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Did Google have a third option in China?

I kinda missed the boat with the whole Google in China (it was during the blog gap whilst we entertained Sofia’s relatives who were visiting from Sweden).

In short my view of the whole affair is that Google was buggered either way – to pull out of China would have not only lost them a vital advertising market but also left the Chinese population with a selection of poor alternatives for search. And to pander to the Chinese government, which is what they are doing, was always going to cost them badly in terms of PR and sentiment.

But in an interesting piece in today’s WSJ, Andy Kessler writes:

Google could have kept their cool and trusted image if they’d just worked with someone else in China, someone they could smash. Perhaps – powered by Google.

(Hat-tip to Om, btw – thanks).

He’s right – and I’m disapointed to have not thought of that myself.

I’m sure Google had thought of it, however. And the cynic in me wonders whether it’s because there would be a far reduced benefit from advertising revenue if they had used a ‘middle man’ provider. Don’t forget, in their tie-up with AOL Search, Google only get 20% of the advertising revenue produced from AOL-branded results of their search.

Andy K goes on to say:

Someone else to blame for those unsearchable keywords. Users in the West may not desert them, but a billion soon-to-be-online Chinese will forever associate Google with lame and censored search results – tools of the state.

My only point on this, having spent some time in China recently, is that I don’t believe the Chinese people are aware of the extent their media is censored. And those that do don’t seem to be so forthcoming with the detail as to do so would be speaking out against the government.

So from this perspective, the fact that Google alerts Chinese netizens that their search results have been censored is a good thing. Otherwise they would potentially never know.

For me, this is the most important aspect of the Google-in-China saga. Knowledge is power, and off the back of this we might get further towards a China that is as happy to be a free-market of ideas as it is happy to be a free-market of goods.

Published in China & Japan News Thoughts and Rants

One Comment

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