” has seen its valuation crumble to a fifth of its 2013 high as users flocked to more feature-rich apps. And Weibo, while hardly obscure, has long since been eclipsed by WeChat’s gargantuan user base.
What lessons can be learned from WeChat’s rise? To find out, we need to roll the clock back to the stone age year of 2010, when messaging apps were novelties in a world of SMS texts.
A piece of legislation currently under consideration by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) is causing confusion among observers. It’s either a complete censorship apocalypse that would turn China’s internet into an intranet, or just another set of humdrum regulations.
Dubbed the “Internet Domain Name Management Rules (Opinion-seeking Revision Draft),” the pending legislation is now open for public comment until April 25. Its writing is inartful and ambiguous – leaving readers to jump to their own conclusions, some of which are pretty dire. The full draft of the law can be viewed here (link in Chinese).
State-run paper the Global Times did a pretty good job of capturing the ambiguity of the law in its English coverage – that’s not a compliment – with a report that hinged on the phrase:
“Internet domain names with access to China should be provided by domestic internet domain name registration services, which should in turn be managed by Chinese institutions. Service providers that are not under the management of Chinese institutions cannot offer domain names with access to China.”
Global Times describes the law as “unprecedented,” and states that violators may be fined up to RMB 30,000 (US$4,620).
Citizens of mainland China unexpectedly found themselves with unfettered access to Google search late last night, commencing a golden age of censorship-free searching that lasted all of 105 minutes.
For the duration of the film Edward Scissorhands, lasting from 11:30pm on Sunday to 1:15am on Monday morning, Google’s search – but not other services like Gmail or Youtube – was unblocked.
If you’re a smartphone company – even a big, successful one – looking to get into the Chinese market with your own mobile payments system, here’s a piece of advice: don’t.
Over the last month, we’ve seen Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and even Huawei Pay enter mainland China. There are reports that Xiaomi, ZTE, and Lenovo are working on their own services as well.
Who asked for these? Not ordinary people. Chinese phone owners themselves overwhelmingly use Alipay and WeChat Wallet, created by web giants Alibaba and Tencent, respectively. And for good reason. It’s more than brand loyalty or even convenience – they are genuinely better products than their competitors, with more advanced features and better incentives to keep coming back.
Late last year, Alibaba jumped into the world of print media by buying Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, and just last week, it was announced that the company’s investment arm is also in talks to invest in Caixin Media, one of mainland China’s most influential news organizations.
Alibaba doesn’t yet have control over either organization, but the past week’s events probably have Jack Ma rethinking the wisdom of those investments.
There are nearly 700 million internet users in China, and they don’t let their connections go to waste. The country is a downloading, WeChatting, ecommercing powerhouse, and it has the statistics to prove it.
We sorted through the numbers put out by some of China’s biggest internet companies, and brought them down to scale. This is an internet minute in China. The country does in 60 seconds what some would only do over a day, week, or more. Not too shabby.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick swung by China recently, where he pumped up excitement about his business and touted some impressive stats – figures that his main competitor has a bit of an issue with.
Kalanick’s chief claims were that Uber has “30 or 35 percent market share” in China, and that a principle reason why it’s losing to Didi Kuaidi in mainland China is that Didi is spending massive amounts of money on subsidies to encourage people to become drivers.
“Our best information right now is that Didi is spending US$70 to US$80 million a week on subsidies – that’s US$4 billion a year,” Kalanick said. “Over the last year we have gained significant market share in China and have spent far less than that.”
You don’t have to go back very far in history to find a time when virtually no one in Myanmar had internet access. As recently as 2009, less than one percent of the 50 million people in the country had either a smartphone or home internet access.
But starting in 2011, the country’s tech went into hyperdrive. Between 2011 and 2012, the percentage of people with cellular subscriptions nearly tripled. Between 2012 and today, it has gone up almost nine-fold.
To say that Alibaba invested a lot of money this year wouldn’t really capture the scope of the situation. We’ve moved beyond hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars territory. We’ve even moved out of the single-digit billions.
You don’t throw that kind of money around without having a plan. And judging from the company’s past performance and its stated goals, we reckon these five strategies played into Alibaba’s investment-crazed 2015.