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."
Three Atlantic staffers discuss “Stormborn,” the second episode of the seventh season.
Every week for the seventh season of Game of Thrones, three Atlantic staffers will discuss new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners were made available to critics in advance this year, we'll be posting our thoughts in installments.
Thirty-one-year-old Ezra Cohen-Watnick holds the intelligence portfolio on the National Security Council—but almost everything about him is a mystery.
Just 24 days into his tenure as Donald Trump’s national-security adviser, Michael Flynn was forced to resign, having reportedly misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian officials. When Flynn departed, the men and women he’d appointed to the National Security Council grew nervous about their own jobs, and with good reason. The new national-security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, promptly began clearing out Flynn’s people, among them Dave Cattler, the deputy assistant to the president for regional affairs, Adam Lovinger, a strategic affairs analyst on loan from the Pentagon, and KT McFarland, Flynn’s deputy, who was eased out with the ambassadorship to Singapore. Even Steve Bannon, among the most powerful people in the White House, was removed from the meetings of the NSC Principal’s Committee, where he had been installed early on in the administration.
Biology textbooks tell us that lichens are alliances between two organisms—a fungus and an alga. They are wrong.
In 1995, if you had told Toby Spribille that he’d eventually overthrow a scientific idea that’s been the stuff of textbooks for 150 years, he would have laughed at you. Back then, his life seemed constrained to a very different path. He was raised in a Montana trailer park, and home-schooled by what he now describes as a “fundamentalist cult.” At a young age, he fell in love with science, but had no way of feeding that love. He longed to break away from his roots and get a proper education.
At 19, he got a job at a local forestry service. Within a few years, he had earned enough to leave home. His meager savings and non-existent grades meant that no American university would take him, so Spribille looked to Europe.
Many point to unromantic 20-somethings and women’s entry into the workforce, but an overlooked factor is the trouble young men have in finding steady, well-paid jobs.
TOKYO—Japan’s population is shrinking. For the first time since the government started keeping track more than a century ago, there were fewer than 1 million births last year, as the country’s population fell by more than 300,000 people. The blame has long been put on Japan’s young people, who are accused of not having enough sex, and on women, who, the narrative goes, put their careers before thoughts of getting married and having a family.
But there’s another, simpler explanation for the country’s low birth rate, one that has implications for the U.S.: Japan’s birth rate may be falling because there are fewer good opportunities for young people, and especially men, in the country’s economy. In a country where men are still widely expected to be breadwinners and support families, a lack of good jobs may be creating a class of men who don’t marry and have children because they—and their potential partners—know they can’t afford to.
The party is promising a “A Better Deal.” Will voters be convinced?
Six months after Donald Trump’s inauguration, Democrats in Congress are ready to adopt a populist economic agenda that blends ideas long entrenched in the liberal mainstream, like infrastructure investment, with promises that have not been a focus of the Democratic Party in recent years such as a pledge to rein in the power of corporate monopolies.
Locked out of power in Washington, Democrats lack the ability to implement the agenda, which will be sold to voters under the tagline “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future.” But party leaders plan to pitch it as a preview of what they would do if Democrats win back Congress. The economic platform is aimed at bridging ideological and demographic divides in the party, and Democrats hope it will have widespread appeal, in rural and urban areas, and with centrist, moderate, and progressive voters alike.
President Trump’s son-in-law is expected to tell the Senate Intelligence Committee that he “did not collude” with Russia.
Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will tell the Senate Intelligence Committee Monday that he took part in four meetings with Russian officials and insisted he “did not collude” with any foreign government.
Kushner’s remarks were released early Monday ahead of his appearance before congressional investigators on the Senate panel and they provide an important insight into the workings of the Trump campaign in the days leading up to the 2016 presidential election, as well as the kinds of contacts Trump’s aides had during the period.
“I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government,” Kushner said in his prepared remarks. “I had no improper contacts.”
This was the first resignation of its kind in France in six decades, but it was enough to remind me how much Americans take healthy civil-military relations for granted. Unlike the French, for example, who have had some terrible episodes between their civilian and military leaders over the years, Americans have never had to disband a parachute infantry regiment because it literally threatened to drop onto the nation’s capital and depose the elected government.
That’s not to say we haven’t had our issues, but aside from Douglas MacArthur’s repeated (and successful) attempts to embarrass himself and his profession, Americans have rarely had to worry about the U.S. military and its leadership as a threat to the Republic.
The Ju/’hoansi, of Namibia, lived the same way millennium after millennium. Then the military stipends started coming in.
Tsumkwe is the closest thing to a town in Namibia’s Nyae Nyae district, the epitome of remoteness in a country where almost everywhere is remote. Tsumkwe is also the capital of roughly 3,500 Ju/'hoansi, perhaps the best known of the few groups of people who continued to live as hunter-gatherers well into the 20th century.
If Tsumkwe has a center, then it is the Tsumkwe General Dealer, a small thatched shop and gas station that stands at the town’s only paved intersection. It is here that most Ju/'hoansi gravitate whenever money finds its way into their pockets, to purchase dry foods, alcohol, soft drinks, cookware, tools, blankets, and medicine.
Installed in the last couple of years, a solar-powered, cellular-connected ATM now occupies a central position in the General Dealer. When it actually works, it is the only means by which the 100 or so Ju/’hoansi in Tsumkwe with salaries can translate their digital paychecks into cash without travelling 200 miles to the nearest larger town, Grootfontein. The machine still elicits occasional gasps from some of the older Ju/’hoansi. “If you feed this machine the right numbers,” one old Ju/’hoan man explained to me with a wink, “it magically shits money.”
To influence U.S. politics, foreign governments don’t have to hack one party and collude with the other.
Russia’s apparent interference in the U.S. presidential election is a big story, but it’s part of an even bigger one: the ease with which foreign actors can insert themselves into the democratic process these days, and the difficulty of determining how to minimize that meddling.
Witness the disagreement in recent weeks among leaders of the U.S. Federal Election Commission. Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub has urged the regulatory agency to plug the types of “legal or procedural holes” that enabled Russia to pose “an unprecedented threat to the very foundations of our American political community,” while her Republican colleagues have resisted her proposed fixes. “There are many historical examples of overreaction to foreign threats in American politics,” the Republican Commissioner Lee Goodman observed. Just because a foreign government attempted to mess with American democracy in 2016 doesn’t mean all foreign involvement in U.S. politics is nefarious—or worth shutting down.
Eighty-Sixed, a new web series from the HBO comedy creator’s daughter Cazzie David, taps into an uncomfortable brand of humor for a new generation.
It was pretty, pretty, pretty exciting to learn last week that one of cable’s favorite curmudgeons will return to television this fall. After six years off the air, Larry David—the Seinfeld co-creator known more recently for his Bernie Sanders impression on Saturday Night Live—will bring his hit HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm back for a ninth season on October 1. But if that release date seems too far off for those avid fans counting the days, there’s another comedy that could fill the void until then.
Cazzie David, the 23-year-old daughter of the Curb creator, has teamed up with a friend from college, Elisa Kalani, to make a web series called Eighty-Sixed. Though just six episodes have been released on YouTube this year, Eighty-Sixed already fits well into a new generation of shows channeling the mockingly self-centered humor that defines Curb. When it premiered in 2000, Curb Your Enthusiasm was unlike anything on television, though some of Seinfeld’s comedic sensibility came through. Shot in a cinema-verité style and largely improvised, Curb followed a fictionalized version of Larry David as he managed to alienate just about everyone he ran into. With his obnoxious nitpicking and disregard for basic etiquette, David’s character was comfortable being self-righteous and offensive at the same time.