Chinese blogger Isaac Mao has been watching the latest crackdown on internet bulletin boards and website registration with great concern. I e-mailed him some questions which he was kind enough to answer:
Rebecca: Up until now bulletin boards have remained the number-one way that Chinese communicate on the internet. Will people now switch to blogs? Or to something else?
Isaac: Not only BBS, but all internet sites are tightened by government in these days. Even personal website with independant domain name should be declared before June (see Zheng's post)
Whether it's easy to execute and maintain, the action will affect many of internet sites hosted in China. Although some guys like Maomy are seeking alternative solution, such as blog, [switching] from BBS. They don't know how long they can live in this form. Zheng even predicts that there will be a new round of “Silence” in China cyberspace.
Rebecca: You mentioned in your latest post that “centralized blog hosting services” can't work in China either, and that people are “moving to more distributed blogging solutions.” Can you explain what you mean by that and give some examples of how centralized blog hosting services aren't working, and what the distributed blogging solutions are, and how they work?
Isaac: [Chinese blog hosting services like] Blogbus.com/blogcn.com/blogchina.com are a centralized hosting service, but student bloggers have to move to these sites with the first reaction when their campus blog community blocked with BBS.
The first reaction of student bloggers in Tsing Hua once their blog community was blocked along with BSS is to move to other blog hosting service providers. The user, Maomy, moved from TsingHua University blog community to blogbus days ago. Just commented on my post at CNBlog, “Seems I should find a safer solution building my own blog site….”. It shows their concerns on centralized blog hosting service too. …It's still not the ultimate safe solution I want to tell people, neither Maomy and other guys want. Just a temp solution.
The safer and distributed solution means an independent space with an independent domain name. (e.g., rconversation.com, isaacmao.com, etc.), and better they are not attached to one service provider.
As I know, the centralized bloghosting sites will soon add “Shui Mu Qinghua” [The name of the Tsinghua University BBS] as a blocked keyword in their self-policed system. By searching Grassland(an RSS search engine developed by cnblog.org team), some centralized blog sites has removed their user's posts manually in last days, some links broken already.
Rebecca: So isn't Blogbus [Isaac's blog hosting service] also subject to government requirements that it must block keywords and filter content?
Isaac: In China, there are already serveral thousands of independant blogs linked with independant domain name the blogger like. However, it is only about 1-2% of the total blogosphere size. Most of the blogs still hosted in centralized blog service providers. That's why some said there are only serval ‘blogs’ in China. What we are trying to do is to help people set up their own blog site with an affordable price. Actually, many bloggers wants to have such site if he/she blogs over one year. To those centralized blog hosting services, they have to choose “self-policing” between “free speech” and “self-policing”, no exception. But in some ways, they are also good to help people to learn what's blog initially.
Although setting up an independant blog site is not easy to common users, I found more and more users seek helps from peers to build their own blog site now, either hosted in China or overseas. I'm talking with some local entrepreneurs here on how to help those bloggers to set up independant blog site without pain. Although ISPs are also controlled by government for sure, the mass distributed content is more difficult to be blocked once a time like SMTH BBS.
Rebecca: How can people outside China help with this?
Isaac: Good question. I think bloggers do need outside support at this moment. It may even be a turning point to change the direction of online arena, then to the whole society in China.
Andrea Leung, our team member, provided the follwing idea:
The “Adopt a Blog” project started by John @ sinosplice.com may be an
inspiration. See: http://www.sinosplice.com/adoptablog/
The last I heard of, many people donated blog space, but there were
not that many laowai [non-Chinese] bloggers were interested.
Perhaps what is needed is a Chinese version of it and a fleet of
volunteer blog consultants to help existing bloggers setup a new blog.
It would also help to blog software that is very easy to install on
the server. MT & WordPress are both too difficult for non-geek users.
Now the problem, as I see it is, if the gov't is really nasty, it can
convict a blogger for posting to an overseas site.
Also, we have a team here developing a new tool called “Wego”, which can support bloggers to blog in local machine then publish to multiples sites they like. It can solve the problem that he may lose all content if it's blocked, or hosting crash. Wego encourages people in China to write more as their habit, and publish it selectively. Hopefully, a prototype can be release in two months. Also we need resource from outside world to support such development and future spreading.
Rebecca: This requirement that all internet websites have to register with the government – does that mean that every single blogger has to register their blog's URL with the government? How many blogs get created every day in China now? Can they possibly keep up with this and is it realistic to enforce?
Isaac: The new regulation is obvious a new way to supress distributed sites since an effective way to control centralized sites has been found. According to the explaination of the new regulation, if you have a site with independant domain name(www), whehter is blog site or not, you should have to register to local telecom bureaus. However, I don't think the solution of registerring is effective from government side. It's almost impossible to get this done or even half done. You know, the execution of this rule requires not only a huge system, but also unrealistic human resource. It's a new game of centralized control v.s. distributed chaos. To me, I don't want to register my blog site, until someday one clerk call me. If more and more people seek independant hosting solution, I think it's more difficult to control in a centralized way.
The team in CNBlog.org estimates there are about 3000 new bloggers in those big blog hosting sites(such as blogbus.com, blogcn.com, blogchina.com, etc.), while also 50-100 blog sites with independant domain names. A more accurate results will be published soon next month by CNblog.org team.
Rebecca: Will this information be made available in English for non-Chinese speakers?
Isaac: Soon, some team members will translate the result parallel with Chinese edition and publish it at the same site.
Do you have more questions for Isaac? Post them in the comments section here and we'll invite him to answer. Thanks!!