WeChat, a text messaging service from Tencent, has begun to set its sights beyond China. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)
One of the ways to think about China's Internet is as a Bizarro version of the World Wide Web. Facebook and Twitter are banned, but social networking sites like Sina Weibo and Kaixinwang operate freely. Instead of YouTube, there is Youku Tudou. And while Google does operate in China -- albeit intermittently -- the Chinese company Baidu dominates the search engine market. A foreign observer of the Chinese internet might conclude, to paraphrase Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction: "They've got the same stuff there that we do here, it's just ... a little bit different."
This so-called "Chinese intranet" though is a relatively new phenomenon; Facebook and Twitter only became firewalled following the Iranian protests of 2009, the same year that Sina launched its Twitter-like Weibo service. And while censorship is a major reason why Western social media services remain behind the Great Firewall, it isn't an accident that their absence has allowed domestic competitors to grow.
Of all the Chinese social media products to join the market in the last few years, none has had as great an effect as Sina's Weibo. Presenting a (relatively) unfettered space for speech, Weibo has intrigued foreign observers with its irreverent discussions of sensitive issues. In just four years, the site has attracted over 500 million members, more than the population of all but two countries in the world.
For all its success, though, Weibo has confined itself to China; Until this year, when Sina introduced an English-language version and allowed users to login via Facebook, Weibo made virtually no effort to expand to foreign market and focused instead on recruiting users from within China. Given the country's large population -- and still-modest level of internet penetration -- this strategy makes sense; there are still plenty of people in China who don't use Weibo.
On the other hand, new research suggests that Sina may have to re-think its strategy: Weibo seems to have peaked in popularity. A recent survey by the tracking service WeiboReach released this month revealed that user activity has dropped by more than 30 percent from its peak last October. Part of this decline is due to government policy -- Beijing has passed laws demanding real name registration on Weibo, deterring would-be users who valued the service's privacy. But another issue is the rise of a rival service, Tencent's WeChat, which first launched in late 2011.
Similar to the text messaging service WhatsApp -- with elements of Instagram and Skype tossed in -- WeChat has accumulated over 300 million users in its first two years by embracing an entirely different strategy from Weibo: going after the international market head on. Unlike Weibo, which released an English-language web version only this year, WeChat is available in 18 languages and has already produced a Spanish-language advertisement featuring the Argentinian soccer star Lionel Messi. Tencent is planning to establish an office in the United States and has already recruited Nike and Starbucks, among other major brands, to interact with customers on the service. While few outside of China use Sina Weibo, WeChat already has 70 million non-Chinese users -- almost a fourth of its overall total.
Despite its drop in user activity, it's too early to dismiss Weibo. As Beijing-based media consultant Jeremy Goldkorn told me, Weibo is "still massive, very popular, and still the most active and powerful platform for public expression in China today." It's worth noting, too, that Weibo and WeChat aren't necessarily competitors -- the two services have different functions, and given their huge subscriber bases within China, many people must use both. But it's hard to escape the sense that WeChat has, as Goldkorn says, "taken the wind out of Weibo's sails."
In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of social media, WeChat has a long way to go before it can supplant Weibo's reputation as China's "it' service. But by focusing on the international market, WeChat has upended the industry and also challenged the stereotype that Chinese brands cannot compete abroad. It doesn't want to just be the hot new Chinese Internet fad -- it wants to be the hot new Internet fad that happens to be Chinese.
Whether or not WeChat succeeds remain to be seen. But the early returns are promising. Speaking to Network World, tech consultant Duncan Clark had this to say about it:
"If you didn't know WeChat was from China, you wouldn't be aware of that fact. It has transcended its Chinese-ness."
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
I spent a year in Tromsø, Norway, where the “Polar Night” lasts all winter—and where rates of seasonal depression are remarkably low. Here’s what I learned about happiness and the wintertime blues.
Located over 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Tromsø, Norway, is home to extreme light variation between seasons. During the Polar Night, which lasts from November to January, the sun doesn’t rise at all. Then the days get progressively longer until the Midnight Sun period, from May to July, when it never sets. After the midnight sun, the days get shorter and shorter again until the Polar Night, and the yearly cycle repeats.
So, perhaps understandably, many people had a hard time relating when I told them I was moving there.
“I could never live there,” was the most common response I heard. “That winter would make me so depressed,” many added, or “I just get so tired when it’s dark out.”
But the Polar Night was what drew me to Tromsø in the first place.
Former Senator Jim Webb is the fifth Democrat to enter the race—and by far the most conservative one.
In a different era’s Democratic Party, Jim Webb might be a serious contender for the presidential nomination. He’s a war hero and former Navy secretary, but he has been an outspoken opponent of recent military interventions. He’s a former senator from Virginia, a purple state. He has a strong populist streak, could appeal to working-class white voters, and might even have crossover appeal from his days as a member of the Reagan administration.
In today’s leftward drifting Democratic Party, however, it’s hard to see Webb—who declared his candidacy Thursday—getting very far. As surprising as Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls has been, he looks more like the Democratic base than Webb does. The Virginian is progressive on a few major issues, including the military and campaign spending, but he’s far to the center or even right on others: He's against affirmative action, supports gun rights, and is a defender of coal. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats loved to have him as a foil to the White House. It’s hard to imagine the national electorate will cotton to him in the same way. Webb’s statement essentially saying he had no problem with the Confederate battle flag flying in places like the grounds of the South Carolina capitol may have been the final straw. (At 69, he’s also older than Hillary Clinton, whose age has been a topic of debate, though still younger than Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden.)
On Wednesday, the United States and Cuba announced that they would reopen embassies in each other’s capitals, thus restoring diplomatic relations for the first time since 1961. The agreement doesn’t mean that Washington-Havana ties will go back to where they were before Fidel Castro’s revolution: Congress still maintains an economic embargo on the island, a policy that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. But the re-establishment of embassies, scheduled to occur on July 20, is nonetheless a major breakthrough in the long-acrimonious relationship between the two countries.
According to The New York Times, the overture to Cuba leaves just three countries with which the United States has no diplomatic relations. Two of these are easy enough to guess: Iran and North Korea. Washington severed ties with Tehran in 1980, months after Iranian students seized the U.S. embassy there and took 52 Americans hostage. U.S. ties with North Korea, meanwhile, have been fraught throughout the latter country’s existence, and have only grown worse since Kim Jong Un assumed control of the country in 2011.
It wasn’t that bad. But it did help me understand why it made people so angry.
From the Gray Lady, a Modest Dip Proposal. On Microblogging Platform, a Furor. For Peas, a New Use. There are times when The Times out-Timeses itself, and then there was Wednesday. The country's largest newspaper smugly tweeted a link to a recipe for guacamole. One made with peas. "Trust us," it read.
The Republican hopeful’s comments about Hispanics have been disastrous for his brand and reputation, which he values at an outlandish $3.3 billion.
Donald Trump’s run for the presidency is premised on one fact above all: He’s a fabulously successful businessman. And yet, paradoxically, running for president may be the most disastrous business decision he’s made—or, at the very least, his worst in a while.
The trouble started with Trump’s rambling announcement speech on June 16. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best,” Trump said of immigrants to the United States. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting.”
The last time the labor-participation rate was as low as June 2015 was almost 40 years ago. Who was working and where back then?
As long as you don’t look too far into it, Thursday’s June jobs report looks like good news: The economy added 223,000 jobs, close to expectations, and the unemployment rate fell again, to 5.3 percent. So far, so good—still a slower recovery than anyone might like, but a recovery nonetheless.
The more concerning signs are hidden beneath the surface. Some people have been sounding the alarm about labor-participation rates for years now—Republicans tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to make them an issue in the 2012 election. But as several analysts have pointed out, the June rate of 62.6 percent is the lowest since October of 1977. The decline is part of a long-term trend, as this graph shows:
The social network learns more about its users than they might realize.
Facebook, you may have noticed, turned into a rainbow-drenched spectacle following the Supreme Court’s decision Friday that same-sex marriage is a Constitutional right.
By overlaying their profile photos with a rainbow filter, Facebook users began celebrating in a way we haven't seen since March 2013, when 3 million peoplechanged their profile images to a red equals sign—the logo of the Human Rights Campaign—as a way to support marriage equality. This time, Facebook provided a simple way to turn profile photos rainbow-colored. More than 1 million people changed their profile in the first few hours, according to the Facebook spokesperson William Nevius, and the number continues to grow.
“This is probably a Facebook experiment!” joked the MIT network scientist Cesar Hidalgo on Facebook yesterday. “This is one Facebook study I want to be included in!” wrote Stacy Blasiola, a communications Ph.D. candidate at the University of Illinois, when she changed her profile.
Reader requested images, including playful raccoons, Soviet armies leaving Lithuania in the 1990s, Donald Trump’s hair, a Fennec fox, and much more.
Continuing an ongoing experiment, I solicited reader requests for news photos, asking people on Twitter, Facebook and email, "Would you like to see a good photo of a particular subject? A high-res version of a photo you've already seen somewhere else? A photo from a particular photographer or event? If I have access and can find it, I'll try to post it." The subject matter this time was just as varied as before, and the task of finding the images and composing the entry was great fun. Requests this time ranged from a grumpy Judge Scalia to the Soviet army leaving Lithuania in 1990s, guacamole recipes to Donald trump’s hair, and from urban farms in Detroit to playful raccoons. Be sure to see previous Reader Request entries.