The state of the Internet and PCs in China

Given that China has the greatest number of Internet users in the world; it is interesting to see how things differ here. In most countries, people use similar software and websites, but in China it is like going to an alien planet. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Due to the great firewall of China, speeds to foreign websites are slow from inside the country. Also the speed to web hosts inside of China are slow to users outside of the country. However, I have heard the firewall only can filter IPv4 traffic for now. Some universities have IPv6 which bypass everything.
  • Many foreign websites are filtered entirely.
    • Facebook (#2 ranked site). Replaced by renren.com
    • YouTube (#3 ranked site). Replaced by tudou.com and youku.com
    • Twitter (#8 ranked site). Replaced by weibo.com
    • Blogspot (#11 ranked site). Replaced by sina.com and others
  • DNS poisoning. In addition to blocking traffic to a certain IP, an additional layer of security is added for some sites such as Youtube.com. Chinese nameservers will point YouTube to a host that doesn’t exist.
  • Quality of Service used to degrade certain websites. For example, making a Google search usually results in a long delay initializing the connection. But do the same search on Bing or Baidu and there is no delay. This tactic is also used on Gmail and many other foreign websites. This has resulted in many Chinese users giving up on foreign Internet companies.
  • Reliance on Internet Explorer 6. According to Microsoft, China has the highest usage of IE6 out of any country in the world. Many foreign websites have dropped support for this 11 year old browser. Many Chinese websites work best or require IE6. This is creating a big divide in the web.
  • The typical PC setup in China:
    • Pirated version of Windows XP possibly re-skinned to look like Vista or Windows 7.
    • Hard drive split into four partitions because Windows has to be reinstalled so often on the first parition.
    • Microsoft Windows Updates disabled. Any updates are through a Chinese service.
    • Heavy reliance on Chinese QQ apps (instant messaging, games, music).
    • 44% of Chinese users are running 360 Secure Browser as their primary web browser. It is based off IE6 rendering engine and makes browsing many foreign websites impossible.
    • Antivirus Software is always from a Chinese company.
  • E-commerce. China is mostly a cash based society. Using credit cards is not very popular. However, many homegrown e-commerce systems have become popular for spending money online such as alipay.com. No foreign online payment systems have taken root here.
  • Average age of user. Chinese Internet users average much younger than elsewhere. This leads to different habits.
    • Streaming video. Many young people do not own a TV. They will stream TV shows and movies from websites.
    • Streaming music. People rarely download music anymore, let alone buy it. Instead they stream it from a website such as xiami.com.
    • Online games. Game consoles are technically banned here. Plus not many people can afford a gaming PC; so it is simple online games that fill in the gaps.
    • Income is low, so micro-transactions are popular.
  • Language and cultural barriers.

I talked to a young Chinese person one day and mentioned I was using YouTube. They had never heard of YouTube before. State owned Chinese companies are the big winners here. They don’t have to worry about any foreign competition. Too bad the losers are freedom of speech and competition.