CDF Conference: Blogs, Wikis, SMS – The Future?

Cast of characters:
Mao Xianghui, Yifang Inc
Fons Tuinstra, Chinabiz
Andrew Lih, University of Hong Kong
Madanmohan Rao, Asian Media Information and Communication Center
Paul Grabowicz, moderator, UC Berkeley journalism school

Mao Xianghui, who has done research with CNBlog.org, speculated on the future. He said technology would be a “revolution by evolution – change without risk.” He suggested that one day, everyone could have their own weblog, with their name as their permanent URL. He said that in places like China, it was especially important that people become more able to learn about the outside world without the mass media.


As an illustration, he told the story of blogbus.com. It was censored by Chinese authorities. The story was reported on one blog and picked up on others. It was all over the blogs before, 3 days later, Reuters picked it up and got it to the printe media.

One problem he saw coming up was language. English blogs, he said, send far more information to China than they accept from the Chinese blogosphere.

Andrew Lih said the real hope for a grassroots culture of web production came from wikis.

The word for blog in Chinese is bo ke (note to knowlegable bloggers — insert characters here): abundant traveler. He said that in HK, bloggers are mostly hiding out at Xanga.com.

But he wanted to focus on wikis. The difference is that wikis let anyone edit anything. No passwords, logins, nothing. It works in part because there’s a “paper” trail (called an audit trail), which allows people to roll back stupid edits.

“It works because most people are good people. Let them in.”

Wikis are between BBS and Website, except they have HIGH PARTICIPATION. They are true many to many. They are richer than SMS, but just as free to participation.

Rao then spoke, at incredible speed, about the potential of wireless, especially SMS. He pointed out that it was useful for political mobilization and moblogging, but susceptible to misinformation. He said it bridges digital divide, but only to a point. He pointed to the article,
“The Second Superpower Rears its Beautiful Head”.

Tuinstra said that overall, China is opening. A lot. In the mid-90s, he had to register his internet use and he faced many “blocks” on the net. What has happened is freedom has increased quite dramatically. Because people are no longer used to blocks, they don’t like them — that’s why it’s an issue.

Current net obstructions, he said, are mostly symbolic – they are easily avoided with proxy servers. “At first you think they’ll come with sirens, but once you do it 10,000 times, it gets routine,” he said.

Still, he said, when we hear that the net is changing life, you have to remember that 80 million people use the net, only 20 million have international access, and just 300,000 people blog. It’s an important elite. But an elite.

But access is getting much easier. He got home wireless access 2 days after buying it for RMB300. He has access at every Starbucks.

Censorship still happening, “but only a very small part of a much bigger truth.”

Wang Feng said Chinese News Man shows what one reporter can do when he provides blog svcs to journalists – 5k or 6k Chinese journalists posting the stories they couldn’t get published in their own papers.

It’s currently blocked.

In the Q & A, the speakers said they had never had problems from carrying sexual or politically incorrect content. However, bloggers often walk away when they get frustrated with the work load or occasional censorship.

(posted by Steven Bodzin)

May 1, 2004 5:34 PM
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