Latest censorship news: Wikipedia has confirmed reports from bloggers and others that the online peer-produced encyclopedia has been blocked in China. At the same time, as Tom Friedman reports in the NYTimes Select (I won't provide a useless pay-only link) podcasting is taking off like crazy in China. Censorship and information crackdowns on one hand, proliferation of user-generated online content in China at the same time. What gives?
I've been thinking and writing quite a lot over the past few months about such contradictions, and China's impact on the internet more generally. Today I gave a talk at Pop!Tech in Camden Maine about how China may change the internet as much as the internet will change China - and how these changes help explain seemingly contradictory trends.
Thanks to Ethan Zuckerman, Dina Metha among others for blogging the talk. In 25 minutes I tried to explain the paradox of the internet in China today: On one hand, the internet has been a tremendously empowering and liberating force for many Chinese - economically and culturally. On the other hand, a business and regulatroy model is emerging that enables censorship to work in a way that is actually tolerable for most Chinese internet users (except for political dissidents who are - to put it mildly - out of luck). As a result, China's extensive system of censorship and internet controls doesn't hold businesses back when it comes to innovating and making money from products and services that enable users to create media (blogs, posdcasts, etc.). We are also looking at a future in which soft censorship will be "baked" into a new generation of software and online services coming out of China. And these products and services will prove very attractive not just for the Chinese government but for many other governments - including some that call themselves democratic.