In a post that went up a few minutes ago on its official "Inside Search" blog, Google offers some fascinating tips on "improving our user experience" for people inside mainland China. As a background reminder: after its showdown with the Chinese government two years ago, Google moved its Chinese search servers outside the mainland, to Hong Kong. People in Beijing, Shanghai, and elsewhere on the mainland can still use Google, but their queries must pass through "Great Firewall" filters on their way out to Hong Kong and then back in again.
One valuable part of this new post is a video that vividly conveys how it feels to run searches from inside the Great Firewall. As I argued years ago (and in these recent updates), the brilliance of the multi-layered screening systems that together make up the Firewall is that they are neither airtight nor fully predictable. Unless you are brazenly searching for some obviously taboo term, you're never certain what exactly has triggered a blockage -- or, often, whether your query is being blocked at all, versus your having run into some routine internet problem.
The first minute or so of the video shows what this is like from the user's end -- indeed, how it felt to me about 36 hours ago, when I was trying to do some searches in Shanghai. You enter one query, and it works fine. Then you enter a seemingly similar one -- and, inexplicably, your internet connection seems to die for a while. Then, after a "penalty box" period (whose existence or duration is never explained to you), it comes back. Please do watch: