Internet Industry in China, from “Copying from America” to “Defining Innovation”

I love Internet and has been working in Internet industry for over 10 years in Beijing, Tokyo and Sydney. I can still remember the day when I connected with Internet via a modem, and I can never forget the excitement when I opened the Yahoo.com for the first time.

Thanks to my parents, who gave me, a little boy, such an eye-opening opportunity, and maybe I was the first one who was able to surf Internet in the class I was in. Boys intent to talk dreams, and when I told my classmates that my dream was doing IT in the future, most of my classmates doubted that will IT be an industry in the future. That was 1999, Tianjin, the second largest city in the North of China, followed by the capital of Middle-Kingdom, Beijing.

There was a slogan in Internet industry from 1995–2005, which was “copy everything from America”. In 2000, I got a QQ account for sending messages , and started to learn how to use search engine, Google and Baidu. Most of the observers would say QQ is just a copy of ICQ, while Baidu is just a Chinese version of Google. Actually it is yes and no. As the definition of “innovation” is not only limited with the concept of “inventing something new” but also including “improving the existing things”, which can be described as a term in short, “micro-innovation (微创新 in Chinese)”.

If you had taken a look at how QQ grows, you would know QQ is actually not only a messaging app, as it kept merging more and more plug-ins or features, such as Qzone, QQMail and etc. And the functionality of taking screenshot is one of the most handy functions among all the screenshot tools on desktop platform. Second to no one. If you don’t believe it, just try it. After you have tried it, would you say QQ is just a thing stealing the idea from ICQ? No, definitely.

Baidu is another example. I can still remember there was a slogan of Baidu, “Baidu knows Chinese more”, which is simple, but undoubtable. Its ability of tech is of course not better than its biggest rival, but the ways of combining the ads and research results let it make plenty of money, which was used to invest in tech and marketing. Google, however, more likely to be a quiet kid, who just hung their site there but doing nothing other than promoting their success stories. And the worse was that, at that time, Google did not try to improve their algorithm to match the needs of Chinese users, and the only thing they had done for localization was creating a Google Pinyin Input Method software, which was sued due to some IP issues in the end.

The third example is Weibo. I was quite surprised that when I was answering a survey by the University of Sydney, I was asked if I have got a Weibo account, and many English speakers know Weibo even they don’t have an account for that. I admit that the original version of Weibo is just a copy of Twitter, but I have to say that Twitter is too lazy and lack of enterprise, as the current Weibo has already grown as a multi-media news platform, containing plug-in videos and real-time news. And now Twitter has started to learn from Weibo, building more features. Actually Twitter should feel lucky, because if Weibo were an English platform and Donald Trump had not win the presidency, Twitter would already been vanished ages ago.

There are more examples than I can write here. For example, why Taobao won the war with Ebay, and why Sina won the war with Yahoo? Why those American Internet giants kept failure in expanding their business in this ancient and modern country?

Some of the people may say it is due to the Great Firewall, which blocks almost all the foreign Internet companies from going into China. To my honest, although I don’t like the Wall as well, I cannot agree with this conclusion, as those foreign Internet giants never had a chance to win the local companies even when the Wall was not built.

And now if you walk through the streets in Beijing, you would be surprised that even the kiosks and taxi drivers accept mobile payment. Compared with Sydney, the merchants here even charge me extra 1 dollar if I spend less than 10 dollars and pay by credit card.

China is overtaking, on every industry, especially on Internet, and no longer a role of learning new concepts from America, but a place full of opportunities, and starts to spread its own influence.

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