Shitholes and Firetraps Part 2

In a previous article, I talked at some length about Jeremiah Owyang’s review of the current Internet situation in China, and what many Internet cafes are really like, and what is wrong with the current data about Internet usage in China.

In the article, I questioned the wisdom of Jeremiah’s visit only to Hong Kong and not to China. Specifically, I said:

I questioned the wisdom of going to Hong Kong to cover the Chinese Internet; to me it seemed like visiting Toronto to understand the UK market.

This has seemed to cause some consternation on Jeremiah’s part, who responded in on his blog:

I really enjoyed Paul’s additional commentary, although he questions why I would visit HK to cover mainland. Most of the people I talked to were from mainland, served mainland, or had their users in mainland, it was all tied.

A little clarification on my part: meeting with CEOs, analysts, entrepreneurs, investors, etc in HK is fine methodology for a 30K foot view, but it doesn’t work for me. Maybe I’m revealing my product management background here, but I actually like to see how users use a product, and extrapolate information and insights from that. That can only be done in on the ground in China.

CEOs, analysts, entrepreneurs and investors are all very bright and intelligent people full of strong opinions about what works and doesn’t work in China. Most of the time, they also have agendas, products and services to sell. This does not mean they are not telling the truth; they just want to present their companies in the best possible light. That is part of their job description.

It’s just that I think that it is my duty to tell my readers that there is more to China than meets the eye, and provide my view, not necessarily someone else’s spin. Sometimes it takes me time to digest the information and form my own conclusions; that is why blog only once or twice a week. Quality over quantity is what I strive for.

And that is why I went to some length to explain what the Chinese Internet cafes I have seen are really like. You see, I actually believe that it is important to walk into these Internet cafes and see what people are doing. To me, this is crucially important; this is what it’s all about. This is real spin-free information, which is usually hard to come by.

It gives me a feel for the environment in which people are living and operating with on the Internet in China.

I feel that this is what is missing from Jeremiah’s analysis by not visiting China, and that is what I tried to address in my posting. Hong Kong was ruled as a British crown colony from 1842 to 1997; Internet usage patterns there are vastly different from in China. Even within China there are vast differences based on geography and income.

I really thirst for that kind of boots on the ground analysis, which is why I have taken upon it to do it myself to present my readers with this kind of information. Economics is based on supply and demand, and if more people demand this kind of deeper analysis and are willing to pay for it, maybe, just maybe, the analysts, reporters, CEOs and ad agencies will provide it.

And to Jeremiah I would say: “Next time you come to China, let me know, and I’ll take you to visit some Internet cafes and we can talk about what people are really doing on the Internet. Then you can draw your own conclusions for your readers.”

In this new posting from Ogilvy China Digital Watch, Kaiser Kuo quotes:

He also laments that marketing people never really interface with the people who understand the customers best: The employees, the recommenders, the distributors, the distributors, the influencers, tech support people, bloggers and the like. “We outsource our tech support to India.

I would say that this is the same problem with analysis of the Internet, especially the Chinese Internet. Sure you can get great sound bites, neat spreadsheets and all, but if it’s too far removed from the users, it is ultimately useless information. And unless it is grounded by checking with users, there is the very real danger that it will become dangerously wrong and irrelevant.

This is what is wrong with so much information about the China market, a subject I talked about in this article.

Do you feel the same way? Please feel free to comment below.


The best stats and most useful quantitative and qualitative information come from people who have lived in China for some time. Kaiser Kuo and William Bao Bean are doing such an excellent job that I’m just going to link to them and their coverage of Adtech Beijing.

Kaiser has also added some useful commentary and perspective on my read of China’s Internet cafes.

TIP:If you have a serious interest in Chinese online media, you should subscribe to Ogilvy China Digital Watch.

9 Responses to “Shitholes and Firetraps Part 2”

  1. I think we agree. I’m not sure if you read carefully, but on each one of my posts before I get into the examples I disclose the following:

    Please note this field report is incomplete. I’ve neither the time nor resources to do thorough analysis, and do a 360 degrees research. The information and anecdotes collected are from interviews with those that I met. As always, a web strategy and plan should have thorough research completed before starting. If you disagree or have other data points to add (even if it’s just your own opinion, I welcome them in the comments, please don’t be shy).”

    Yup, you’re right, you’re echoing my concerns too. I also share your inquisitive fever to learn about China’s web industry, and am expressing it on my blog. Given the time I had, I interviewed who I could, and pass one the message via my blog.

    I certainly welcome your feedback, and have just a bit of really important news to share. Just two weeks ago I joined a research firm, where I’m focused on Social Computing, and will have access to nearly limitless data, research, information, and qualitative info such as interviews, including China, HK, Asia, and the world. If you watch carefully, you’ll see I’ll start to get access and improve my research and out.

    Details of my move here:

  2. […] The China Vortex wrote an interesting post today on Shitholes and Firetraps Part 2Here’s a quick excerpt In a previous article, I talked at some length about Jeremiah Owyang’s review of the current Internet situation in China, … my product management background here, but I actually like to see how users use a product Posted in The China Vortex ( 66 links from 45 sites) […]

  3. […] Read the rest of this great post here […]

  4. […] Read the rest of this great post here […]

  5. Promising China Blogs: The China Game And The China Vortex…

    Two good new China blogs out there by two already pretty well known China hands. Paul Midler (who I believe coined the phrase China fade, referring to the diminishing quality of China products) has started a blog called The China Game. Paul has been in…

  6. Des Walsh says:

    Glad – and not surprised – to see Jeremiah pointing to his disclosure statement. I am a great admirer of his and always amazed at how much information he processes and shares. At the same time, having just returned from ad:tech Beijing and a couple of weeks wandering around Beijing and Shanghai, I feel there are many more layers to the story than any one person living in the West is likely to uncover easily. It was also instructive to compare the high-level conversation at ad:tech with the situation literally on the street. Yes, in Shanghai (and no doubt Beijing although not in the Forbidden City) there was Starbucks with free wireless, a block or two from the hotel, but I would have had to pay for and drink the coffee. And when we looked for an advertised internet cafe we discovered the sign, but the cafe had closed down. Oh, yes, there was free wireless at Kommune – and real coffee properly made – but I didn’t have the laptop with me. There may of course be lots of internet cafes in Shanghai and Beijing – the fact that as a non-Chinese speaker I was not able to discover them doesn’t of itself mean much. I now know there are huge numbers of people online and massive blogging and social networking, but I saw a lot more public Internet activity and provision of access in Manila several years ago than last week in Beijing or Shanghai.

  7. […] Paul is very knowledgeable about China’s technology businesses and he does not pull punches. He has done a number of excellent (and somewhat controversial) posts on how China’s internet cafes are pretty worthless as marketing opportunities: “Digging Deeper About China’s Internet Usage,” “Biz Opportunities, Rolling Up and Franchising China’s Internet Cafes,” and “Shitholes and Firetraps, Part 2.” […]

  8. […] and China Vortex has some great posts about the sordid reality (and some more choice words here in part 2) of the Chinese internet cafe and by extension the Chinese internet […]