Tuesday, March 1, 2011

English Internet is still superior

Being a bilingual person who love spending time on the net, I think I would stand by my believe that sites with content in English are generally superior than those in Chinese. This is purely a subjective opinion without any scientific or systematic proof behind it. Nevertheless, my view is a result of years of observation and visits to sites in both English and Chinese worlds. Here are some of my views that contribution to my overall opinion on this topic.

I spent about 60% of my times in English sites, while the rest in both Traditional Chinese and Simplify Chinese sites.
Most of the sites that I visit frequently are blogs, search sites, web portals, forums, news sites, sites of specific topics, e.g. movies, web videos.
In spite of the huge population of Chinese netizens, reportedly with a current population of 450M, the development of internet is still largely driven by the West.

For English sites:
I found a greater variety of sites in English that cover wide range of unique topics, basically, nothing is off limit. What I find to be impressive is not just the depth of information of those topics, but the originality and design of those sites. I think that reflects the long history of individualism of the people and the freedom of information in West.
Many English sites have better or unique art design which matches the theme of those sites seamlessly. This observation does not just apply to those of large corporations, but to many sites of individuals as well.

As English is still the most ‘international’ language in the current world, many visitors of English sites are coming from places outside the English speaking countries. That can be reflected by the visitors’ comments and that give a more international community feel.

For Chinese sites:
I found Chinese sites design are generally subpar, if not terrible, comparing with those in English. First of all, many of the better ones are clearly ‘borrow’ from the English sites. E.g. Baidu vs Google in terms of simplicity. Many Chinese web portals are just clamed with ‘stuff’ all over the screens with annoying pop-up flesh ads. They are definitely not user-friendly in netvigation. It kinda remind me of comparing the store windows of Chinese department stores to the Western stores. You will see the store windows of the former are filled up with pottery, traveler bags, vases, blanket, toys, and everything as long as an inch of space looks to be available. In the contrary, the latter will only show a theme of simplistic artistic design with only few merchandizes. That analogy applies to the portal sites as well. I guess it is not about the language, but more about the culture and mentality of the people.

Also, the design and layout of major Chinese web portals/ sites of similar purposes are indistinguishable. You can’t tell which is which unless you look at the top left logo on the front page. Yes, that’s right, the logo is always at the top left of the screen. All topics are clammed on the same page, if there is not enough space to fit everything on one screen size, they still put everything there and may user to drag the page down, down and down till the bottom. All those sites just look the same. My impression is that the starter of the pack borrowed or came up with the first design, then other competitors just copy the shelf and populate with their own content. You can see examples of such in Sohu.com, Sina.com.cn, etc.

Of course there are better sites in the Chinese worlds, particularly those in traditional Chinese. I guess it is because of the level of information freedom in Taiwan and Hong Kong versus Mainland China. However, as the popular of the traditional Chinese world is much smaller than the simplified Chinese world, the relatively greater variety of topics in traditional Chinese sites do lack the ‘depth’ compared with those English counterparts. On top of that, many ‘experts’ or ‘specialists’ of specify topics are still mainly found in the English speaking world, thus the newest research results and information are still firstly reported in English sites. Those found in Chinese sites are still mostly second hand information as a result of translation. Bear in mind that many of the English information are written by the experts themselves. If the Chinese translation is done by the Chinese experts of the topics, the timing will still be late because they need to spend time on translation which is not their strength. If the translation is outsourced to translators, the turnaround may be quicker but the quality may not be the best due to special knowledge of the topic which is unfamiliar by most translators.

Of course, there is well-known paranoidic censorship in simplified Chinese world.

Therefore, in spite of the widely discussed money-making opportunities in the Chinese internet world due to the huge population of netizens there, I still see that as a much more separated world than the rest of English internet world which is more integrated. Yes, money can be made in the Chinese cyberspace, as I opine that many netizens that are living in that closely monitored internet do behave like schools of fish. In spite of the rising economic power of China, I think the baton of web development is still in the hand of the West, i.e. the English speaking community. The Chinese will continue to play the second fiddle for years to come.

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