How Mobile is My Valley?

In the Hutong
Waiting for the Weekend
1749 hrs.

Ever since the crash following the dotcom boom, pundits in Northern California have been speculating about what industry would replace chips, software, and Internet services in Silicon Valley. The question is more than a matter of civic boosterism: the south San Francisco Bay area is home to an educational, financial, and entrepreneurial ecosystem that for the past seven decades has midwifed some of the most important technological innovations in recent human history. The very idea that so much cash, talent, and vision would lay fallow seemed inconceivable, yet the much-vaunted bio-tech and green-tech booms seem to be stalled on the cusp of takeoff.

Then, in the middle of a Twitter deep-dive with with Paul Denlinger about the warming battle between Apple and Google to dominate the handheld computing space, it became clear. Over the past 18 months, the focal point of the mobile phone industry has moved from Espoo, Finland to a point equidistant between the GooglePlex in Mountain View and Apple’s Infinite Loop compound in Cupertino.

In racing to own the future of the mobile Internet, these two giants may well make Silicon Valley the center of an industry that takes the Internet out of computer and puts it into our lives, that meshes communications, information, and entertainment into a single contiguous experience.

You can bet on Silicon Valley going greentech, and that might happen. My money is on Silicon Valley going handheld, at least in the coming 30 months.

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Are Local Government Projects Going Under the Microscope?

Andrew Batson and Aaron back dive into the central government’s plan to do a bank-led deep dive into how local government-owned companies are spending their borrowings from the policy banks. On the surface, this is a good thing. But underneath, it is going to be extremely challenging to implement. The central government’s best bet is to make this as open and public a process as possible. Does this mean that we’re going to see the same thing with national government-owned companies?

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China: Beyond Confidence

In the Hutong
Please, Not Another Crisis
1642 hrs.

John Pomfret notes in this recent article in The Washington Post:

“The Chinese people are no longer embarrassed about being Chinese,” said Wang Xiaodong, a leading nationalist writer who has co-authored a series of popular books with titles such as “China Is Unhappy,” which capitalized on the growing anti-Western trend. “The time when China worshipped the West is over. We have a rightful sense of superiority.”

There is nothing wrong with a sense of national self-confidence. It is, after all, long past the time for China and the Chinese people to take deserved pride in the positive things the nation and the culture have accomplished. Unfortunately, we appear to have moved well past that.

China has swung from one extreme to another. It has gone from worshipping the west and deprecating it’s own culture to believing in the innate superiority of things Chinese and a dismissing the value of all things western.

In truth, neither position is correct. Sadly, the nation has spent most of its modern history lurching between these extremes of xenophilia and xenophobia. And it has to end.

China will reach maturity not when returns the the hubristic self-audulation of The Qing emperors, but when it learns to walk a middle path in its approach to things foreign, assigning value to ideas, innovations, systems and people based not on their origin, but on their intrinsic merits. The country could once afford to forego this middle path, but today it is at odds with everything China seeks to accomplish in a global economy, polity, and society.

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Government-Controlled BIDU

At the bottom of an otherwise interesting article in The Washington Times (Cyber-attack on U.S. firms, Google traced to Chinese) was this little tidbit:

Investigators suspect in the case of Google that China was seeking access to the company’s unique search engine and data-mining technology that could be applied to China’s rival government-controlled search engine known as Baidu.

Industrial espionage this may have been, but if Baidu is government controlled to a greater degree than any other local enterprise operating in China, somebody call Robin Li and let him know. It certainly doesn’t square with public ownership information. Is the local Baidu entity at all government-owned?

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Culture is an Overlooked Issue in E-Commerce

In the Hutong
I mean, it’s a holiday, right?
1127 hrs.

In his interview with Ratuken chairman and CEO Hiroshi Mikitani, Geoffrey Fowler of the Wall Street Journal touches on how cultural differences have taken an Internet business down a much different path than its U.S. counterparts:

WSJ: What makes your approach to the Japanese market different from the approach Amazon and eBay have taken here in the U.S.?

Mr. Mikitani: The merchant—meaning the “shop operator” or “shop master”—is very important for us. We allow our merchants to own a store in a mall.

For example, the Amazon marketplace doesn’t allow the merchants the ability to interact with the end customer. In the U.S. with Amazon, the business goes merchant, Amazon and then user. We go Rakuten, merchant and then end user.

Sometimes it’s a little bit noisy for some people. Some people might like the more straightforward Wal-Mart type—the big general store. We are like the marketplace in Europe and Japan with many, many stores. They are live and edit every day and want to communicate with their customer.

We believe that comparison shopping and convenience is important. But if you just keep competing on price, nobody is going to win.

Mikitani doesn’t suggest at any point that Ratuken’s approach is somehow superior to Amazon’s or to eBay’s. To do so would have been decidely un-Japanese.

Yet the first two-thirds of the interview provoke thought. Shopping may be a nearly universal activity, but no shopping experience can be a one-size-fits-all proposition. The way we each prefer to respond to our inner hunter-gatherer varies by culture, person, and sometimes by the merchandise we seek.

All of which underscores that one of the reasons for e-commerce’s more modest initial success in China was that the prototypical Amazon/Wal-Mart/eBay experience was lacking one or more ingredients important for China’s shoppers. Despite the success of Taobao and Joyo, I think the industry is getting closer, but it is not quite there yet.

It will be interesting to watch the Baidu-Ratuken tie-up. Will they get closer to the winning formula?

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Fellow Communicators: I Am Not Your Tool

In the Hutong

Wishing it Would Rain Again

1711 hrs.

Hey PR, bloggers are not tools to be used

As someone who spends his working days helping companies get better at communications, I empathize with thos legions of folks who have to work with bloggers and the media to help their clients hawk themselves or their products.

At the same time, as a blogger I get really annoyed by the ham-handed efforts many PR people use to deal with me. There is simply no excuse for dealing with journalists or bloggers via form letter or impersonal email blast.

Please, PR folks, before contacting me, read my blog. And please read the article linked above.

Sent from my iPod

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Some Overdue Balance on China and FDI

In the Hutong

Dreaming of a Six-Month Weekend

1556 hrs.

U.S.-China Media Brief

There has been of late no shortage of hand-wringing abuout the changing business climate in China, and some of that angst has targeted the matter of how and where the authorities are allowing foreign companies to invest.

The investment climate is changing, as we should expect as China’s economy and it’s relative position in the world evolves. It also means, as some commentators are apt to forget, that America’s door to Chinese FDI is not as open as  we would like to think.

Steve Dickinson sums up the situation with dispassionate equanimity: 

While potential investors may claim that China’s inward FDI policies are unfair, Steve Dickinson, an international lawyer working in China, argues that these are simply China’s laws and policies, which it has always been very clear on. It is just that these laws do not “fit with [the complainers’] idea of how China should be.”

He’s right, like it or not.

If that is not good enough, then the issue of FDI needs to be raised to the level of a global organization that can do for transnational investment what the WTO and its predecessor organizations did for trade.

But then be prepared to accept a few uncomfortable investments in your own country. 

Sent from my iPod

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SNS Marketing in Asia: It’s Not Just About Kids Anymore

In the Hutong


1518 hrs.

Social networking is expanding its reach into the 35+ market and beyond

Interesting article from Media Magazine in Hong Kong, but am I the only one who thinks that traditional marketing terms like “target market” and “audience” ring hollow and contrived when talking about social media?

If we are really going to change our thinking to catch up with (and start anticipating) the changes tearing through the sinews and bones of the media, marketing, and communications industries, we need a new lexicon.

Sent from my iPod

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A Blogger’s Eye View of Tech in Asia

In the Hutong
Honorable mention is more than good enough
1849 hrs.

If you are looking to get a feel for what is happening in Asian technology generally and the region’s online world specifically, do check out OpenWeb.Asia.
It’s just getting going, but it’s already on my Daily Scour list. Kaiser likens it to an site focused Asian technology news and blog resources.

Wisdom Before Passion: David Mamet on American Politics

The Silicon Hutong Suite, Singapore
Contemplating a hotel without room service
1822 hrs.

If you are getting caught up in the frenzy of the US elections and all of the triumphalism around Eliot Spitzer’s spectacular self-destruction, you might share my despair at the partisan grease pit back into which American politics are sliding.

David Mamet offers some salve in his article “Why I am No Longer a ‘Brain-Dead Liberal’” in The Village Voice. Mamet makes a reasoned and subtle appeal for a more even-headed approach to the world.

I could probably write a similar article “Why I Am No Longer a ‘Cold-Hearted Conservative’,” but I’d rather read my own political evolution into Mamet’s writing.

Aging Population and Independent Innovation

Back in the Hutong
Installing another Security Update
1738 hrs.

AP is reporting that PRC’s rapidly aging population is going to end China’s role as a source of low cost labor “within the next few decades.”

Which, of course, is part of why China’s leaders are pushing the economy to evolve beyond being the hands and feet of the global economy. China started reforming and opening as one of the youngest countries in the world: by the time we all start to retire, it will be one of the oldest.

The good news for China is that it has a little time, and that it will have the opportunity to watch Western Europe, Japan, and the United States deal with the same problem first. The difference for China: somehow I don’t think immigration will solve the problem.

China’s Video Sharing Gold-Rush is Over

Sophie Taylor over at Reuters has written an excellent article noting that the rats investors are leaving the sinking video sharing sites around China.

Apparently, after YouTube scored a sweet $1.65 billion from Google’s cash hoard last year, a whole lot of people in China decided to start their own video sharing sites – before, of course, they thought through a small detail called a way to make money off of all those videos.

Video sharing looks like a typical Chinese “one guy got rich doing this so we can, too” pile-on. According to the article, there are over 400 video sharing sites in China that shared US$ 64 million in revenues last year. Now, it can be cheap to run a business in China, but average revenue of $161,000 per site?

So the implosion is coming, and investors are heading for the door.

What’s Next?

Now that Reuters has been good enough to point out one place online where there is too much investment, the obvious next question is “where else is this happening online in China?”


Social networking?