Asian Correspondent » Jon Russell http://asiancorrespondent.com Asian Correspondent Wed, 27 May 2015 15:00:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1 Farewell but not goodbye http://asiancorrespondent.com/66088/farewell-but-not-goodbye/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/66088/farewell-but-not-goodbye/#comments Thu, 29 Sep 2011 03:42:59 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=66088 After more than a year of writing here, this is my final post for Asian Correspondent.

It has been a huge privilege to be part of the most exciting and influential website in Asia, and I’m truly grateful to the those behind the scenes here, James and his editorial team, for the opportunity to come on board and contribute to Asian Correspondent.

I leave the site, and my blog here, to take up the role of Asia Editor at global tech site The Next Web from 3 October.

My new role also sees me leave my day job at Amadeus, which is currently vacant… but not for long I suspect.

With that in mind, if you are interested in a fantastic opportunity as a social media consultant for a multinational company in Bangkok take a look at the JD to find full details of the role.

The chance to join TNW and focus on tech and the web in Asia on a full-time basis for a top fifteen ranked website is one I just couldn’t refuse. As was the case before I wrote for AC, I will remain a huge fan and regular reader.

From next week you can find me at my new home at TNW, predominantly through the site’s Asia channel: thenextweb.com/asia, while I can be hunted down on TwitterGoogle+ and a few other places.

See you around the internetz people.

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Business Report on Ensogo and Thailand’s group-buying industry http://asiancorrespondent.com/65458/business-report-on-ensogo-and-thailands-group-buying-industry/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/65458/business-report-on-ensogo-and-thailands-group-buying-industry/#comments Wed, 21 Sep 2011 03:30:09 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=65458 This month’s issue of Business Report Thailand (BRT) has an excellent article looking at Thailand’s group-buying industry.

I’ve written a fair amount about the scene generally, at ZDNet Asia and for CNNGo last year, but this piece – written by Siam Voices contributor Dan Waites – focuses specifically on Ensogo (recently bought by US giant LivingSocial), looking at how and why the company is leading the market here in Thailand.

I’ve posted a few excerpts below, with the permission of BRT, but have a read of the September issue of the mag for the full story – where you might find a small quote from yours truly.

On Thailand’s group-buying market and the huge gap between Ensogo and the rest:

In Thailand, there’s a striking uniformity about the sites vying for the Kingdom’s online bargain hunters. This is no coincidence, since most are powered by the same off-the-shelf software. Thailand’s offerings have also all done away with the “tipping point” element that is key to Groupon’s model.

In this sink-or-swim market, the cast of players is changing rapidly. At least two earlier entrants, TikTokThai and o.ffer.us are already defunct. Some of the 30-odd incumbents will no doubt join them before long.

Among the most successful sites are Deal Didi, which Google Double Click estimates received 510,000 page views in June 2011; S! Coupon, which managed 290,000; Dealicious, which notched 140,000; and Ncoupon, with 93,000. But none come close to the popularity of Ensogo, which enjoyed an estimated 6.1 million page views the same month.

On building demand/need for and trust of group-buying in Thailand:

Building trust among wary Thai Internet users has been a hard slog for Ensogo, and Tom [Srivorakul, Ensogo MD] remains wary of the effect “cowboy” operators could have on this carefully nurtured market.

“If other daily deals sites come on board and they’re fly-by-night operators, and they just ruin the trust and the education that the top five have spent a lot of capital on trying to build, that would be a real step back.”

An advertising campaign on Bangkok’s Skytrain and plans for Ensogo kiosks – the first is set to open in September at the Siam Center – are aimed at cementing Ensogo’s status as a trusted brand. The strategy seems to be working. “Eighty per cent of our transactions are now on credit card, which is a good sign for us – that we’re earning trust,” says Tom.

On future services tapping into smartphone ownership and 3G:

The consensus is that location-based “instant deals” will be the next big thing. Because of its size and acquisition by LivingSocial, which has already developed the requisite technology, Ensogo will almost certainly be first off the blocks in Thailand with these services.

Says Tom: “I’ll be walking down Silom and I want a massage, for example – stressed out day. I’ll launch my Ensogo app on my mobile phone and I’ll say ‘anything near me right now offering a massage or a spa deal?’ and we’ll say: ‘fifty metres from you, down this soi between 2 and 6pm, there you go, 70 per cent off.”

Still, the company won’t launch the service without full 3G support – and that has been a long time coming in Thailand. “You only have one chance to make a first impression and if you don’t get it right, people aren’t going to use it,” says Tom.

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Internet censorship in Asia http://asiancorrespondent.com/65120/reuters-on-asian-governments-controlling-the-internet/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/65120/reuters-on-asian-governments-controlling-the-internet/#comments Fri, 16 Sep 2011 04:30:38 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=65120 Reuters has a write-up looking at how Asian nations are realising that they cannot control the internet (here).

The article mentions a few obvious characters like China and Singapore with Malaysia, India and South Korea all mentioned too. There is no coverage of Thailand – where use of lese majeste laws is regressing, according to Council of Foreign Relations -, Vietnam – where Facebook is officially blocked, though access remains possible – or other neighbours like Indonesia and the Philippines.

Nonetheless, it is an interesting read, and my pick of excerpts are below:

Comments from Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch:

Governments are committing quite a bit of resources and time to block websites and I think it’s a panic reaction. They have some temporary, immediate discouraging effect but over the longer term, they won’t be effective because people will still find a way to get the news they want to hear.

Once people have been exposed to the Internet and see the power of getting information free to your computer, it’s a very addictive feeling of empowerment.

China:

Even China, which strongly regulates the Internet and is grappling with how to deal with the extremely popular microblogs read by hundreds of millions of its people, is highly unlikely to block them completely.

This is true to a point. However the government has taken recent steps to restrict the freedom of Sina Weibo, while many services remain conscious that there are limits of freedom for discussions and topics.

This article from Reuters – published today – delves into more details illustrating how uneasy the Chinese government is with the growth of microblogs, which are thought to have almost 200 million users today in China.

India:

In India, authorities were taken aback last month when an anti-corruption campaign multiplied on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites and drew tens of thousands of people to protest sites.

Korea:

South Korea heavily filters online content involving North Korea, with which it is still technically at war. But its citizens continue to lobby the government for more access.

Singapore:

Singapore blocks a symbolic list of 100 mostly pornographic sites but does not to bar any site for political content. And despite strict controls on open political discussion, it allowed freewheeling criticism of government policies in the run-up to general elections this year.

I would be cautious claiming that criticism was accepted, when tolerated is perhaps a more apt phrase.

It seems that the government hugely underestimated the role of the internet and social media in the run up to the election. Incumbent candidates began, almost desperately, making use of it once they realised.

The blogosphere is given some freedoms in Singapore. However, the government reclassified a number of political blogs as media, prior to the election campaign, to regain some control over their content.

Malaysia

Neighboring Malaysia pledged in 1996 not to impose controls on the Internet and was rewarded with investments from foreign technology companies such as Microsoft Corp and Cisco Systems.

The decision led to vibrant online political commentary. Analysts say the government had since quietly considered some form of filters on the debate, but decided against it.

Thailand is perhaps a more complicated topic but it does seem remiss not to mention its examples of internet censorship/freedom of speech issues when they made the news regularly over the past few months.

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Twitter targets Asia with support for 5 new languages http://asiancorrespondent.com/65018/twitter-looks-to-asia-with-support-for-5-new-languages/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/65018/twitter-looks-to-asia-with-support-for-5-new-languages/#comments Thu, 15 Sep 2011 03:02:32 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=65018 Twitter has demonstrated how important Asia is for its service by introducing support for five new regional languages.

Chinese (both simplified and traditional), Hindi, Tagalog and Malay are the new additions that will help significant numbers of users across Asia gain access to non-English versions of the service. Each language will have its own dedicated non-English access point and service.

From the company annnouncement:

With these new languages Twitter will now be more easily accessible to almost half a billion people around the world.

Certainly the introduction of Tagalog, Hindi and Malay will go some way to boosting the service’s popularity in these markets, with an eye on more rural/non-urban users who may not be comfortable with English.

The addition of Chinese, in particular, is interesting given that the service remains blocked in China. Of course, there are a great many of Chinese outside of the country.

[UPDATE: it seems that Twitter is working in China, at time of writing, through to an alternative URL, as Penn Olson reports. How long will it be until this new access point is banned though?]

The microblog has adopted a crowd-sourced approach to multi-lingual support which first bore fruit when Indonesian and Dutch were introduced last month, having being developed entirely by volunteers. Remarkably, Twitter has 290,000 volunteer translators, a number that it says continues to grow.

Twitter is not the only social network to adapt its service to Asia. Earlier this month, Foursquare – which has been a notable success across the continenttook its total number of supported languages to 11 with the addition of Bahasa (Indonesian), Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Thai. While Google, Facebook and LinkedIn are just three of the many internet giants to have opened offices across the region in the last 18 months.

These moves are further proof of the growing importance of Asia, a topic I touched on last week, as internet penetration and smartphone usage sees more and more Asians going online.

H/t @LilMsEditor (via Twitter naturally)

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Assessing the growing influence of Asia’s internet http://asiancorrespondent.com/64566/assessing-the-growing-power-and-influence-of-asias-internet/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/64566/assessing-the-growing-power-and-influence-of-asias-internet/#comments Fri, 09 Sep 2011 06:00:54 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=64566 Social Media New Zealand has an excellent guest post from Simon Grigg looking at the rise of Asia online, and how the continent’s growth is likely to see it influence the western world, which has until now been the influencer-in-chief.

Overall, I agree with Simon’s take on things – Asia is gaining greater significance, no doubt – but I do have a few points to add.

While it is clear that Asia today is less dependent on western innovation – or ideas out of Silicon Valley – global brands like Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter still have significant influence. However, Asian tech brands and services are gaining influence and traction in their local and regional markets – Asia is at last beginning to lead itself.

However, the extent to which this will allow it to influence the western web and tech industries remains unclear.

It will be interesting to see how Asian giants like Chinese microblog Sina Weibo – which is attracting western celebs and brands in large numbers – and mobile gaming network Mobbage – which recently launched in the US – fare on the wider global stage.

One key difference in Asia is the significance of mobile devices.

The continent has played ‘leapfrog’, with mobile devices the key platform for the internet experience for so many across the continent, either for financial (versus a PC) or fashion (your mobile is your identity in Asia) reasons.

Back to the original article. I recommend reading the post in full here but have include a few excerpts that I find particularly of interest below (all emphasis is mine).

Social networks here [in Asia] are a fetish, an obsession, and have not even begun to reach their potential. What is an increasing mature market in the West is just teetering on emerging levels here. And almost none of it is in English. Vast amounts of it are not even Roman script. The overwhelming majority of the people connected to the internet in Asia speak little or no English, a percentage that will shrink even more as the Internet rapidly penetrates deeper into the non-urban populations of these countries. There’s a boom in R&D spending in Asia, with China now having five times the numbers of science graduates each year as the United States and trouncing that nation in global reading, maths and science educational standards last year.

It is reasonable to assume, given the market and depth of investment, that next crucial web user-app – the next Facebook or Twitter – may well come from a non-English speaking or non-Western source. Further, it’s reasonable to also assume that one of those two million annual Sino science graduates will perhaps have an idea that makes the iPad look prehistoric in a few years. It’s perhaps more of stretch to assume that they won’t.

In other words, the internet and all that implies is moving towards Asia, and at an extraordinary speed. The fulcrum of the planet is shifting as it does every few centuries. Not only is the conversation changing but also the way it is conducted is quickly mutating into something that may well be unrecognisable to the much of the original internet demographic. The ramifications of this are potentially game changing too. Western cultural icons – the pop stars, the movies and the faces – will no longer dominate. Watching the First World flurry about Charlie Sheen and Rebecca Black from Asia was bemusing – they meant nothing over here.

Side note: Interesting non-tech example of East-meets-West, Nanfang reports that US basketball stars are wearing t-shirts picked up from Chinese college students during a recent off-season tour to the country.

With western stars increasingly tuning into China, might their endorsement be the way for tech/internet firms from Asia to built a foothold into the US and beyond? Sina Weibo could move along these lines, given the way celebrity endorsement first pushed Sina and Tencent’s microblogs to attention in China.

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Why China group buying doesn’t work (even though it could) http://asiancorrespondent.com/64388/why-china-group-buying-doesn%e2%80%99t-work-even-though-it-could/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/64388/why-china-group-buying-doesn%e2%80%99t-work-even-though-it-could/#comments Wed, 07 Sep 2011 07:00:43 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=64388 The following article on China’s group buying site is a guest contribution that is republished (from here) with full permission from our friends over at TechOrange.

If you haven’t already heard of it, be sure to check out and bookmark the site if you’re seeking a look at the tech and start-up scene in Taiwan and China in both English or Chinese. While TO’s Jeremy Brand Yuan is well worth following on Twitter, @jeremybrandyuan.

– – –

Why China group buying doesn’t work (even though it could)

A lot of articles touting the sad state of China’s group buying market have cropped up recently and I am a little surprised. The surprise is not so much that the Chinese market is hurting – any industry with 5,000 competitors built upon a young and shaky business model is likely to hurt – but rather that an idea that was seemingly made for the country does not quite work. The Chinese love a deal and have people aplenty. For all intents and purposes the group buying industry should be healthy. Unfortunately, it’s not.

The stories of fraudulent companies selling bogus deals are common. China’s Ministry of Commerce estimates that 40% of the complaints regarding online shopping are related to group buying alone. Cities have seen group buying-related complaints increase 10-fold from last year. Small wonder things are not going so well. In an industry model that supposedly favors the consumer, China’s consumers are getting sheared.

My surprise is multiplied when I look back at the group buying market in Taiwan, the island perch from where TechOrange writes, and see a much rosier picture. Last month, the industry reported 15% month-on-month revenue growth, following consecutive months of similar growth. To be sure, there is no guarantee that growing revenue means growing profitability, but in our months of covering Taiwan’s group buying market (July June May April), the whole tone seems to be pretty different from that in China. Complaints are few and generally, the tuan-gou phenomenon is well-received.

One need only look at industry grand-daddy Groupon to get a pretty good barometer reading of the contrast. In China, the company is struggling to make a profit and, in the land of the iron rice bowl, is actually laying off employees.

Meanwhile, in Taiwan it presciently acquired Atlas Post to gain the number one position, a move that is paying off as the market grows aggressively. In fact, though revenues are growing, Groupon’s share of the market is actually shrinking. It’s doing a solid job, signing up popular brands and inking creative deals, so for it to do well and still lose ground is unfortunate for the company but indicates a certain vibrancy to the overall market.

Competitors are chipping away and new companies are entering – most recently Yahoo Discounts and Renren’s Nuomi have joined the fray – but not to the point of overcrowding seen in China.

Ultimately, that’s probably the key difference between the two markets.

In China, the problem is not so much that the market is not growing (I am sure that it is), but that no one company has emerged as leader. This encourages many more entrepreneurs to think maybe I can be #1, leading to hordes of companies with very small pieces of a very large pie. The opposite is true in Taiwan: it’s a smaller market with a clear leader, which helps to establish a sense of order in the realm. More order means more credibility and fewer bogus deals, problems that cripple the industry in China, where the charlatans and cheats must be weeded out in order to restore confidence in the model.

In the grand scheme, Taiwan’s 23 million represent a single market in China, but the island serves as an excellent control group to demonstrate that group-buying is viable in China, but a renewed focus on quality is needed. The Chinese are calling for a credible group-buying experience, is the industry listening?

– – –

Tech Orange is a blog that covers tech and startups in Asia: find more at the website, Facebook page and Twitter account.

Image via Want China Times

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Money trading goes mobile in Indonesia http://asiancorrespondent.com/63727/money-trading-going-mobile-in-indonesia/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/63727/money-trading-going-mobile-in-indonesia/#comments Tue, 30 Aug 2011 04:30:31 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=63727 Bloomberg has an interesting article looking at tech in Indonesia suggesting that online stock traders are tapping into mobile to identify new investors among the country’s tech-crazed population.

The article looks specifically at how the iPhone, and other leading mobile devices, and social networks – which are hugely popular in the country – are helping brokers reach out to young people and other demographics.

The growth of mobile Internet, fueled by social networks run by Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc., is likely to quicken as the number of Indonesians with online access jumps to 100 million by 2015 from 45 million currently, according to estimates from the national association of Internet services.

It gives further context on how the country’s economy is booming with positive effects still into Indonesia’s vibrant social media scene:

The Jakarta Composite index (JCI) has gained 3.7 percent this year, compared with a 13 percent drop in the MSCI Asia Pacific Index. That’s made Indonesia the best performer in Asia…The gains have pushed the Jakarta index’s valuation to 15 times estimated earnings, making it the region’s most expensive market.

Still, overseas investors have bought a net $1.66 billion of shares in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy this year to Aug. 26, up 27 percent from the same period in 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The index will rise 12 percent to end the year to 4,300 points, Shin forecast.

“If online trading is already helping brokerages boost share transactions, mobile trading will benefit them even further,” Lily Widjaja, chairwoman of the Indonesian brokerage association, said on Aug. 25. “They can reach out to new customers in remote areas.”

eTrading was the country’s most-active brokerage last year, accounting for 6.1 percent of total transaction volume, data from the Indonesia Stock Exchange show. The company, whose clients make up 15 percent of the nation’s retail investors, introduced the country’s first mobile-trading applications for iPhones and other devices in December.

The combination of economic success, the popularity of smartphones and social media/internet boom in Indonesia makes mobile trading a ideal mix, on paper, but I wonder if many are comfortable, or trust, the medium of mobile for dealing with money and financial issues.

Internet banking has been/still remains a big leap for many, making a transition to mobile is one step further.

Yet in Indonesia and other Asian markets, mobile finance has proven popular, with the GSMA highlighting the progress of Thailand’s True Money service last year. With that in mind, mobile stocks and share management is perhaps another logical step?

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Report: 512 million mobile internet users in Asia by 2015 http://asiancorrespondent.com/63238/report-512-million-mobile-internet-users-in-asia-by-2015/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/63238/report-512-million-mobile-internet-users-in-asia-by-2015/#comments Wed, 24 Aug 2011 04:00:07 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=63238 Regular readers will recall how I’ve often lamented how the failure of certain web analytics firms to include mobile internet usage in their statistics renders their research and data fairly useless in Asia. To help prove my point, eMarketer has an neat data set looking at the use of mobile internet in the content.

Quick reminder: Asia is the continent where mobile internet access is the most significant, as Pingdom pointed out last year with this chart putting Asia on top, based on its share of web usage from mobile devices.

To confirm the small print, the data takes into account “mobile users of any age who access the internet from a mobile browser or installed application at least once a month”. It does not include SMS, MSS or mobile IM usage.

It remains unclear how, or to what extent, eMarketer have access to all mobile internet usage data across Asia while its predictions are of course all of its own, and not cut in stone. The 5% leap in mobile internet access between 2010 and 2011 demonstrates the potential of a medium which is tipped by many to become the primary access point for the internet for so many in Asia, particularly given that the cost of internet access is prohibitive to many as Ovum research recently found.

The chart plots a consistently strong growth in mobile phone owners in the continent with a less modest, but still impressive, growth of mobile internet users.

Its final prediction (that of 42.1%), that of mobile users will access the internet from their device, would give Asia 511,851,800 mobile users in 2015, which would more than triple the 117,353,600 users recorded in 2010.

Last year, British analyst firm Mobile Squared predicted that Asia would boast more than 1.4 billion mobile internet users in the same time frame (by 2015). Of course, any future gazing like this requires estimation of both the number of handsets and number of active mobile internet users, leaving considerable room for difference.

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Facebook’s ‘mini-revolution’ gains momentum in Burma http://asiancorrespondent.com/62732/facebooks-mini-revolution-gaining-momentum-in-burma/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/62732/facebooks-mini-revolution-gaining-momentum-in-burma/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2011 04:00:52 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=62732 Dedicated Burmese news and media site Mizzima has a fascinating article on Facebook’s “mini-revolution” in the country.

The last two years have seen Facebook grow to dominate the social media scene in numerous Southeast Asian countries (as this infographic from Burson Marsteller Asia demonstrates) with the social network fighting off local competition in markets like Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and more.

Comparatively little is known, or reported, of the social network in military-controlled Burma, with Facebook itself not listing the country (as Burma or Myanmar) in its measurement database, though the article estimates that approximately 80 per cent of Burma’s 500,000 internet users have an account. Of the remaining 20 per cent, the article believes there is interest but a combination of lack of access and understanding prevent more sign-ups.

Before we start heralding the revolution, Egypt or Syria style, it is worth recalling that just 1 per cent of the population in Burma are thought to have access to the internet.

Despite this limitation, Facebook has made its way into the political environment. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) has a page on the social network (here) with more than 3,000 fans, while a separate page of Suu Kyi (here – though not run by her) has more than 380,000 fans – though presumably the local content of the NLD page attracts mainly Burmese users unlike its well known leader’s page.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy political party makes use of Facebook. Pic: AP.

But for everyday folk, what benefits does Facebook bring?

For those who are connected, Facebook serves a number of functions—dissemination of news, organizing activities, meeting friends, free advertisements for private businesses, and for the exchange of technology.

The connection to the world outside of Burma, and less restricted media, is a key factor:

Viewing and swapping news from home and abroad is one of the reasons for Facebook’s popularity. Exile media Web sites are blocked by the government and the law prohibits Internet cafes from logging into these sites—unless users get around this using a proxy site, the normal practice. But Facebook is open and so news gets passed around.

Like countless other countries, Facebook’s growing popularity is fuelled by games and keeping in touch with family overseas and sharing photos.

On the future of Facebook in Burma, the rise of mobile is cited as a key factor such is the scarcity of internet access, and an important provider of freer, less restricted usage in the country:

Facebook…is beginning to pop up on mobile phones. GSM phone subscribers could use the Internet on their mobiles starting from June 21. About 100,000 people applied for these GSM phones.

The article is an excellent read but I do disagree with the conclusion that “Zuckerberg of Facebook might not be impressed by the numbers in this country of 60 million”.

Far from just the numbers, I would imagine that given how complicated (and notoriously restricted) market that Burma is, Facebook’s progress and potential to develop increased communication both inside and outside of the country would excite Zuckerberg and Facebook just as much as hitting major milestones in the world’s key markets.

The internet is about improving communication and, though moving at a gradual speed, the internet and Facebook are making positive inroads in this tricky market.

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Cost of broadband still beyond many in Asia http://asiancorrespondent.com/62543/cost-of-broadband-still-beyond-much-of-emerging-asia/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/62543/cost-of-broadband-still-beyond-much-of-emerging-asia/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2011 06:30:35 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=62543 I’ve often talked about a “digital divide” in Asia and research from Ovum provides further fuel for the fire concluding that many customers in emerging markets are priced out of broadband internet.

Via the write-up at Telecom Asia:

(The) study of prices in countries including Malaysia, the Philippines, India and Pakistan found that prices have fallen in most markets since 2010. But consumers in emerging markets are still paying far more for fixed and wireless broadband than their mature market counterparts.

Senior analyst Richard Hurst said pricing, coupled with the lower GDP per capita, mean that “broadband is only available to the highest socioeconomic groups.”

This doesn’t even reflect the cost of purchasing the necessary hardware for broadband. Smartphones, laptops and tablets are becoming more affordable but, for precisely the reasons outlined above, they remain out of reach for many.

Away from broadband, internet access is growing thanks to basic mobile internet access through regular phones or budget smartphone devices.

Mobile remains the big hope for extending internet access in developing markets such as Asia

The style of post-pay, minimum contract tariffs which are commonly used for broadband by ISPs goes against Asia’s overwhelming pre-pay culture – which is particularly strong amongst the less affluent. Those in emerging countries are far more likely to go with mobile internet on prepay which is becoming stronger through flexible mobile operator pricing and tariffs.

Mobile will be a key driver of internet in Asia but broadband, and broadband-like technology, has the potential to be a real game-changer by providing a far better user experience, and making the internet more useful for those in developing markets that can make use of better communications, access to information, learning opportunities and more.

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More details on Norawase Yospiyasathien, Thailand’s youngest lese majeste arrest http://asiancorrespondent.com/62540/more-details-on-norawase-yospiyasathien-thailands-youngest-lese-majeste-arrest/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/62540/more-details-on-norawase-yospiyasathien-thailands-youngest-lese-majeste-arrest/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2011 03:00:30 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=62540 More than a week has passed since Kasetsart graduate Norawase Yospiyasathien became the youngest (documented) person to be arrested on lese majeste charges after being controversially reported to authorities by the university’s deputy rector, Nipon Limlamtong, and more details of the case have emerged through media reports.

I speculated in my original post that the charges and alleged comment may have taken place a while ago, and indeed the initial charge was filed almost a year ago (October 2010) as IFEX explains.

After three nights in prison the man was released on bail after his parents posted a land title of around 500,000 baht (circa US$17,000). IFEX also looks at the reaction which this controversial case has drawn from the academic community and Thailand at large:

The role of the deputy rector in Norawase’s case has prompted the launching of a signature campaign by academics and activists who are opposed to the move.

A webpage that includes writings by academic Jiles Ungpakorn was also launched…On the webpage, Jiles condemned Kasetsart University’s behaviour as censorship and criticized the repression of academic freedom in Thailand.

On the events that led to his reporting and subsequent arrest, University World News indicates that well-known online group Social Sanctions (SS) – which has at times performed like a virtual vigilante, publishing contact details and private information about political and social opponents to its members – may have played a part:

Norawase was apparently ‘witch hunted’ by a Facebook group calling itself the Social Sanction (SS) group, according to his father. His name, photos, personal address and numbers were posted online, and he was heavily criticised by members of the SS group.

On their Facebook page, the group – sometimes described as ‘ultra-royalist’ – states that its objectives are “to increase public awareness of corruption and create pressure to combat it and to stop the crime of lese majeste”. They add: “Only those with the courage to face the evil will rise to protect and serve the kingdom and the monarchy for the brighter future of Thailand.”

On Norawase’s arrest they wrote triumphantly “another one is down”. Norawase is the first student to face lèse-majesté charges, but the group has also targeted other students.

Although it is not clear if they were members of the SS group, students who tipped off Kasetsart deputy rector Nipon may have been members of similar self-styled online vigilante groups.

With more than 12,000 'fans' the Social Sanctions page is the largest of many online vigilante groups troubling Thailand

The article goes on to tell a quite disturbing story of how the group previously intimidated and hijacked a young student who was interviewing at a number of universities in Bangkok:

Last year Natthakarn Sakuldarachart, a politically-active high school student from Ratchaburi in central Thailand, failed to enter Kasetsart University despite having passed the admissions examination. The SS group threatened that if she showed up for the admissions interview, she would be beaten up. She decided not to attend the interview.

Natthakarn, a user of the Semesky online forum which some regard as ‘subversive’ for its outspoken views, told University World News she was also denied admission to Silpakorn University, which claimed her political views were disrespectful of the monarchy and therefore “not in line with university policy”.

The article cites Thammasat University law lecturer Sawitree Suksri who “described the… group’s method as “vicious” and “irrational” and a form of online violence that parallels the real-life violence in Thailand”.

The group has been active in Thailand before the Bangkok political protests in 2010, gaining notoriety for its often aggressive and brutal tactics. Interestingly Khun Sawitree suggests that “the ongoing Social Sanction phenomenon appeared to have the support of the Thai authorities”.

Given what a hot potato lese majeste is in Thailand, it is perhaps not surprising (but certainly disappointing) to see that the group and past incidents have not gained substantial attention in the media or political arena.

Political Prisoners in Thailand summarises the political implications and influences:

We think it highly likely that the Yingluck Shinawatra government is being “tested” by royalists. The latter wish to ensure that the regime of lese majeste repression continues and hence will likely push for more prosecutions, so that the Yingluck administration will need to respond with acts of “loyalty.”

So far, the outlook on lese majeste remains bleak.

UPDATE: by coincidence this morning Saksith over at fellow AC blog SiamVoices has this post on Norawase which touches on wider lese majeste issues.

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Singapore election candidates escape with warning for Facebook comments http://asiancorrespondent.com/62308/singapore-election-candidates-escape-with-warning-for-cooling-off-day-facebook-comments/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/62308/singapore-election-candidates-escape-with-warning-for-cooling-off-day-facebook-comments/#comments Fri, 12 Aug 2011 04:30:46 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=62308 Though the country’s election was held in April this year, Singaporean police have finally taken action following an incident which saw (now MP but) then electoral candidate Tin Pei Ling’s team post a message to her Facebook page on a dedicated no campaigning “cooling off ” day.

Police issued a “stern warning” to Miss Tin and her friend, Denise He, who managed the page during campaigns, for the unlawful message after it was accepted that it was posted by accident, having been meant for He’s own personal Facebook account.

At the time, the posting caused considerable controversy as the comment – which was subsequently deleted – contained a reference to Miss Tin’s rival candidate Nicole Seah, who had previously cried in public during campaigning as this Asia One article explains:

Miss Seah also took offense over a remark that was posted with Miss Tin’s Facebook account on Cooling Off Day, in response to a video that showed Miss Seah crying after being told about a Macpherson female resident who could not get a refund of her son’s $80 tuition fees.

Seah was seen crying in public twice over this incident when she was at a walkabout in Macpherson, and again when she recalled the encounter during a rally. The comment made on Miss Tin Facebook account was in response to the incident.

Miss Seah complained about the posting despite the fact that, during cooling off day, her Facebook page also received a message, although police have also accepted this incident as a mistake.

From Straits Times:

On the other hand, the police accepted the explanation of a volunteer who made a Facebook post on behalf of National Solidarity Party (NSP) candidate Nicole Seah, barely a minute after the start of Cooling-off Day.

Common sense triumphed as neither candidate faces serious repercussions but – with social media set to be a key communications channel in future elections – we can expect that this type of incident will not be treated lightly in the future.

Candidates will surely exercise greater caution in the knowledge that the implications of posting on cool off day could be severe, even in the event of an accidental posting.

But with more candidates set to make use of social media in the next election, anything can – and probably will – happen.

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Indonesia: 87% of Twitter usage is mobile… and more http://asiancorrespondent.com/62109/focus-on-social-media-in-indonesia-87-of-twitter-usage-is-mobile-more/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/62109/focus-on-social-media-in-indonesia-87-of-twitter-usage-is-mobile-more/#comments Wed, 10 Aug 2011 03:57:36 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=62109 Indonesian social media analytics firm Saling Silang this week released its report on the country’s social media landscape over the first half of the year.

Though explicitly related to Indonesia and local trends the report, which can be seen in slideslide deck here, contains a wealth of interesting details, some of which I’ve picked out below.

Twitter

  • 86.9% of tweets are sent via mobile phones, with just 12% of messages published from the web
  • BlackBerry is by far and away the dominant phone for Twitter users, evidenced by Ubersocial (a popular Twitter app) and the official BlackBerry app the most used platforms for Twitter users
  • Indonesia is estimated to produce 15% of all tweets, making it the third most active country on Twitter
  • A estimated total of 3.8 million Indonesians are active on Twitter per month, posting 53,880 tweets per hour
  • Twitter usage peaks on weekends in Indonesia, and during mornings and evenings
  • Jakarta is the most Twitter users (13.3% of activity), but the service is used extensively away from the capital

Other

  • With almost 40 million users, Indonesia is the second biggest Facebook market behind only USA (note: India is fast catching and will likely overtake both soon)
  • There is also mention of the Indonesian blogosphere and a brief  look at the progress of Google Plus in the country

Interestingly, Saling Silang has announced its own Twitter site – which is not an app but instead a site optimised for mobile… naturally given the behaviours within Indonesia.

The app can be accessed at http://tuitwit.com and its features – which include scheduling and multiple account support – are designed for young Twitter users in Indonesia.

Check out the deck here for full details, while a couple of the more pertinent slides are below:

Twitter usage in Indonesia H1 2011

Twitter platforms used H1 2011
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Infographic: China’s microblogging giants sized up http://asiancorrespondent.com/61895/infographic-chinas-microblogging-landscape-visualised/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/61895/infographic-chinas-microblogging-landscape-visualised/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2011 05:00:59 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=61895 Chinese microblogging is a topic rarely off the radar in Asia, and recently its role in overcoming censorship and information bureaus in reporting the Wenzhoubar train crash garnered considerable interest.

With that in mind, the infographic below (via TechCrunch), from competitive intelligence agency Digimind, comparing the country’s leading Weibo (microblogging) providers Sina and Tecent will be of interest to many.

So which one is ahead?

Though from TechCrunch’s Rip Empsom:

While Digimind has Sina Weibo as the clear leader in China’s microblogging space, Tencent is certainly not to be dismissed, as it is growing exponentially, has an integrated, multi-level platform from which to channel users into its Weibo, and is spending millions on marketing to bring new users to its service.

That being said, those who I spoke to at Digmind, along with sources in China (as well as iChinaStock) all agree that Sina Weibo likely outranks Tencent in terms of the quantity of active users as well as the quality. With Sina owning 57 percent of the Chinese microblogging market and finding high adoption among Chinese celebrities (not to mention have a relatively stable platform without a lot of downtime), Sina looks like the clear frontrunner. Not to mention that the company acquired“weibo.com” and “weibo.cn” — two fairly important domain names for a company looking to dominate the weibo market. Plus, they’re just easier to remember.

Those wanting further information about Weibos are advised to turn to iChinaStock, whose number include editor-in-chief and product manager Kai Lukoff – co-founder of the excellent China-focused tech blog Tech Rice – who published a comprehensive look at the two giants of Weibo (microblogging in China), Sina and Tencent earlier this year.

As I asked back in June, how long will it be until not just Tom Cruise, Liverpool FC, swimmers Tom Daley and Michael Phelps and others are part of Chinese social media sites but other international celebrities and brands looking to crack into China?

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Kasetsart graduate is Thailand’s latest lese majeste arrest http://asiancorrespondent.com/61891/kasetsart-graduate-is-thailands-latest-lese-majeste-arrest/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/61891/kasetsart-graduate-is-thailands-latest-lese-majeste-arrest/#comments Mon, 08 Aug 2011 01:30:04 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=61891 Friday saw a 23-year-old man become the latest Thai citizen to be arrested on lese majeste charges, said to have defamed the country’s monarchy, following entries to his blog while he was a student at Kasetsart University in Bangkok.

[NOTE: an update can be found on the situation including the man’s name, details, bail etc can be found here]

The identity of the man has been withheld, and all that is known of him is his education – as it plays a significant part in his arrest – and that he was (initially) refused bail. His parents are said to have made a fresh appeal on Sunday but it remains unclear, right now, whether there has been an update.

It is worth bearing in mind how lese majeste charges are filed – it takes only one complaint to be lodged before a charge is levied and a decision is made on pursuing it – before reading both Prachaitai (in Thai) and The Nation who have an account of how charges developed:

The person who filed the charge was said to be a vice rector for students affairs, who reportedly said he was pressed to file the charge by the University Council and that the complaint was filed in a bid to protect the university’s “reputation”.

But, as The Nation continues, it seems that the comments were either made a while ago or the man is a very recent graduate of the university:

The man made remarks on his blog that were allegedly offensive to the monarchy while he was a senior student at the university. These were apparently first spotted by fellow students, prachatai.com reported.

Lese majeste has been in the news of late with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) recently voicing its “concern” around the continued imprisonment of journalist and political activist, Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, former editor of key red shirt media Voice of Taksin and Red Power, who has been detained since April.

While equally, Thai-born US citizen, Joe Gordon, continues to be held awaiting further developments on the lese majeste charges he faces, he was arrested on in May – the latest developments of which are regularly updated at Prachatai.

One month prior to Gordon’s arrest, a report from Freedom House downgraded Thailand’s internet freedom of speech to ‘not free’, aligning it with China, Vietnam, Tunisia, Iran, Burma and other censorship-heavy states.

Enter Yingluck

The arrest might give Thailand watchers an early glimpse at how new Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra intends to address lese majeste, and freedom of speech in Thailand, as developments this year have seen a further increase in the number of cases reported.

Despite the change at the top, the potential for lese majeste reform remains unclear.

It remains unclear whether new Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra can stop the abuse of lese majeste cases that are impacting freedom of speech in Thailand

Yingluck has stated her concern but, speaking in interviews before this year’s election as a candidate, she answered vaguely which is no surprise given that the issue is a real political hot potato.

In the words of two fellow AC bloggers:

Bangkok Pundit:

If BP’s memory serves BP correctly, the last time that lese majeste law was amended was in the 1970s by a military/military-installed government so don’t expect any amendments immediately because to do so will just invoke Thaksin-wants-to-overthrow-the-monarchy-argument.

And Saksith Saiyasombut at Siam Voices, who saw Yingluck respond to the question at a press conference:

Question: “Do you have any plan to change the 112 law?”

Answer:  ”No, for me, I don’t have any idea to change the 112. I would not reform it, because it is not my policy and also this is an issue which is quite sensitive so we have to leave it to the people who have expertise to comment on that. I don’t want to see the misuse of this law regarding his majesty.”

While Saksith comments:

Even thinking about amending Article 112 would give their enemies an opportunity to paint the Pheu Thai Party and the red shirt movement (since they’re all under Thaksin anyway, from their point of view) as anti-royalist. One has to question how the next government will reduce the misuse of this law without any form of change in one way or another…?

It is important to note, as Bangkok Pundit does, that those reported in the media are not the only lese majeste cases ongoing in Thailand as a great many come and go without comment in the press.

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The potential of social media for schools & universities in Asia http://asiancorrespondent.com/61604/the-potential-of-social-media-for-schools-universities-in-asia/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/61604/the-potential-of-social-media-for-schools-universities-in-asia/#comments Wed, 03 Aug 2011 04:35:13 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=61604 I have a post looking at the potential of social media for educational organisations in Asia on the Hong Kong Polytechnic University blog at Asian Correspondent.

Social media in Asia watchers may be interested to read about the example of Professor Michael Netzley at the Singapore Management University who makes excellent use of digital media both as a learning subject and tool to engage his students.

Both Netzley and SMU may be familiar to many as he and his students are the ones behind the hugely successful Digital Media Asia Wiki, which I blogged about when it first launched and when it added Thailand, and other regional markets, to its list of countries covered.

The SMU's digital media Asia wiki is an excellent example of how educational organisations can make use of the internet and social media to encourage learning and development

The issue of digital and technology in Asia is one that has added momentum in Thailand as the country’s new government pushes forward with ambitious plans to equip all public schools with free WiFi access and one tablet PC for each student.

For more details of how I believe social media can be used in education, why not check out the full article over here.

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New Thai govt embarks on free WiFi and tablets for schools program http://asiancorrespondent.com/61500/new-thai-government-embarks-on-free-wifi-tablets-for-schools-program/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/61500/new-thai-government-embarks-on-free-wifi-tablets-for-schools-program/#comments Tue, 02 Aug 2011 04:30:42 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=61500 Thailand’s new government, led by the Pheu Thai party, wasted no time pushing ahead with one of its more unique pre-election pledges, to equip schools and students with tablet PCs and free WiFi.

The Bangkok Post has more details:

The new Pheu Thai-led government wants the winners of the next third-generation (3G) licence auction to make broadband and WiFi service available to schoolchildren.

The requirement will accommodate the party’s One Tablet per Child policy and free WiFi under universal service obligation conditions, says Pichai Naripthaphan, a party policymaker.

Mr Pichai, who is in the running to be the new information and communications technology (ICT) minister, said the new government was determined to start delivery of the first batch of 800,000 tablets to primary-school students nationwide next May at a cost of 4 billion baht. For the project to succeed, a nationwide broadband and WiFi network must be available in schools, he said.

With 3G in the pipeline for more than three years, and still on the cusp of being rolled out, the general rule of thumb with providing technology in Thailand is patience, patience and more patience.

In principle I am a big fan of the (so-called) One Tablet per Child policy which has the potential to help break down Thailand’s digital divide and provide access to, and an understanding of, the internet for young children who might not otherwise get the chance until much later.

The measure is also aimed at digitalising and enhancing the curriculum across the country.

According to Pichai, the tablets will be priced around $100 with the Education Ministry set to “head the project” up.

It has been more than five years since Nicholas Negroponte embarked on the critically acclaimed ‘one laptop per child’ project which brought basic $100 wind-up laptops to children in developing regions.

Last year the Indian government unveiled a $35 prototype tablet PC which it hailed as “the answer” to Negroponte’s earlier efforts.

It will be interesting to watch the development of the project, can the government really stick to its 4 billion THB budget on this?

And Thailand being Thailand, will the contracts and deals be scrutinised to prevent malpractice or dodgy dealings?

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Twitter confusion causes diplomatic incident between Malaysia and Philippines http://asiancorrespondent.com/61501/twitter-confusion-causes-diplomatic-incident-between-malaysia-philippines/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/61501/twitter-confusion-causes-diplomatic-incident-between-malaysia-philippines/#comments Mon, 01 Aug 2011 20:33:38 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=61501 Social media is so often an excellent resource for media; however, it has been acknowledged that leads and information cannot always be guaranteed on this platform. Any media developing stories from leads revealed on social media should always check their facts before jumping to conclusions.

The Philippines and Malaysia have just witnessed an incident which highlights the responsibility that the media have in fact-checking information and the chaos and confusion that not doing so can cause.

Yesterday afternoon, a fake Twitter account (named @BikMama2U) set up to imitate the “Husband of the Prime Minister of Malaysia” sent a message on Twitter which stated Malaysian opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, to be “pro Christian” and labelled Philippine national hero, Jose Rizal, an “infidel Malay”. The tweet tagged a number of other Twitter users including Dato Zainab (@datozainab), the wife of Dr Ibrahim Saad, Malaysia’s Ambassador to the Philippines, and Ibrahim himself.

Details of the message come from ABS CBN News:

The offensive tweet states, “@BikMama2U: @datozainab Biasala tu, @anwaribrahim mmg pro-Kristian, pemuja Jose Rizal si Melayu kafir tu! Oh ya, jgn lupa.”

A rough translation of the tweet sent by @BikMama2U to @datozainab means “That’s usual. Anwar Ibrahim is clearly pro-Christian, an admirer of Jose Rizal the infidel Malay! Oh yes, don’t forget…”

Zainab replied with “Inshaallah,” or “God willing,” which Muslims sometimes use as a way to shrug off a question.

Rather than simply replying with a one-off message, Zainab responded quoting the tweet with her dismissive message “Inshaallah” at the start of the tweet. Yet it remains unclear how local reporter Jarius Bondoc of the Phil Star, misconstrued the messages and interpreted it as coming from Zainab, the ambassador’s wife. But subsequently, after doing so, he went on write a column about the ‘incident‘, claiming that Zainab had insulted both Anwar Ibrahim and Jose Rizal.

After an initial shock at the allegations and having read the news report, Zainab issued a series of  Twitter responses to clear her name which included the following:

While her husband, Dr Saad, used Twitter to clear the issue up:

Unfortunately, the damage had already been done as Bondoc’s article spread across the web.

The article saw former Philippines president, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, weigh into the argument posting a statement on his website that included the following comments about Zainab:

“It appears that in her desire to insult Anwar, she also effectively insulted our national hero Jose Rizal and the Filipino people who regard him with reverence.”

“We must remember that regardless of religion, we are all Asian brothers. Our attitude must be towards strengthening our Malay ties and building our Asian community instead of using religious diversities to sow hatred among nations or ostracize political adversaries.”

At the same time Anwar Ibrhaim, whose Twitter handle was mentioned in the message, jumped into the saga by reposted the Phil Star article to his personal website and tweeting the link to his 70,000 plus Twitter followers.

What followed next was a barrage of criticism aimed at Zainab who patiently responding stating her innocence and asking Twitter users to review her timeline for proof that she had not made the comments.

The whole sorry mess is a result of sloppy work from Bondoc who leapt to a sensational (and incorrect) conclusion based on a couple of tweets which he misread.

The incident goes onto show the importance of fact-checking information received through social media. Not only is Bondoc at fault, however, both Ibrahim and Estrada were wrong to jump into the mess based only on Bondoc’s article. It is clear that neither of them/their teams actually looked up the original messages. Had they done so, and checked Dato Zainab’s Twitter timeline, they would have seen her comment highlighting the mistake.

Both jumped into the action and acted to position themselves as the protectors of their respective countries’ reputations, but it has backfired and made both of them look very silly and naive, alongside Bondoc.

None of the trio are yet to issue an apology, nor have the articles been removed, despite the fact that the truth behind the incident has emerged with ABS CBN News amongst other media to have clarified the issue.

How long will take for them to respond? And will there be repercussions for Bondoc?

Update: I have corrected a few details – the fake account was labelled as belonging to the husband of the Malaysian PM, while Ibrahim Anwar is the leader of the opposition in Malaysia not in the Philippines, of course.

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The rise of social media in China http://asiancorrespondent.com/61403/baring-train-crash-social-medias-growing-role-reporting-fact-in-china/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/61403/baring-train-crash-social-medias-growing-role-reporting-fact-in-china/#comments Mon, 01 Aug 2011 03:30:39 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=61403 China has long fought to manage the amount of communication published online. The recent Wenzhoubar train crash, which saw 39 people lose their lives, is being been cited as a landmark in the changing face of the Chinese web which is seeing government officials battling to control the message amongst social media platforms – with the near 200 million microblog users forming the biggest challenge.

Initially, after the crash took place, government officials fought hard to maintain control of the message and updates from the crash site only to see the story retold to the country through social media. Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao suffered criticism after citing ill-health as the reason for his late reaction, despite looking healthy to many microbloggers.

Discussion of the implications of the event and the manner in which online word of mouth overpowered China’s censorship bureau is being picked up in a number of noteworthy articles.

Key discussion points are excerpted below:

From The New York Times:

The swift and comprehensive blogs on the train accident stood this week in stark contrast to the stonewalling of the Railways Ministry, already stained by a bribery scandal. And they are a humbling example for the Communist Party news outlets and state television, whose blinkered coverage of rescued babies only belatedly gave way to careful reports on the public’s discontent.

While the blogs have exposed wrongdoers and broken news before, this week’s performance may signal the arrival of weibos as a social force to be reckoned with, even in the face of government efforts to rein in the Internet’s influence.

The government censors assigned to monitor public opinion have let most, though hardly all of the weibo posts, stream onto the Web unimpeded. But many experts say they are riding a tiger. For the very nature of weibo posts, which spread faster than censors can react, makes weibos beyond easy control. And their mushrooming popularity makes controlling them a delicate matter.

Malcolm Moore in the Daily Telegraph looks specifically at the role microblogging is playing in challenging the government’s control of information:

The emergence of Sina Weibo, a clone of the Western website Twitter that allows 200 million Chinese to post their thoughts in real time, has resulted in a deluge of information the government is finding difficult to control.

“Thousands of web users were posting real eye-witness accounts, photos, videos. Traditional media, including solid professional outfits as well as the party media, have been using Weibo to aggregate and share information,” said David Bandurski, a researcher at the China Media Project in Hong Kong. “Ordinary users, journalists, writers, lawyers, academics, intellectuals, a broad swathe of people, have been digging out old media coverage that illuminates these recent events.”

Shi Anbin, a professor of media studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing, said the availability of information on Weibo had helped mainstream media to push the boundaries and caused the public to lose confidence in the government.

Weibo is amplifying information the government does not announce. There is pressure from these grassroots [for the media to be more critical]. CCTV has heard the message. I think the leadership has acknowledged it too,” he said.

The NYT provides further details on microblogs, looking at how those in China provide greater challenge to censors.

In some ways, the Chinese weibos replicate their Western counterparts: they limit posts to 140 characters (though in Chinese, where many characters are words by themselves, much more can be said). Posts can be re-tweeted, too, although in China, tweeting is called knitting, because the word “weibo” sounds like the word for scarf.

There are also differences. Bloggers can comment on others’ posts, turning a message into a conversation. Users also can include photographs and other files with their posts, to telling effect: on Thursday, fact-checking bloggers posted photos of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s recent official activities to counter his assertion at a Wenzhou news conference that illness had kept him from visiting the disaster site earlier.

While Western social networks like Twitter and Facebook are blocked here, their Chinese counterparts thrive, largely because their owners consent to government monitoring and censorship — and perhaps because the government fears the reaction should it shut them down. The outpouring over the rail tragedy appears to have enjoyed at least some official approval; many analysts believe the government sees microblogs as a virtual steam valve through which citizens can safely vent complaints.

If needed, the weibos have literally dozens of electronic levers they can press to dilute, hide or delete offending posts, according to one Tencent Web editor who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of dismissal in disclosing that information. Yet the weibos also play cat and mouse with the censors.

“If we did not have any free speech then this company would not have any influence, so the company must act proactively to safeguard our space,” he said. “So that’s why they must go through this process of bargaining with the government departments.”

And even dedicated censors find the weibos hard to restrain. Government minders can electronically delete posts with offending keywords like “human rights” and “protest.” But like Twitter, the ability to instantly forward posts to dozens of fellow users means that messages can spread, well before censorship orders can be implemented.

Finally, Channel 4 news provides thoughts on the significance of new media and how events were reported online:

Not ‘Tiananmen 2.0′

But former CNN China Bureau Chief Rebecca MacKinnon, who is also a co-founder of the international blogging community Global Voices, cautioned against seeing this as “the next step towards Tiananmen 2.0″ – partly because the social media sites are still controlled by the state.

She said the government allows debate to go only so far, before it clamps down. For example, while criticism of individual incidents or officials can go through, this is halted when there is any wider call for political change or democracy.

“For instance, people tried to use the same tools to organise protests to echo the revolutions in the Middle East. That failed miserably,” she told Channel 4 News.

In fact, the central government can in a way pander to its population by acting on some of their lesser, local demands – while maintaining its national political grip.

“The situation is the internet enables a lot more public debate without the government having to change the fundamental political or legal structure. So you could make the argument that this will enable the Communist Party to stay in longer,” she said.

She concluded: “One of the things we jump to assume is because local officials are having their heads handed to them as a result of microblogging is that this is the next step towards Tiananmen 2.0. I would caution against making that assumption.”

It is clear that there is an uneasy relationship between allowing microbloggers to ‘vent’ and allowing the platform to be used to undercut messages and statistics from the state.

The train crash tragedy is just another event which has provided to be an example of the ways in which social media is battling China’s rigid control of information.

While there was much talk of the Jasmine Revolution last year, the event never took place – down media hype, a lack of popularity, timing or government intervention perhaps – but clearly the government is more than aware of the potential that microblogging and internet reporting has, and it will be interested to see how future events and communication is affected by the knowledge that the truth really is out there, in real-time, in China.

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Is 2011 the year Asia’s iPhone Nano rumours finally come true? http://asiancorrespondent.com/61340/is-2011-the-year-asias-iphone-nano-rumours-finally-come-true/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/61340/is-2011-the-year-asias-iphone-nano-rumours-finally-come-true/#comments Sun, 31 Jul 2011 03:00:12 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=61340 It’s that time of the year when rumours of the latest, upcoming iPhone device and its spec begin popping up across the web. Thanks to the fact that the devices are built in the region, Asia is generally the place where information, rumours, tidbits and unofficial pics of the devices crop up.

For example, last week alone saw two separate leaks from Asia relating to the iPhone 5 which is rumoured to be launching this September.

Gizmodo rounds the rumours up below:

Phone 5 cases leak in China

iPhone 5 cases reportedly showed up in China only a couple days ago and since then they have pretty much taken over mainland China, with new leaks popping up just about everywhere. The iPhone 5 cases were supposedly based on blueprints sent to a third party case manufacturer so they could prep accessories for the upcoming launch of the phone. As expected, we saw what appeared to be a larger display (approximately 4-inches).

iPhone 4S lands in Vietnam

From the team that brought us leaked pictures of the iPhone 4 before its release comes the iPhone 4S. Tinhte.vn showed us photos a a white iPhone that resembled the iPhone 4 but seemed to have its glass replaced with plastic. According to the source, what we were looking at was the less expensive iPhone 4S that is expected to accompany the iPhone 5 when it launches in September.

These leaks suggest that Apple will release a budget version of the device, as shown by the leak from Vietnam. However, these rumours have been rife for a number of years with iPhone ‘Nano’ devices available in Southeast Asia despite the fact that Apple has never produced them.

Is this image proof that the much-anticipated budget iPhone will launch this year?

The sheer number of duplicate iPhones, iPads and Apple-related products in Asia is breathtaking at first, but in a continent where fake goods (or those that have ‘fallen off the back of a truck’) are rife, one can easily become used to seeing ‘exclusive new iPhone leak’ photos cropping up in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, China or other Asian countries.

Aside from the fake-or-real images and videos are the leaks, which usually originate from China where the devices are made. Below is the latest one, which appeared in the Chinese media, giving further credence to the rumoured September launch for the iPhone 5.

According to “China Times,” Apple is set to manufacture 4 million units of the latest iPhone following a production run of about 400,000 test units. The newspaper revealed that iPhone 5 will be launched in the second week of September 2011.

Of course, there are times when the rumours and prototype devices are genuine – such as the New York-based Chinese teenager who got access to white iPhone parts, and started a business providing ‘white iPhone upgrades’ before the white-colour devices were released – and therein lies the skill of Apple rumours in Asia, spotting the genuine from the fake.

Images allegedly showing the redesigned case of the iPhone 5

Previous iPhone rumours from Asia include:

The ‘budget’ (4S) iPhone rumour has picked up some momentum and credibility this year after a note from a Deutsche Bank analyst referenced it while news giant Bloomberg suggested Apple would introduce a $200 version of the iPhone with its next generation release.

Apple’s own Tim Cook hinted at the possibility of a cheaper version of the device when he stated that he didn’t want Apple’s products to be “just for the rich” and that Apple “understood price is big factor in the prepaid market” while the company was “not ceding any market.”

This could be the year for the budget iPhone…but do keep an eye on the annual rotten Apple rumours coming out of Asia.

Images via Gizmodo

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Video: Analysis of key social media issues in China http://asiancorrespondent.com/61162/video-analysis-of-key-social-media-issues-in-china/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/61162/video-analysis-of-key-social-media-issues-in-china/#comments Thu, 28 Jul 2011 08:00:50 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=61162 The episode of Thoughtful China, on YouTube, below discusses and analyses a number of key issues within China’s online landscape today, such as the rumour that Facebook is partnering with search giant Baidu to finally enter the country’s online market.

Below is my summary of key points from the video, which I’d advise anyone interested in the development of the internet in Asia or social media in general to watch.

As the pundits discuss, China has emerged as a key market for any online firm with an international strategy. The old adage that Chinese companies simply imitate is being challenged by the likes of Sina, whose microblogging service boasts more than 140 million users.

My pick of the topics discussed include:

  • Can Facebook make an impression in China?
  • Does Facebook’s rumoured partnership with Chinese search giant Baidu make sense?
  • What is microblogging like in China now Weibo usage and popularity has exploded in the country?
  • Are microblogging services eating into the popularity and usage of social networks in China?
  • How did Sina Weibo develop into such a giant?
  • How do China’s ‘Twitter clones’ Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo compare to Twitter?
  • What is the next big thing set to make an impression on China’s digital landscape?

Enjoy!

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Japanese mobile gaming network Mobage launches in US http://asiancorrespondent.com/61115/japanese-mobile-gaming-social-network-mobages-launches-worldwide/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/61115/japanese-mobile-gaming-social-network-mobages-launches-worldwide/#comments Thu, 28 Jul 2011 04:00:19 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=61115 Japanese web giant DeNA and Ngmoco, its US games publisher partner, has announced the launch of Mobage, the hit Japanese social gaming network for mobile phones only, to English language markets yesterday.

Mobage is quite unique compared to other more established social networks as it is available through  mobile phones only. The service will now be available in Android markets in the US and China as well as its native Japan where it is estimated to have 30 million users.

TechCrunch explains that initially, though not available for the iPhone, users “can choose between 23 different titles from the get-go (i.e. Pocket God, We Rule, Zoo Land, Paper Toss etc. – see the full list here), with more than 100 additional games being in development currently.”

Mobage was formed in October 2010 when DeNA and Ngmoco came together to form one of the largest social gaming networks worldwide launching on iOS (for Apple devices) and Android. It grew quickly in Japan attracting 3 million users in just five months, more than Facebook managed in considerably more time.

But just what is Mobage? VentureBeat describes it below:

The Mobage service sits on top of Google’s Android operating system and essentially creates a portal and social network for games. The service is a platform for developers to deploy their games so that they can be discovered and shared by mobile game users. Already launched in Japan, Mobage is generating $1.3 billion in revenues for DeNA. By taking it worldwide into the Android market, both DeNA and Ngmoco hope the platform will be even more lucrative.

But Mobage is ambitious in that it isn’t limited to just a single platform and it seeks to unite gamers in a worldwide network. In such a network, gamers can make friends with anyone, purchase virtual currency to buy goods in all sorts of games, discovery new games to play, and compete in competitions. It’s sort of like a Facebook for games on top of Android phones.

At our GamesBeat 2011 conference in San Francisco two weeks ago, Young said that Mobage is a social network built around common interests, or an interest graph, rather than the social graph of Facebook. People who like the same games can meet each other and communicate within the Mobage network.

TechCrunch’s  eyes and ears in Japan, Serkan Toto, is more succinct with his explanation:

Think of Mobage as Facebook and Zynga rolled into one, but

- available exclusively on cell phones (no PC version)
– with both first and third-party games (DeNA/ngmoco itself is making games, too)
– and a virtual social graph instead of a real one (most of your friends will probably be strangers, like in the Japanese version)

Japanese mobile users play games on Mobage

Can Mobage succeed outside of Japan?

Japan’s mobile market is significantly ahead of the rest of the world – both in terms of technology and consumer behaviour. With mobile (smartphone) ownership and usage developing rapidly across the Western world and China, amongst other markets, the concept of mobile-only social networks and gaming has greater chance of success than a year or two ago.

Japan’s technology landscape is largely less affected by international trends and forces – such as Facebook – although Twitter has made a huge impact in the country.

An iOS version is not yet ready for the international version of Mobage which could, initially, limit its development. Though Android has the (slight) lead in the US and other Western markets, iPhone users are arguably more adventurous when it comes to gaming and social networks.

Perhaps though, it is time for Japan to start the mobile social gaming trend across the world?

It will certainly be interesting to see how Mobage fares.

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Gaming giant Zynga enters China with Tencent partnership http://asiancorrespondent.com/60942/gaming-giant-zynga-moves-into-china-with-tencent-partnership/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/60942/gaming-giant-zynga-moves-into-china-with-tencent-partnership/#comments Tue, 26 Jul 2011 04:00:10 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=60942 Online games giant Zynga is making moves into the Chinese market with a localised version of CityVille, its flagship online title which the LA Times reports has been played by more than 80 million people across the world.

The game, renamed Zynga City – presumably in order to grow the Zynga name from the get-go – will be tweaked to for the Chinese market and will include local architecture, references to Chinese pop culture and other features relating to Chinese holidays and news. It will be available through Tencent, China’s 65 million plus-member internet portal which includes instant messaging and microblogging among its online services.

The announcement of the company’s plans for China comes as the firm plans for its upcoming US IPO. A successful launch in China would develop Zynga’s international presence and, crucially, provide a foothold in a platform away from Facebook – the long-serving partner which has played a crucial role growing the company, its gamers and profits.

China has 485 million active internet users according to the statistics from the country's government. Pic: AP.

The LA Times provides additional details on the significance of the move:

San Francisco-based Zynga, which has filed papers to sell its stock in an initial public offering, needs to show investors it can grow its audience beyond Facebook, where it already commands a significant share of traffic.

International and mobile represent two major areas where Zynga would need to go into in order to grow,” said Justin Smith, founder of Inside Network, a market research firm in Palo Alto.

It also recaps the company business model, which has proved hugely successful to date:

For Zynga, recruiting players for its games is just the first step because their games can be played for free. Zynga generally makes money when it can persuade those players to pony up actual dollars, or in this case Chinese yuan, to get special virtual items or to advance more quickly in the games. In the U.S., the percentage of players who pay for social games ranges from 2% to 4%, according to Parks Associates, a market research firm.

Like many other major online firms, Zynga is keen for a slice of China’s lucrative market which boasts 485 million internet users according to new statistics released by the Chinese government below, via paidcontent.org.

485 million active internet users

195 million microblog users (+200% in six months)

140 million (+24.6% year on year) broadband internet subscribers:

While mobile in China will likely become a key target too:

920 million mobile users

80+ million 3G users

100+ million (+257% yoy)

35 million (+195% yoy) mobile payments users

Last year Pyramind Research predicted that China’s online gaming market would grow to be worth $2.5b by 2014. Things have developed at an even quicker pace over the last year and it will be interesting to see not only how Zynga fares amongst China’s gaming-obsessed youth, but how its monetisation strategies fare in a country where consumers are increasingly prepared to pay for technology, such as iPhones, iPads etc.

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Half year summary of Indonesia’s internet landscape [infographic] http://asiancorrespondent.com/60793/half-year-summary-of-indonesias-internet-landscape-infographic/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/60793/half-year-summary-of-indonesias-internet-landscape-infographic/#comments Mon, 25 Jul 2011 08:00:31 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=60793 The folks at PR firm Burson Marsteller Asia have been busy pulling together details of the Indonesian internet landscape based on traffic statistics from the first half of the year. While infographics are used far too often by companies, this particular effort is worth a look as it provides a concise view of the reach and audience of the main online platforms in Indonesia.

This is of particular interest given how huge a medium that online is in the country – particular through mobile, where BlackBerry continues to dominate – not to mention Indonesia’s growing significance both in Southeast Asia and Asia as a whole.

Particularly of interest:

  • Indonesia’s 16.5% internet penetration (does not include mobile – which significantly increases the reach of the internet in the country)
  • Facebook’s 70% reach and massive 6,000 million page views – a rough average of 1,000 million per month
  • Google’s Blogger dominance as the most visited blog platform
  • The superiority of new, ‘social’ media over mainstream media online – WordPress blogs have greater traffic than all but one mainstream media website
  • The stats are taken from Google Planner and therefore relate to traffic levels rather than membership or company provided estimates – iile it is not clear but I would think that mobile internet traffic is not included in these statistics

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BlackBerry continues to dominate in Indonesia – but for how long? http://asiancorrespondent.com/60791/blackberry-continues-to-dominate-in-indonesia-but-for-how-long/ http://asiancorrespondent.com/60791/blackberry-continues-to-dominate-in-indonesia-but-for-how-long/#comments Mon, 25 Jul 2011 03:30:51 +0000 http://asiancorrespondent.com/?p=60791 Android is often heralded as the mobile device operating system best placed to find mass popularity in developing regions like Asia thanks to the sheer level of support across the mobile phone industry, which gives the platform a wide range of devices to suit all budgets.

While Android has established itself as the most popular operating system in Western markets like the US and UK, it has yet to repeat its success across some key Asian markets. Instead Nokia (for now), BlackBerry and iPhone continue to play more significant roles in major markets such as Indonesia, whose smartphone market was recently the subject of a Jakarta Globe article.

The piece looks at how, for now, RIM’s BlackBerry continues to stand out as the most popular smartphone for the country’s mobile users.

Given that teenagers are noted as the driving force behind the smartphone market in Indonesia, as the graphic below from Nielsen demonstrates, there could  be scope for budget, Google-backed devices to gain ground. However, with BlackBerry in fashion, arguably there is a strong pull towards the device for teens and young Indonesians.

The Jakarta Globe article goes on to look at why many Indonesians are content to stick with BlackBerry and not switch to Android for now.

Andy says most Indonesians are not picky about their phone’s operating system or the various apps available for it, as long as they get the basic services — messaging and social networking. But Lucky says the reluctance among Indonesians to migrate to Android — despite its wealth of apps, more sophisticated technology and the variety of phone manufacturers using it — is mainly because they are not keen to learn a new system.

“To enjoy the benefits of Android would require users to put in more effort and find better Internet connections, unlike with the BlackBerry, which users can easily benefit from through text messaging,” he says.

He adds that although Android has only been available for two years, there are more than 250,000 apps available for it, while BlackBerry only has about 39,000, despite being around since 2000.

Lucky is optimistic that Android devices will gain in popularity in the country as more Indonesians jump on the tablet craze sparked by Apple’s iPad. Unlike the latter, Android-based tablets run the gamut from low-end gadgets that cost about the same as a smartphone, to higher-end devices that rival or even surpass the iPad. This, Lucky says, makes the devices affordable to more Indonesians.

With smartphone features begin to standardise, the huge number of Android devices point to the Google-backed OS taking over RIM’s smartphone dominance. However, based on statistics from TNS, there is some work to be done as BlackBerrys account for 23 percent of Indonesian smartphones with Android making up just 6 percent – in the overall market Nokia remains top with a 71 percent of all devices in the country.

Android’s big potential comes not only from BlackBerry users, but from converting the large number of non-smartphone-owning Nokia users to uncomplicated and affordable smartphones. For now, however, BlackBerry continues to reign supreme in Indonesia… but the real question is for how long?

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