Sunday, January 31, 2010

My Mental Entanglement: Kindle vs iPad

(Kindle photo taken from

(The Apple iPad Photo: HO/REUTERS)

This past Christmas, I was thinking about buying a Kindle as a Christmas gift for a friend and also for myself. After spending a lot of effort to resist the tempting ad on the center of Amazon's front page claiming the Kindle was the most popular gift, I finally decided to wait. Why? Because I just could not persuade myself to get such a single-function device in a multi-function world, and I believed there would be something incorporating more useful functions and at least, be more colorful.

Now comes the long-awaited iPad, yet somehow I still miss the days when it was still a mysterious "Apple iTablet", a product of rumors and imagination. All sorts of great hopes were placed on this magic device; to some extent, these expectations have far exceeded any e-reader. I have to admit that, at that time, like many intrigued people, I did not actually have a clear idea what I was really looking for in an "iTablet", but instead just had vague ideas that it would be a powerful entertainment center; a slick notebook that allows us 24/7 internet-access; a heaven-crafted device that would bring us into a totally new media-consuming era.

When the iPad finally arrived, there was no surprise why it disappointed so many people. According to Apple itself, it was something meant to fill the market gap between the iPhone and Notebook, and Apple believed there was a gap between the two. This original positioning explains why it only incorporates certain functions and disables other ones. But unfortunately, most electronics consumers do not quite feel there is a gap there, and this miscalculation of the market is the primary source for the product's potential failure. At the same time, because most people do expect the iPad to be functional and replace their notebook, and to be mobile enough to beat the iPod Touch, much dissatisfaction is in the air. Yes, people want a keyboard, people want a camera, and people want more 3G carriers (or at least, anything but AT&T). Even though Apple tried to define the iPad as capable of being an e-reader and web browser, and tried to demonstrate its effectiveness at these tasks, many people's requirements for the iPad have already exceeded the device's actual designs.

At this point in time, like all the other unsatisfied iPad would-be-customers, I definitely would not buy an iPad, at least not this first generation model. But would I go back to the Kindle? I do not know either. The backlash against the iPad has helped me to appreciate Kindle's simplicity as being an e-reader. At least people who buy the Kindle know what they want it for. But do I want a device to just read books? I have to admit, originally I just wanted an e-reader, but now the cat is out of the bag, and I can hardly go back now.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


Thanks to our APOC alumnus Jeremiah Abraham, many APOCers including myself got a chance to volunteer at one of the biggest technology industry events, Twiistup, this past Thursday. This event aims to provide a platform for many entrepreneurs in the industry to showcase their innovation and ventures. It seemed to me that everybody in the social media industry came, start-ups, social media gurus, investors, and also many media groups that report on the Technology industry like ReadWriteWeb. It was also a pleasant surprise for me to run into Vince and Jordan there.

I had a good time running around and taking a peek into the core of this technology community which I have committed myself to; I also enjoyed hanging out with my APOC peers and getting to know them more, and I have to say I really like this group! Also as someone new to the technology industry, I definitely feel the industry has its own characteristics, and people in this industry walk fast, talk fast, and think fast too. It is a world full of passion and momentum.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hair Is A New Way To Charge Your Cellphone

This piece of news from, "Stanford University shows that clothes make good batteries too", talks about how a Stanford science group has invented a kind of cloth that can store electricity in it. This reminded me of a recent episode of ABC's "Modern Family", where a young girl, Alex, tricked her sister Haley into rubbing her hair to charge her cellphone. Maybe one day this act will not be considered a prank anymore, but instead something everybody does for a legitimate reason, and this day might come very soon! But for now? This episode of "Modern Family" is still funny and really makes me laugh.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Three Very Distinctive Communities

In the past two days, three very distinctive communities came into my view:

Amish Community

The first one is the Amish community in the U.S, introduced by Professor Dmitri Williams in the Thursday night's class. We watched part of a documentary movie, " Devil's Playground", which depicted this community's lifestyle and beliefs. It was the first time I had heard of this group, and I was very amazed by their existence in modern society, by how they have excluded themselves from modern technology and have tried to fulfill all their social needs from their tight-knit communities and religion.

Chinese American Community

The second one is the Chinese American community in L.A.. Since I got to L.A.last fall, I have spent much time (in a lot of Chinese restaurants) in the San Gabriel area, an area which is packed with many Asian ethnic groups, and Chinese Americans make up a big group here. Even after five months, I still cannot get over the shock and big "WOW" that pops into my mind every time I enter a Chinese restaurant in the area. Every restaurant is full of Chinese people, from first-generation immigrants (or FOBs, as my friends have nicknamed them, for "fresh off the boat") to local Chinese Americans who were born here, they talk in all kinds of Chinese dialects and enjoy a diversity of Chinese cuisine, with more choices than I ever saw in a typical Chinese restaurant in China. When I dine in these restaurants, I always have a moment of doubt of whether I am back in China.

Also, tonight, on my way back from a Chinese restaurant in the Alhambra area, I heard an interesting complaint from a Chinese American friend who grew up in the area. He told me how all the previously existing American supermarkets in the area had been replaced, one by one, by Chinese supermarkets over nearly ten years. These Chinese supermarkets offer you every local authentic Chinese seasoning and everything you need to make you feel life is the same as when you were in China. But as a kid growing up in America, he felt upset that he could no longer find a store nearby to get his favorite American snacks like string cheese and macaroni. As the car passed by a Chinese supermarket, he pointed it out and exclaimed that it was once a Vons supermarket, and the sad part was: when it still existed, it did make an effort in opening an aisle dedicated to Chinese seasonings and foods to cater to the local Chinese customers. But this effort did not save it from being swamped by the Chinese supermarket wave that flooded this area. At that moment, I was very amused by his sad yet funny tone, and I was also really intrigued by how the Chinese community's power in transforming pre-existing areas to adapt to their own culture. I am sure future generations will feel more and more absorbed and assimilated to the main stream American culture, but I am pretty interested in how a culture can preserve itself in a new environment.

China's Wealthiest Village: Huaxi Village

The third example comes from a piece of news I saw showcasing a "model socialism commune" in China, Huaxi village, which claims to be the richest village in China, even richer than many large cities. Even though I grew up in a socialist country, during the years I was growing up, China was experiencing a huge wave of reform and opening. People are encouraged and allowed to have their own private property and to create wealth for themselves through hard work, so seeing this real "socialism community" at Huaxi village and how it worked out sounded like a very novel concept for me.

I found more about this village from this Guardian (UK) article, "In China's richest village, peasants are all shareholders now - by order of the party". Two excerpts from the article bellow will show the very surreal traits of this village:

"Located about 100 miles north of Shanghai in Jiangsu province, Huaxi has been described in the domestic media as both a "paradise" and a "dictatorship". While its residents are nominally richer than any other community, they have less time and freedom to spend their money. Bars and restaurants close before 10pm so that workers do not oversleep. Holidays are scarce. And villagers get little cash from their paper assets. Eighty per cent of their annual bonus and 95% of their dividend must be reinvested in the commune. If they leave the village, this paper wealth disappears. "

"None went as far as Huaxi in combining the strict political control of the ruling Communist party with the get-rich-quick economics of the market - and the results are being hailed as a model for the nation to follow. To demonstrate how good that cocktail is supposed to make the locals feel, "Huaxi Road" is decorated with smiling pictures of every family in the village. Each household's assets are listed in detail: size of the family, value of their property, average level of education, number of members of the Communist party, as well as how many cars, mobile phones, televisions, washing machines, computers, air-conditioning units, motorbikes, cameras, fridges and stereo systems they own. "

Just look at the picture below that shows how uniformly the community is built. Insane, right?

These community models out there seem so fascinating to me, and my head is full of questions about what is behind these different types of communities that make them all work for their local residents, even though they sometimes look so insane and novel to us outsiders?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

When Films Go Social

When I refer to “films going social”, I do not mean films that audiences fervently support on social websites like, nor do I mean film marketing teams promoting film trailers via Facebook. I also do not mean free, viral videos that a friend may send you. Instead I am referring to full-length feature films that normally might play at your local theater but soon, and soon they may be broadcast on the world's largest video social site:

According to
an article from New York Times , YouTube has finally announced its entry into the film rental business today, and will start partnering with five independent films from either last year or this year's Sundance Film Festival. Rentals for these five films will begin this Friday for $3.99 each, and run until the end of this year's Sundance Film Festival. These five movies will serve as the first step in a much larger plan, as more movies can be expected to arrive on the site in the future.

What does this mean for the film industry, and also, for film lovers?

First, as YouTube’s entertainment market manager Sara Pollack said in the
New York Times article, "Only a tiny fraction of the films submitted at Sundance were able to find some form of commercial distribution, and that YouTube would provide a new outlet for independent filmmakers."

I believe that Youtube as a popular platform can offer many independent movies, that otherwise might never find theatrical or home video distribution, a viable way to test themselves in the market or even break through and prove they do have marketable value. And when these independent filmmakers succeed on YouTube, they can then migrate to the big screens.

Second, the article predicts the rental business of YouTube will provide a new model to monetize the current amateur videos on Youtube, meaning a huge database of YouTube short clips may unleash massive revenue streams in the future. More and more amateur video makers may turn into independent film producers, and more democracy and leverage will be handed to netizen film makers.

Third, not only can films benefit, but maybe in the future copyrighted TV show will also come to YouTube to join the rental business. When that day comes, perhaps has already started charging for TV shows and films, as recent rumors have suggested. The competition YouTube has brought into the market can prevent Hulu from dominating and monopolizing.

Last but not least, for film watchers, we will all be able to share our thoughts about movies we watch in real time with so many others who are also watching, similar to how Facebook/CNN’s broadcast of President Obama’s inauguration last year allowed millions of people to watch and comment in real-time. Even though Hulu currently provides commenting functions, due to the limits of its social networking features and small user base, there has never been a comparable real-time commenting phenomenon, but that could be expected in Youtube's future. And when people are watching videos, if they do not want to hear the whispering comments of others, there should also be a function to let people lower the "volume" of live comments so they can enjoy the movie by themselves in their own private setting.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

China's Image Change In American Pop Media

Today, by accident, I stepped in to a GE (general electives) class at USC, and the topic was "The Change of China's Image in American Pop Media" in the past couple of decades, led by Professor Stanley Rosen. When I told him my Chinese name is "Chao" (usually this means nothing but a syllable to most people I meet here) he immediately recognized it as a character from the phrase "Chao Ji Da Guo" (super big country) and "Chao Ren" (super man) as "Chao" means "Super" in Chinese. At the beginning of the class, Professor Rosen briefly introduced the current controversy in China regarding a new Chinese movie about the ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius, which bumped "Avatar" out of movie theaters nearly a month before it was scheduled to officially exit Chinese cinemas. I read this news yesterday on many local Chinese media and Social Network Sites. Professor Rosen's informed understanding of the current situation in China really made me anticipate what the class was going to be about.

In class, a list of clips about Chinese culture and China were chosen from popular American TV shows like The Daily Show, South Park and movies like Sixteen Candles by the professor. These clips have revealed how China's image in American pop media has changed from innocent, and a bit of exotic, in the 1980s to a much more threatening and relentless image today as China rises be to a strong economic power in the world.

Just as China's young generation is exposed to multiple channels of American culture, it was also very nice to see young Americans getting more and more channels to learn Chinese culture such as in academic settings like a university classroom, where they can critically examine these Chinese stereotypes depicted in mainstream media and learn more about this country through a fresh perspective.

The goofy "Chinaman" Long Duk Dong in Universal Pictures movie Sixteen Candles in (1984)

Episode Olympic Nightmare from South Park:

The funniest one is from Russell Peters, the classic "be a man!".

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Collectivism VS Individualism In The Online Communities

The internet has afforded many individuals an easy venue to voice their opinion in the universal human online community, and the massive space and immense tolerance of internet has encouraged a diverse range of opinions. Many people say that internet, especially the social media trends popularized in recent years, has put democracy into common people's hands, and encouraged the presence of individuality online. There is another school of thought that looks at the collectivism side of the internet, and the prospects of how the collectivism of the internet, powered by crowd wisdom created by Google, Wikipedia, and other collective platforms, is crushing individuality online.

Last week, The New York Times featured Jaron Lanier's new book, "You Are Not A Gadget", in which he voices his concern for a "cybernetic totalism" future for our internet and how that would impact our society. In this book, he does not just tap into how the "wisdom of the crowd" could turn into mobs on the internet, but he also boldly predicts the consequences that may be brought by the digitalization of intellectual property. Here is an excerpt from the Times article: "Mr. Lanier is most eloquent on how intellectual property is threatened by the economics of free Internet content, crowd dynamics and the popularity of aggregator sites. “An impenetrable tone of deafness rules Silicon Valley when it comes to the idea of authorship,” he writes, recalling the Wired editor Kevin Kelly’s 2006 prediction that the mass scanning of books would one day create a universal library in which no book would be an island — in effect, one humongous text, made searchable and remixable on the Web." This potential might hurt content producers' individual interests.

I am always fascinated by these visionary insiders in the digital industry and their predictions for the future. Even though it might not really happen, these predictions are definitely proactive and offer one possible future, one where content creators and consumers as well as the policy makers should be prepared for.

Personally, I agree that there are two individualism trends and collectivism trends occurring at the same time in the social media world, and I do not think they have to be conflicting with each other. Instead, they could complement each other if managed properly. A community is usually based upon collaboration to fulfill individual needs, which could be both physical and emotional, and that does not necessarily entail in sacrifice of individuality. The unique color of each individual is a brick in the foundation of the diverse online community world. Even though everyone shares some sort of common identity in the online community world, and maybe a sense of belonging, I think the ultimate purpose for a community is for people to help themselves find their individual existence in it, and to strengthen their existence through giving and taking from the online communities. If not, why would an engaging member of a community care to build up their avatars in the virtual world and earn social status in it just as they do in the real world?
I hope and believe that individuality will find ways to prosper in this collaborative world.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What Do Chinese People Think of Google’s Potential Exit?

Google's office in Beijing, China)

Since Google made a public statement on Tuesday afternoon that it is considering pulling out of the Chinese market due to cyber attacks it suffered from a source originating in China, in the past two days, this incident has drawn huge attention from the global media and society. Many media scrutinized the impact of this incident from every social, economic and political perspective.

At the same time, I am most interested to see what response this incident will spur from the Chinese netizens since from the very moment the news broke out, like most people who are familiar with the Chinese media environment, I am not positive that the Chinese government would budge on the issue of censored searches.

Cries From the Chinese Geek Community

In the past two days, the front pages of Chinese media portals such as and which are under the surveillance of the government, have remained silent about this incident. You might find one or two blog entries commenting on it in obscure corners of their news webpages. However, the incident has sparked a huge wave of responses from many Chinese social media outlets such as forums and bulletin boards, a most popular form of social media in China.

Though there are a certain amount of netizens disapproving of Google’s declaration of war against the Chinese government, thinking that following the local rules and regulations is just natural for companies doing business in foreign countries, but most of the netizens showed sympathy to Google and concerns for their future access to Google products. Netizen Zhang Xuebiao raised a question on a popular forum if people could scale the government's firewall to visit Google in the future, which has resonated with many other Chinese netizens.

Cries were heard from the geeks communities about having to find replacements for Google Maps and Analytics products. Since the news broke out, many Chinese netizens have started to transfer their Google docs and Gmails. Google’s action may set an example for other foreign companies considering whether or not to make huge accommodations for the Chinese market, according to an article by Computer World, but it is not likely that it will attract many foreign technology companies as followers, as the risks and norms of conducting business in China have been well-known for decades.

Various Suspicions about Why Google Is Leaving

At the same time, there is much suspicion from those in China’s technology industry that it is not ideological reasons that are driving Google away, but rather the frustration of reaching business objectives in the past couple of years since Google entered China, just like the frustration it faced from entering other Asian countries like South Korea. According to a China Daily Article “Google [took] about 35 percent of China's search engine market in the fourth quarter of last year, according to domestic research firm Analysys International” and “Google’s major competitor (the local search engine) Baidu had a 58-percent market share in the last quarter”. After about an eventful five year journey in the Chinese market (chart above was taken from China Daily website), is still not seeing any hope of catching up with the its local competitor, Baidu, and the revenue stream it gets from China is still “a small fraction” of its overall revenue, something that it feels it can afford to lose at this moment. But what about Google’s future business potential in China? I wonder if the world’s largest internet user population is a market that Google can really afford to lose.

Many Chinese tech industry bloggers like Chen Jiao feel "Google pulling away its search and email products will hurt the long term business potential of Google by limiting exposure to the company’s entire suite of Google Apps and other future services in the Chinese market." Not to mention the Android phones that Google is ambitious to push into the world market; if Google is on the blacklist of the Chinese government, its prospects in China will be much more unpredictable.

Who Will Be China’s Next “Google Analytics” ?

Okay, enough about Google. For local Chinese tech companies, Google’s leaving might be bad news to some of its local agents and partners, but it is definitely great news for its competitor like Baidu and many Chinese entities who aspire to be the “Chinese Google Analytics” and “Chinese Google Calendar”. There is a long tradition of Chinese tech companies taking over a foreign model and localizing it and gaining huge success from it, for example: from Youtube, from Facebook, and from Twitter, and QQ from ICQ (even though later on QQ evolved past ICQ). Part of the reason for their success is their deep understanding of the local market and their flexibility; also the government’s banning of many original foreign sites has created a greenhouse for these “Chinese versions” to thrive and prosper. But the best way for a company to improve is to face and compete with a strong opponent, and I would feel really bad for these Chinese companies to lose such a valuable competitor even though they might be financially better off in the “intranet” created by the Chinese government. I hope the potential for innovation and the originality of Chinese companies would not be smothered by the exit of such a good competitor.

The Hottest New Online Search Phrase: “Illegal Sending Flowers”

Finally, here comes some fun stuff. According to some local sites like, yesterday, knowing that Google was about to leave the country soon, some Chinese Google lovers have self-organized to go to the Beijing Google Office to present flowers to pay their tributes and farewell to this tech giant. As they were placing flowers in front of Google’s office building, they were banished by security guards working for the tech compound Google’s office was located in, and the guards accused the fans of “illegally sending flowers”. Within the next couple of hours, “illegal sending flowers” has been the hottest searched term in the Chinese internet.

A friend of mine joked that these “illegally sent flowers” must be from the staff of Google’s local competitor Baidu because in the past two days, Google has switched its Chinese site back and forth between the localized and the international, indicating that the company does not seem to have really made up its mind to leave yet; but now since all the farewells and flowers have already been sent, it would be really hard for Google to not go now. (The note in the picture says: Google is The Man)

Monday, January 11, 2010

APOC and Kung Fu

Today, the long awaited APOC program finally started! When I arrived at the class building atSanta Monica in the afternoon, I could not help but peek at the busy people passing by on the street, wondering: is he or she another APOCer? When I entered the classroom, a group of APOCers were already sitting there and revealed themselves to me. This is a very interesting group formed from people from different backgrounds and also with a variety of life experiences, but I am sure we all have something in common, and that is that we are all intrigued by the digital world that is changing at every moment, and that we can picture ourselves as a part of it in the future. I am really looking forward to the dazzling sparks that will emerge when we work with each other in the upcoming year at APOC and hope we can all bond as a tight group just like former APOC groups have. At the same time, it was also great to see Dr. North again and to meet our “very charismatic” lecturer Clinton Schaff. I look forward to getting to know them more in the future.

In our first lecture, we were very lucky to catch Dr. Cole before he left the country. He depicted for us a vibrant picture about traditional media and digital media, and their interactions through a historical perspective. He also passionately shared with us the trends he observed about digital media through tracking the evolution of digital media in the past ten years. He mentioned the consolidation of the newspaper industry and the shrinking of the numbers of newspapers due to the declining spending from advertisers. Dr. Cole also mentioned how media brands are going to be more and more important in the future media world because when people face so many media consumption choices, the trust carried by brand names will be proven to be even more valuable.

Since I entered journalism school in 2004, I have been hearing similar predictions about the fate of newspaper industry and I personally have no doubts about it. But I feel as the overall global audience is more and more attracted to fewer and fewer one-stop sources for news media like the New York Times, and as sources where people get their news become more and more concentrated, there is going to much less variety in news; I wonder how should we prevent these powerful news sources from becoming monopolies that may abuse their influence? Can we still count on them as being the watchdog for our society? Even though social media may have brought a high degree of democracy to the average netizen, and there are more and more citizen-journalist reports online through blogs or other means, they are mostly "parasite-ing" first-hand news reported from professional news agencies. In some cases, citizen journalists will get a piece of the information about the event from the surface, but they usually do not have the resource or energy to spend on producing systematic and investigative news content. So as the journalism as a profession keeps losing their grounds? Who will take their place to be the content provider? Will these genres of content, quality content disappear forever? Will the long tail rules apply to the news content in the digital age? Unfortunately I can not articulate myself well enough in the presence of so many questions, but I eagerly anticipate exploring these issues in further depth in the future..

(Updates: I finally found an outlet for these questions in tonight's Social Dynamics of Communication Technologies class taught by professor Dmitri Williams, a very interesting video shared by Professor Williams has spurred a lively discussion from the APOC group, and many hypothesis were raised and I tend to agree with the one that there should be room in the future for the co-existence of professional journalism and citizen journalism, and professional journalism should find their fundings through other resource besides advertisement. Hopefully this will happen, we will see.)

After class, I wandered a little bit around the area where we had class, and guess what I found? An exclusive Kung-Fu studio in the black ally one block away from the lecturing building: Wing ChunKung-Fu Chinese Martial Arts Academy. I went inside and was told by the staff there that their Kung-Fu master trained Robert Downey Jr. for his action sequences on IRON MAN, and also worked with him for his new movie Sherlock Holmes. I loved Iron Man, but I only remember seeing the big, blocky iron flying around, and can not remember seeing any fist-fights or martial arts action, maybe it is time to watch it again to refresh my memory now.:)