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“The Internet is a tidal wave that is going to be impossible for anyone to keep out,” Twitter co-founder Evan Williams was quoted as saying during an event at SXSW in Austin, TX. “In places like China it is hard to say how long those firewalls will be able to hold up.”
Hate to break it to you, Mr. Twitter, but the internet’s tidal wave has very much crashed into China – it just didn’t bring any fail whales with it. Indeed, at 384 million users strong, there are more people accessing the internet in China at the moment than there are in the entire United States. They’re using social networking, too, and using the be-jesus out of it: with a 2008 revenue of over $1 billion, TenCent’s QZone outearned twitter, facebook and myspace – and that was before the so-called “Great Firewall” locked the former two services out of China.
The latest internet-related hoopla, which has today made with the promise of a “Chinese registration page” for twitter, complete with in-person endorsements by artist and “digital activist” Ai Weiwei, seems to have stemmed from the ongoing Google-China conflict – the pair are currently in the “off” position. See, after Google suggested that it planned to stay in China for the long haul – executive Eric Schmidt was quoted as saying “we are in active negotiations with the Chinese government. Something will happen soon.” – something happened, namely that the Chinese government reminded the conglomerate that search results, at least on its G.cn product, still have to be censored. As a result, the G.cn product will almost certainly be no more – like 99.9% certain.
Look, we appreciate Evan Williams’ optimism. Twitter is pretty cool! But the fact is that China’s “Great Firewall” is more aptly named than people think: like its namesake, it’s designed to keep foreign invaders out, not just to confine Chinese citizens in. As long as homegrown products are satisfying the needs of everyday Chinese, why would the government allow foreign competition?
More importantly, if it were really about social oppression, wouldn’t they have blocked access to the countless, cheap VPN options afforded to anyone who doesn’t mind paying? China’s banking that most of its citizens do mind paying, which is why there’s no logical reason for twitter, facebook, et al to be let back in.
As far as tidal waves are concerned, the largest internet company in the world is about to head back out to sea. So, with all due respect, Mr. Williams, we doubt that your little – but brilliant! – garden party of just 25 million users is going to change Beijing’s mind anytime soon. To state it in 140 characters:
Google’s headed out, the Chinese love Kaixin and QQ and I can still tweet thanks to my VPN. Sorry Evan! #twitter #China