Chris Anderson asked me to give a three minute talk at TED, based on my blog post, 12 Good Reasons to Learn Mandarin. I just did, and my notes for the talk follow below.
A note: your mileage may vary. Less than two months after that blogpost, there are now fewer Chinese blogs in the top 100, more Japanese and Spanish blogs. I still think China’s the one to watch in understanding the next billion.
A year ago, if you looked at the webpage where Technorati tracks the 100 most popular weblogs, you’d have found blogs on politics, technology, entertainment… a wide variety of topics. Almost every one of them was written in English.
This past December, 12 of the top 100 blogs in the Technorati top 100 were written in Chinese. Most were sites hosted on Microsoft’s MSN Spaces service, which has been hugely popular in China – it’s the only major US weblogging service not blocked by the Chinese firewall. Some estimates suggest that there are as many as 2 million Chinese language blogs on MSN alone.
This may only be the tip of the iceberg. Chinese-hosted blogging services like Bokee and Blogbus use a different architecture than US and European weblogging platforms. Their most popular blogs usually don’t register on services like Technorati. So there may be other hugely popular Chinese blogs that we don’t get to compare to top US blogs like BoingBoing or Engadget.
Unless you’ve got your head under a rock, you’ve heard about the widespread censorship of the Internet in China and the involvement of US companies in this process. What’s not talked about so much is just how many Chinese users are getting online for the first time and creating content. Ten years ago, North America accounted for 66% of all Internet users. That number’s down to 23% today. There are more broadband internet subscribers in Asia than in North America.
All this is an introduction to what’s around the corner: the next billion people to join us on the Internet. Most Americans and western europeans are already online – the next billion coming will be getting online from China, India, Russia, Brazil, South Africa and dozens of other countries. It’s about to get a whole lot more polyglot on the net, a lot more complicated and a lot more interesting. And it would be a very good time to brush up your Mandarin.