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October 29, 2009 1:56 AM   Subscribe

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google talks about what the web will look like in five years. The internet will be dominated by Chinese-language content... content will move towards more video... today's teenagers are the model of how the web will work in five years.
posted by twoleftfeet (152 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
My favorite Eric Schmidt quote about the internet, from some earlier speech, is "Let's be clear: it's a sewer out there."
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:12 AM on October 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


"The internet will be dominated by Chinese-language content.."

Behind the Great Firewall, that most of us wil rarely see.

Oh... and what is going to be discussed will be pretty boring to most of us.
posted by markkraft at 2:23 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: What is going to be discussed will be pretty boring to most of us.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:26 AM on October 29, 2009 [17 favorites]


markkraft: Behind the Great Firewall, that most of us will rarely see.

Don't you have that backwards? I mean, we can see (most) of what they see (aside from a few salient examples I can think of off of the top of my head... heh...)

They're the ones who'll never see what we see, right?
posted by koeselitz at 2:41 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Chinese isn't going to become the international language of business or entertainment in five years, there is no way it is going to become bigger than English.
posted by afu at 2:55 AM on October 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Chinese isn't going to become the international language of business or entertainment in five years, there is no way it is going to become bigger than English.

That's why I still speak Latin.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:58 AM on October 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


afu, you've been in a coma the last few years, right?
posted by dearsina at 3:03 AM on October 29, 2009


I think afu has a point. For people from outside wanting to do business in China, then Chinese language ability is important. For Chinese businesspeople wanting to do business in the rest of the world, then English will be more important. I can't really envisage there being too many occasions where three parties in a deal - say an Italian, a German and a Chinese, doing the deal in Europe would all decide that Mandarin was the best language to conduct negotiations in (unless of course the Italian and German guys knew Mandarin).

Meanwhile, yes there may be massive amounts of Chinese content on the internet in five years, but how is that any different to what's happening now?

The reality is the internet is almost as divided by language as the physical world is. Heck, even the English part of the internet is somewhat divided by national boundaries - witness the example of Craigslist - massively popular in North America, no-one cares about it anywhere else.

So yeah, there will be huge amounts of Chinese-language content on the web, which most of us who don't read Chinese will never encounter. In that sense, "dominate" is an odd term.
posted by awfurby at 3:21 AM on October 29, 2009 [5 favorites]


Five years from now, won't "the web" itself seem like a rather cute idea?

It seems to me that one of the big battles will be the fight over who owns and organises the web. It's too big a chunk of real estate to survive without coming under sustained attack.

I think we'll see an awful lot more "channelization" of the web as corporates flex their muscles and begin to funnel users through their systems. The old AOL model of creating and managing content is gone, but at some point consumers will want help navigating through piles of crap and there will be lots of companies bidding to own the access.

We're already hearing signs of this, as ISPs threaten to shut down users whose behavior violates policy. It's still a choke point.

Other predictions:

- A complete move away from a media or software ownership model. Rental only, probably in the cloud. Why bother buying DVDs or music when you can stream them? Why bother trying to lock down content with DRM when the problem is that it's there to be owned in the first place.

- Performance gains in bandwidth will start to become secondary to problems around access. I.e. if we move to a cloud-based, always on model, then being able to get coverage is more important than whether it's fast or really fast.

- Teenagers are useful bellwethers, but the more important point is that usage of new media is heavily stratified by user groups. 45 year olds use their cellphones differently from 25 year olds and 65 year olds etc etc. So while teenagers may tell you a bit about the future, it only goes so far. And it's a truism that teens adapt quicker. Of course they do: they're not unlearning a system. They said the same when teens channel surfed on commercial TV back in the 60s.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:35 AM on October 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


afu: Chinese isn't going to become the international language of business or entertainment in five years, there is no way it is going to become bigger than English.

I don't really give a flying goddamn about business – those folks can all sod off, frankly – but English was eclipsed in entertainment years ago. I'm a lifelong film buff and lover of the cinema, for example, and I've seen at least ten times as many interesting films that were in Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese in the last ten years as interesting English films. Who's making worthwhile cinema here? Moreover – and this is where it really comes down – every single one of those movies was commercially viable. The model Hong Kong has been busy refining for decades now has spread all over Asia, and probably represents the future of film. Hollywood is at least two decades behind in all this, and can't seem to even make a few movies a year that actually make money compared to their budgets.

awfurby: So yeah, there will be huge amounts of Chinese-language content on the web, which most of us who don't read Chinese will never encounter. In that sense, "dominate" is an odd term.

A little bird told me that twoleftfeet was thinking of a certain Chinese tube site where you can generally watch all kinds of great shows and videos that aren't really available in the US. That may not be your bag – who knows – but think about it: what if Youtube was in Chinese? What if Twitter or Facebook was primarily in Chinese? Plenty of Chinese people use those services even though they're in English; Eric Schmidt isn't stupid, and he can see very well that the next Twitter or Facebook or Youtube might be (might already be) Chinese-based.

This is why I objected up above to the notion that the great firewall keeps us out. It doesn't! What keeps us out is our own provincial attitudes that are afraid of different languages. And that will change. Probably everybody here has ended up on a Cantonese, Mandarin or Japanese site at some point and had to parse where to find what exactly they were looking for; that process will become more and more familiar to all of us, I think. And the silly notion that you'll want websites, often extremely useful websites, to remain invisible just because they're not in your language will disappear.
posted by koeselitz at 3:45 AM on October 29, 2009 [10 favorites]


afu: Chinese isn't going to become the international language of business or entertainment in five years, there is no way it is going to become bigger than English.

Wait, weren't you the person in that other thread saying that there was absolutely no political opposition to the Chinese government in China?
posted by koeselitz at 3:48 AM on October 29, 2009


twoleftfeet was thinking of a certain Chinese tube site where you can generally watch all kinds of great shows and videos that aren't really available in the US.

That's just part of it. Try this quiz: Name the Chinese counterparts of YouTube, Google, Facebook, or eBay. Answers

I bet most MeFites can't name three out of four. We in the west are oblivious to how fast other countries are using the web.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:06 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Prediction: Smart Grid electrical meters will be our high speed modems, information appliances will communicate over their power lines, few people will want a general purpose computer.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:07 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


A little bird told me that twoleftfeet was thinking of a certain Chinese tube site where you can generally watch all kinds of great shows and videos that aren't really available in the US. That may not be your bag – who knows – but think about it: what if Youtube was in Chinese? What if Twitter or Facebook was primarily in Chinese? Plenty of Chinese people use those services even though they're in English; Eric Schmidt isn't stupid, and he can see very well that the next Twitter or Facebook or Youtube might be (might already be) Chinese-based.

Well, that's a fair point about the kind of service you're describing. But the reality is Facebook has 14000 users in China. A lot of that is to do of course with filtering by the Chinese govt, but also because the moment a new social network debuts in the west, someone in China immediately builds a Chinese-language analogue. By the time the Western company localises its offering, the Chinese version has already got the user base and the Western version is toast before it even got going. Google's a good example - took them ages to get to where they are now in China, they're still number 2 by a long way, and their main competitor just copied them. In fact, my boss had a meeting with Baidu to talk about their AdWords-style system and all through the meeting the Baidu people had to keep reminding themselves not to call it Adwords. Meanwhile here's a nice roundup of what sites are being used in China (slides 7 and 17 are very interesting).

And it goes both ways - sure the next Twitter or Youtube might be Chinese, but if they don't localise it for the West then it's going to be hard for most people to use.
posted by awfurby at 4:08 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't really give a flying goddamn about business – those folks can all sod off, frankly – but English was eclipsed in entertainment years ago. I'm a lifelong film buff and lover of the cinema

No offense, but if we're talking about the future of entertainment, I'd be more curious about Chinese efforts in interactive fiction and straight-up video gaming than about film.
posted by kid ichorous at 4:09 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's just part of it. Try this quiz: Name the Chinese counterparts of YouTube, Google, Facebook, or eBay. Answers

Youku, Baidu, Xiaonei, Taobao

but I cheated :)
posted by awfurby at 4:10 AM on October 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


twoleftfeet: I bet most MeFites can't name three out of four. We in the west are oblivious to how fast other countries are using the web.

Exactly! But how long can we remain oblivious? Somebody in China (or elsewhere) is probably developing something that we'd find very useful; we just have to open our minds to the possibility of navigating a site in a different language. Which isn't so bad when you actually sit down and try it.
posted by koeselitz at 4:14 AM on October 29, 2009


kid ichorous: No offense, but if we're talking about the future of entertainment, I'd be more curious about Chinese efforts in interactive fiction and straight-up video gaming than about film.

Yeah. Like I said, that was just one example. There are many others.
posted by koeselitz at 4:15 AM on October 29, 2009


Youku, Baidu, Xiaonei, Taobao


Xiaonei is now Renren. You might be right about Taobao.

But, c'mon... I'm a stupid westerner and most of these sound like noodle dishes to me, not serious competitors to my beloved web services.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:17 AM on October 29, 2009


awfurby: And it goes both ways - sure the next Twitter or Youtube might be Chinese, but if they don't localise it for the West then it's going to be hard for most people to use.

Have you actually tried using Youku? It's actually really easy. English-search is pretty much built-in, even though it's almost exclusively used by Mandarin and Cantonese-speakers.

Try searching for almost anything at video.google.com and you'll see Youku.com results pop up. It's really very easy to use. You're telling yourself that it'll be painful, but it's not.

This is the exact same problem desktop computers had twenty years ago. "Oh, these things are too complex! There's no way the average consumer will ever want to learn about mouses, or Window navigation, or toolbars, or any of this junk!" But guess what – we did.
posted by koeselitz at 4:19 AM on October 29, 2009


Mousing around a video site is one thing, creating an account on this and actually getting anything out of it is another.

Hey I'm not saying it won't happen, but I really don't think people who don't read Chinese are even going to know about these sites, let alone figure out how to interact with them.
posted by awfurby at 4:19 AM on October 29, 2009


What does it mean that the internet will be "dominated" by content in a particular language? It's not like there's a fixed amount of content out there and increasing the Chinese portion is going to shrink the English (or Korean or French etc etc) language part...
posted by patricio at 4:24 AM on October 29, 2009 [10 favorites]


Yeah that's a good point patricio - it seems meaningless to me. I mean within a language you could say English-language content on the web is dominated by American content and services, but if you don't use English content and services and only use Chinese ones, then it really doesn't mean anything to you at all.
posted by awfurby at 4:28 AM on October 29, 2009


I'm constantly surfing the net looking for stuff to blog. I can't navigate many sites that are of interest because they don''t have English. Their loss. Mine too. I wish it wasn't so.
posted by tellurian at 4:29 AM on October 29, 2009


Who does Eric Schmidt think he is? Miss Cleo?
posted by anniecat at 4:36 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think vast advances in translation software will eventually make a lot of these online language questions maybe not moot, but less important. What is needed is a translation software that can learn, not necessarily in the A.I. sense of the word, but that can be honed and correct by people using it. It may not know how to translate all slang and everything at first, but even a simple "This makes sense" "This doesn't make sense" from users would slowly hone the software in on more correct (or at least more understandable translations). What I don't understand is why current translation sites don't "show their work" so to speak. The translation software had trouble with a certain word or tense? Show both options of what it could have meant to the user, it'll help them parse.
posted by haveanicesummer at 4:41 AM on October 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm constantly surfing the net looking for stuff to blog. I can't navigate many sites that are of interest because they don''t have English.

That's the very good point. As someone who loves the web, why should I give a shit if interesting content comes from China or the United States or Azerbaijan? I only give a shit if the content is interesting.

Citizens of the web unite! You have nothing to lose but inferior content.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:44 AM on October 29, 2009


What does it mean that the internet will be "dominated" by content in a particular language?

It only means that he (and others) are busting their britches over the sheer amount of product - from advertising all the way down to localized MMORPGS - they'll be able to offload onto their favorite "emerging market" in coming years. It doesn't necessarily affect the internet as you experience it, unless they happen to be selling it to you.
posted by kid ichorous at 4:47 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


真的啊!

我觉得看网站上的汉字真难, 因为每个字很小, 不太清楚. 再说, 多半人没有什么办法用电脑写字.

Maybe we'll have (more or less realtime) crowdsourced translations of both English and Chinese websites in the future? That would be . Chinese web slang is very difficult to understand.
posted by flippant at 4:50 AM on October 29, 2009


So one other question: what are the 1.1 billion Indians doing in the next five years that makes them so less important than the 1.3 billion Chinese?
posted by MuffinMan at 5:01 AM on October 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


I think we will have vastly less control over content - be it ours or theirs. already it's pretty difficult for me in europe to access hulu and I actively need to monitor the connections my own computer and the various applications would like to make without my knowledge. I expect nasty little things like flash cookies to become more prevalent and targeting/following of average consumers to become more prevalent.
posted by krautland at 5:03 AM on October 29, 2009


Chinese isn't going to become the international language of business or entertainment in five years, there is no way it is going to become bigger than English.

you base that on the color of your poo today?
posted by krautland at 5:03 AM on October 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


...today's teenagers are the model of how the web will work in five years.

Oh wonderful. The web will be sleeping in, trying to sneak out of doing its homework, the web will think it knows everything, and want me to stop pressuring it. The web will need to take a shower, and have friends whom I sometimes think are suspect.
posted by not_on_display at 5:05 AM on October 29, 2009 [8 favorites]


what are the 1.1 billion Indians doing in the next five years that makes them so less important than the 1.3 billion Chinese?

The top portal site in India - the equivalent of Yahoo - is Yahoo India. And it's in English.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:07 AM on October 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


twoleftfeet: exactly, and makes me question why the conversion to Chinese media is going to be so dominant in the next 5 years.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:10 AM on October 29, 2009


It's interesting when 1.3 billion people go a different way. There is a Yahoo of India, but it's still Yahoo. It's still going the same way.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:13 AM on October 29, 2009


There will still be porn.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:15 AM on October 29, 2009 [8 favorites]


I don't really give a flying goddamn about business – those folks can all sod off, frankly – but English was eclipsed in entertainment years ago. I'm a lifelong film buff and lover of the cinema, for example, and I've seen at least ten times as many interesting films that were in Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese in the last ten years as interesting English films. Who's making worthwhile cinema here?.

But business is really what forces people to learn new languages. I watch a lot of Asian films, but they are all subtitled in English so there's not much of a point in learning several new languages just to get more enjoyment out of that content. And on the reverse side, I doubt that many people around the world bother learning English just because American films are popular all over the place. Whereas if a global company from the US has factories, suppliers, etc. from all over the world, there are going to be a lot of people who end up learning English to be able to work for them.
posted by burnmp3s at 5:15 AM on October 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Everyone forgets India - China is an manufacturing export powerhouse, true, but India is methodically growing its middle class and building domestic markets for its own goods and services. Unfortunately, Hindi is difficult to type with current tech, and educated Indians usually know enough English to get by on the 'net - it's the language of law and commerce in India, a holdover from colonial days, and taught in secondary school.

So English-language content will continue to dominate. That and Japanese-language content, as pirating manga and anime seems to account for 80% of all internets.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:17 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


today's teenagers are the model of how the web will work in five years.

I don't know about you, but this worried me more than anything else.
posted by hellojed at 5:19 AM on October 29, 2009


I hope Chinese websites don't dominate the internet anytime soon. Have you seen the webdesign? It's like geocities over here.
posted by msbrauer at 5:21 AM on October 29, 2009 [8 favorites]


There will still be porn.

Not in China.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:23 AM on October 29, 2009


I dunno...

Most people in Asia don't seem to give a crap about Chinese Culture outside of China. I think it's going to be long time before China starts creating any kind of cultural fads that other people will latch on to.

So yeah, a lot of people speak Chinese, but the other 6-7 billion of us don't really give a crap what they're saying.

I agree about interesting movies coming out of Asian countries, but way more Asians are interested in getting their hands on copies of GI Joe than westerners are interested in the latest Chan-wook Park movie.

The US produces a lot of crappy pop fluff, but our crappy pop fluff is years ahead of other people's lowest common denominator productions. You can't compare the top 3% best Asian movies against the entire pantheon of Western cultural production.
posted by Telf at 5:25 AM on October 29, 2009 [3 favorites]


Perhaps it will look something like this.
posted by kdar at 5:26 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, if what teenagers are doing now is the future of the internet, does that mean that Youtube comments and Yahoo Answers will make up the content of online journalism?

In either case, I'm glad that the future ended up being much more disappointing and much more awesome than old AT&T ads that pitched it as a great way to turn on and turn off your oven from afar, or to run a business meeting from your couch.

Oh yeah, I'd like to a make a prediction, too. Google works harder on a natural language translation engine to better weave together the internet if they really believe Chinese content will make up the lion's share of the internet. They're not dummies. Why would they want to segment up the internet and keep themselves out of potential international commerce? Even if it's a very difficult AI feat, Google will at least try to make it work somewhat better.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:28 AM on October 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


but think about it: what if Youtube was in Chinese? What if Twitter or Facebook was primarily in Chinese?

Keyboard manufacturers would rejoice, that's for certain.

English is intrinsically easier to pick up than Chinese. The language is more direct. The grammatical structures are dead-simple. Oh sure, there's plenty of ways English can be complicated. But the point is, it doesn't have to be for you to be understood. You can mangle the pronunciation, destroy all semblance of sentence structure, and still be understood. That's insanely powerful.

If you think of language like bits of data streaming between computers, English has a much higher recovery rate for data loss than just about any other language on the planet.

I'd be more surprised if, with the opening of the Chinese to the west in the next 25 years, the Chinese language weren't forever tainted by English efficiencies.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:39 AM on October 29, 2009 [7 favorites]


English has a much higher recovery rate for data loss than just about any other language on the planet.

Oh pish tosh. If that's the thing that mattered we'd all be communicating through an internet built on semaphore flags. Cultural hegemony has much more to do with it now.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:44 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Behind the Great Firewall, that most of us wil rarely see.
It's a one-way thing. We can see all the stuff they post, but some of our stuff (a very small percentage) is blocked.
I think we'll see an awful lot more "channelization" of the web as corporates flex their muscles and begin to funnel users through their systems. The old AOL model of creating and managing content is gone, but at some point consumers will want help navigating through piles of crap and there will be lots of companies bidding to own the access.
Look at facebook, for example.
A little bird told me that twoleftfeet was thinking of a certain Chinese tube site where you can generally watch all kinds of great shows and videos that aren't really available in the US. That may not be your bag – who knows – but think about it: what if Youtube was in Chinese?
Uh, Youtube is available in Chinese (that's a link to youtube Taiwan). You can of course switch your interface language to Chinese as well. But you might want to click here to change it back to English afterwards

. Remember when the pirate bay was all in sweedish, and you had to guess what the buttons did, then they switched to English? Well, it's actually available in 29 languages, including Chinese.

The future isn't balkanization by language, but rather realtime machine translation of everything. Google reader actually has built-in translation now. If you someone posts a message in Chinese on google groups, there's a "translate this" button you can push.
I bet most MeFites can't name three out of four. We in the west are oblivious to how fast other countries are using the web.
Alibaba isn't really the "Chinese Ebay" it's actually a site where Chinese exporters sell products to the outside world, and actually it's an international commerce hub that serves lots of countries. I did know baidu, and I read about youku the other day in an askme thread but forgot the name :P

But anyway, the fact that there will be huge Chinese online companies isn't really going to impact people in the west very much. I mean if an internet company is used by tons of Americans and other English speakers. If a site has no Chinese users because Chinese people aren't online or because there are a billion online who aren't visiting the page. Metafile isn't going to be overrun with 汉人写汉字.
真的啊!

我觉得看网站上的汉字真难, 因为每个字很小, 不太清楚. 再说, 多半人没有什么办法用电脑写字.
不难。用 windows IME 你的计算正在有. Google也有一个
posted by delmoi at 5:48 AM on October 29, 2009


today's teenagers are the model of...

No matter HOW this sentence ends, it is terrifying.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 5:49 AM on October 29, 2009 [8 favorites]


"today's teenagers are the model of how the web will work in five years"
I'm not convinced that the behaviour of teenagers clearly signposts the future; it's a fickle, fashion-conscious segment of society with a lifestyle and outlook that are constantly evolving towards adulthood. Last time I checked, MySpace wasn't doing so well.

Watching what geeks are into, on the other hand, has been a fairly reliable predictor of imminent shifts in forms of communication/entertainment over the past couple of decades. In the late '80s I saw how many geeks at university found email, online chat, bulletin boards and online games to be utterly compelling, and knew immediately that it'd all hit the mainstream in some form at some time.
posted by malevolent at 6:26 AM on October 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


There is a lot of her her kids these days in this thread, which is odd. The ageploitation comments in the video were deliciously ridiculous, not something worth echoing.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 6:27 AM on October 29, 2009


Have you actually tried using Youku? It's actually really easy. English-search is pretty much built-in, even though it's almost exclusively used by Mandarin and Cantonese-speakers.

But that only works because they are labeling the content in English, mainly because the source is pirated Western scene releases. If the content was labeled in Cantonese or Mandarin, it would go right back to being an impenetrable black box.
posted by smackfu at 6:28 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


i predict in five years the internet will be littered with banner ads that advertise "google pays me $20 a year to be human batteries for the matrix" and they will make up 68% of the click-through

in the meantime i'll be in my bunker perfecting my microwave absorbing fashion line.
posted by Hammond Rye at 6:30 AM on October 29, 2009


I think, file for file, the content of the Internet will definitely move more towards video, but in an amazingly useless way. Yes, we will see a great deal more of music videos from the 80s online, more guys with pepperonis glued to their faces singing about sausage, and more high school girls doing dance routines, purely if you measure by files.

So, yeah, the Internet will grow in its capacity to deliver entertainment, and much of that will be user-created video.

What are people doing at work? Still reading text. I don't see that changing very quickly.
posted by adipocere at 6:30 AM on October 29, 2009


But, c'mon... I'm a stupid westerner and most of these sound like noodle dishes to me, not serious competitors to my beloved web services.

And this is why we're doomed.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:30 AM on October 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


You could make the argument that English is sufficiently wide-spread throughout the world to be the only logical choice for global business. Calculate the advantage enjoyed by Hong Kong businesses with their requisite native English speakers, and estimate the sheer magnitude of coercive English-language instruction on the mainline, and you'll assume China itself believes that English will remain the dominant language for at least the foreseeable future.

The sheer volume of chatter about Chinese content dominating suggests precisely what anyone might assume: a bunch of Westerners are scared of impending irrelevancy in the face of the rousing dragon. (How do you say, "I for one..." in Mandarin?)

But don't forget about geocities shutting down. The "vast majority" of content online right now is likely crap homepages and other such detritus. The educated in China and elsewhere will continue to make global offerings through the broad appeal of English-language websites, but as increasing numbers of ordinary Chinese gain web access, the "vast majority" of content will suddenly become Chinese simply because of the number of homepages, restaurant menus, China-based craigslists, etc.
posted by jefficator at 6:32 AM on October 29, 2009


I think people will probably just stop using it
posted by henners at 6:34 AM on October 29, 2009


The history of the net so far has shown that the response to the growth of other languages is not "Neat!" but "How do I filter this junk out?"
posted by smackfu at 6:38 AM on October 29, 2009


All the fear mongering about China neglects to consider the problems of political and economic bastardization China. Simply put, you can't hobble together a free market in a country without real freedom. When you try, you get loans given based on political connections rather than on the inherent value of ideas and assistance given based on party loyalty rather than historic business performance. The West is scared of China because of the sheer volume of widgets it exports. But we have absolutely no idea how much of the Chinese GDP is bad debt. We have absolutely no idea how many start-ups fail and succeed in China. And we have very little idea how all of this change is experienced by the average person. All we really know is that China is presently undergoing another turn of its historic cycle: cities grow prosperous because of exports to the West, while peasants compete for scare jobs and languish in poverty.

Frankly I'm much more concerned about reemerging political instability in China than about any global economic dominance.
posted by jefficator at 6:38 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I get where you're coming from about "the international language of business or entertainment" afu, but another side of that is China isn't going to make its major efforts in 'Western' markets in the near term - it's the deals being cut in Africa, Latin America and with Russia and so on that are going to shape the new China-centred global economy, and English will quite possibly fall out of the loop - the new Confucius Centres are spreading the word and anyway there's a legacy of African and Russian sinological knowledge from the days of 'fraternal socialist cooperation'.
posted by Abiezer at 6:42 AM on October 29, 2009


"It's because of this fundamental shift towards user-generated information that people will listen more to other people than to traditional sources."

Content distributors like newspapers, television news, radio, etc. all emerged because of high demand for information compared with relative scarcity of sources. A hundred years ago, an office with a telegraph line connecting Denver to New York was essential in order to know the latest news of the day. This is simply no longer the case. We don't need them anymore, despite their best efforts to tell us otherwise.

As I've said before, this is about efficiency in systems. Any system always prefers the most efficient route.
posted by jefficator at 6:42 AM on October 29, 2009


while teenagers may tell you a bit about the future, it only goes so far.

This is so true, and so often so overlooked. Some things that teenagers do indicate a fundamental shift, but many things they do only indicate their developmental level and the structures of their daily lives. Of course they text constantly; they're driven by social development at this age. Friends and relationships will rarely be so important to them in this way in the remainder of their lives. IN addition, they're stuck in classroom or activity or work settings most of the day and evening, and need mobile technology more than the rest of us, who have desktop systems at work and home. Of course they don't email; it's tedious when you can talk or text, and when that's about fun. But once they get jobs and arrive at work, they encounter a level of detailed information transfer that is really handled most efficiently through email, collaborative documents, and PDF exchange.

In looking at young people in a specific and unique life stage as bellwethers of future behavior, we underestimate the degree to which their behavior expresses not sea change, but specific adaptations to their developmental needs and daily structures.
posted by Miko at 6:45 AM on October 29, 2009 [12 favorites]


Eh, making predictions five years out is great and everything, but it ignores the Bolt From The Blue that seems to occur with increasing frequency over the past twenty or so years. I think being one of today's "visionaries" has a lot more to do with good fortune than prescience.
posted by Pragmatica at 6:48 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


The thing about predictions is that, even when very smart people at great companies make them, they're usually really wrong.
posted by MoreForMad at 6:48 AM on October 29, 2009 [5 favorites]



English is intrinsically easier to pick up than Chinese. The language is more direct. The grammatical structures are dead-simple. Oh sure, there's plenty of ways English can be complicated. But the point is, it doesn't have to be for you to be understood. You can mangle the pronunciation, destroy all semblance of sentence structure, and still be understood. That's insanely powerful.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:39 AM on October 29 [1 favorite +] [!]


Er,

All due respect, but in my experience, Chinese grammar is a lot simpler than English grammar. English requires verb conjugation, which Chinese doesn't really have. Chinese vocabulary is harder, and learning characters is a giant pain in the butt, but the grammar is dead easy.

See, for example: English as a Foreign or Second Language, Difficulties
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:52 AM on October 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


koeselitz: "Have you actually tried using Youku?."

I have now.

I had to guess that the thing at the top was a search box. And while it found lots of matches for "CSI: Miami", the two episodes I tried playing both showed me what I assume was a message in Mandarin saying "No video for you, US imperialist dog".

I'll stick with torrenting for the time being, thanks anyway.


posted by Joe Beese at 6:52 AM on October 29, 2009


The thing about predictions is that, even when very smart people at great companies make them, they're usually really wrong.

Put another way, life is what happens when you're busy making other predictions.
posted by Miko at 6:53 AM on October 29, 2009


The future of the internet will be pretty much like it is now except with more electrolytes.
posted by wcfields at 6:54 AM on October 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think there is a world market for maybe five Chinese mega-websites.
posted by crapmatic at 6:56 AM on October 29, 2009 [6 favorites]


All the fear mongering about China neglects to consider the problems of political and economic bastardization China. Simply put, you can't hobble together a free market in a country without real freedom.
China has shown up this old lie about a free polity being a corollary of 'free markets' for the nonsense it's always been. The neo-corporatist state is now well-entrenched and finds some of its strongest support among the new bourgeois and entrepreneurs, many co-opted into the Party under Jiang's 'Three Represents'. There's more chance of popular liberties and accountability of power coming from the resurgence of communist sentiment amongst ordinary people than there is from those doing very nicely thank you under the current set-up.
posted by Abiezer at 7:03 AM on October 29, 2009 [7 favorites]


Depending on how you view Japan, as either cultural bellweather and harbinger of the future, or hopelessly isolated backwater, assured of the correctness of its poor decisions, one could say that the future of the internet doesn't involve computers.

While Japan might have the fastest/best broadband setup, the vast majority of people in Japan use their cellphones for anything to do with the internet. Most of the young people I teach (granted, skewed sample from a seriously weak university) don't even know how to make an email account, let alone mail an attachment... wait, let's go more basic, they don't know how to use google maps to get a map from their house to their train station, but yet they're wizards with a keitai. In some ways, the rise of iPhones/Android, and all the other smart phones could give us, five years from now, an Internet optimized for a 3.5 inch screen.

Long posts will be a thing of the past, Twitter-style will take over (thumbs will get tired), the ability to maintain concetration will decline, and optometrists will be delighted at everyone holding a tiny glowing screen inches from their eyes.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:04 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would just like to point out that the statements "Chinese language content will be numerically dominant on the internet" and "English will remain the international language, including on the internet" are perfectly compatible. Indeed, the first statement is no more profound than saying, "wow, there sure is a lot of Chinese people!" As for the second statement, who knows? We've never been here before, but the fact that English has been the international language during the growth of mass global communication may mean that the relative size of it user-base makes it unimpeachable - at least for the near future.
posted by Sova at 7:06 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't have the same aversion to teenagers that a lot of people seem to - I was a pretty big shit myself at that age, so I get where they're coming from even if I don't relish having to deal with it.

I work with teenagers in a technical capacity sometimes, and what strikes me is that (with the web being a base-level skill for them) they often know how to do things on the web, but no real idea of how it works. It's like someone mentioned upthread, that teenagers in the 60s were the first people to channel surf, because they'd had television their entire lives, but they probably didn't know about the RF frequencies of their remote, or the sort of technology that caused the pixels to light up on the CRT.

In a similar way, it seems like teenagers know how to interact with the web as an application, but not a series of coded pages. When I was a nerdy teenager, I was sort of forced to learned about things like URL structure, file names, effective use of keyboard shortcuts, HTML, CSS, and how stuff works on the web. This wasn't because I was particuarly adept at coding, or technology (I've always been a very language and image minded person), but because that was what I needed to do whatever.

If I wanted to make a decent personal website, I couldn't click some buttons to get a premade MySpace template. I couldn't go to a website that would create custom .gifs for me. I had to work with an HTML editor, and photoshop, and ulead .gif workshop, and a whole host of other difficult and arbitrary programs to learn it. The skills that I got from that experience turned out to applicable to almost every other computer program ever made. So I can come up to an unfamiliar program, and feel a certain level of confidence that after a period of time I can become a power-user with it, just because I've learned the way to learn about a program.

Not to be crass, but someone mentioned internet porn upthread as well, and I think it's worth talking about. With the profusion of cheap video bandwidth, free porn sites are pretty much a given. When I was a kid, I had to learn a lot of (far less than legal) methods to get porno. URL spoofing, peer to peer file sharing, file compression, video codecs, and a whole bunch of other technical skills were sort of what I also picked up in the bargain (I think I'll leave that off my resume, though).

I'm not trying to make a "when I was a kid I had to walk uphill both ways in the snow" comment (although that's inadvertently what I'm doing), since I think that it's better to have an easier web that everyone can use. I was a nerd, and computers were what took me away from an unpleasant social life. I learned internet technology because it was what distracted and entertained me. The cool kids weren't on the web because of the technological barrier and lack of social reward.

I'd imagine that there're still kids out there who are learning how to code, and how to hack, and all that other stuff because it's something they're good at when they aren't good at the social game. There are kids who will know what sort of gears are ticking behind the scene, but there are many more who will take each webpage as it is at face value and not actually learn the mechanics (and how to manipulate those mechanics) that run it.

My point in all this, however, is that although teenagers are a good belweather for what the web will become, I'm not sure it's a cause for optimism.

When you have your next group of users viewing the web as a series of discrete applications, instead of the boundless universe that I did (and still do) view it as, then I think that's going to change the character of the online experience. I'm curious as to how it will play out, especially with net neutrallity in the legislative mix.

As another data point, I also work with a lot of adult first time computer users, and I'm finding a similar problem. They don't have a curiosity about the way that the internet works, and are more concerned with how to do specific things. They want to find a job. They want to watch videos. They want to email. Since there's a lack of curiosity (I don't blame them, by the way) there's also a tendancy similar to teenagers to look at the web as an appliance (so to speak) rather than a tool, which strikes me as a frightening limit on the possibility of the internet

I think we're in for an interesting decade coming up.
posted by codacorolla at 7:24 AM on October 29, 2009 [23 favorites]


Today's teenagers are the model of how the web will work in five years

Oh.... great.
posted by Liquidwolf at 7:32 AM on October 29, 2009


I like to think the international language for commerce will be Java, thus making the home-row semicolon key's placement on QWERTY validated.

We tend to evolve our tools to fit the QWERTY system. Consider how every website starts with WWW, and how every email address uses the @ sign. Those keys are at quick access for reasons we later came up with. This is mostly to piss off Dvorak's ghost.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:34 AM on October 29, 2009


In other Google news, it's been announced Android 2.0 will have Google Map with turn by turn navigation. Let's see how that might affect TomTom and Garmin.
posted by kmz at 7:35 AM on October 29, 2009


Let's see how that might affect TomTom and Garmin.

A co-worker and I were talking about that yesterday. A 40% hit due to the announcement of a single application! If Google isn't a juggernaut it can at least change all of the reference sources to make it re-defined as one.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:44 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


When you have your next group of users viewing the web as a series of discrete applications, instead of the boundless universe that I did (and still do) view it as, then I think that's going to change the character of the online experience.

You make some interesting points, but I think it's worth mentioning that with more and more people using the internet you are of course going to see more and more people becoming non-technical users that don't know about the details of creating websites. That is not a cause for alarm if there isn't also a drop in the number of people who have expertise in this area.

I don't think we are in a wasteland where no one knows anything about how the internet works anymore yet :).
posted by The Devil Tesla at 7:49 AM on October 29, 2009


Hello OVERTHINK Onmetafiruta my plate was the only beans. [via]

And as of right now, if you plug "Meta Filter" into Google's Language Tools page, translate it into Chinese (spimlified) and back, you get the word "Repeater."

[hmmm...]

posted by not_on_display at 7:52 AM on October 29, 2009


You make some interesting points, but I think it's worth mentioning that with more and more people using the internet you are of course going to see more and more people becoming non-technical users that don't know about the details of creating websites. That is not a cause for alarm if there isn't also a drop in the number of people who have expertise in this area.

I don't think we are in a wasteland where no one knows anything about how the internet works anymore yet :).
Oh, yeah, definitely. I didn't intend to be alarmist. There's always going to be the part of society that delves deeper than the surface level of any technology. But the internet as a social and entertainment platform was in a nascent stage when I was first learning it as I describe in my post. The teenagers who are learning it today have the internet as one of the (perhaps THE) major method of communication. Like I said, a lot of the stuff that I learned I learned because that was the only way to do it - I'm not a technical person, and I probably wouldn't have been interested in web technology had it not been for the necessity element of it. When you have a generation who has such easy access to powerful web applications, I think that will effect the shape of the web to come. You'll still have your power users, but maybe you won't have a younger version of myself who's interested mainly in the aesthetics and the language portion of the web but also gets an education on the technical aspects. For that kid it will always have been possible to click a few buttons, sign up for an account, and do pretty much anything he can think of through web applications. It's not the end of the internet or anything, but it is a change in its character.
posted by codacorolla at 7:59 AM on October 29, 2009


Let's see how that might affect TomTom and Garmin.

For some reason Google finance doesn't allow you to link to stock charts with multiple entries on a one-day timescale anymore. It's friggin annoying.

I like to think the international language for commerce will be Java, thus making the home-row semicolon key's placement on QWERTY validated.

I think you're getting causality mixed up a little. If it wasn't for the querty layout, C-like languages probably wouldn't use the semicolon the way they do. A period would make more sense.
English is intrinsically easier to pick up than Chinese. The language is more direct. The grammatical structures are dead-simple. Oh sure, there's plenty of ways English can be complicated. But the point is, it doesn't have to be for you to be understood. You can mangle the pronunciation, destroy all semblance of sentence structure, and still be understood. That's insanely powerful.
Yeah, you've obviously never tried to learn Chinese. As a spoken language, it's really simple. Chinese students never study grammar past 3rd or 4th grade. And yeah you can mangle it and still be understood, but that's probably true of most languages. Getting the grammar right is hard can be pretty hard for non-native speakers. Even simple sentences can get screwed up and you could say something like "We went and see movies" rather then "we went and saw movies". In Chinese there's nothing like that really. You might get hung up on measure words a little, and of course it can be daunting to memorize all those characters.
posted by delmoi at 8:02 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd just like to add another data point to codacorolla's comment, and say that it's not just teenagers. It's at least everyone under the age of 30 that I know of, unless they've taken courses to teach them these things.

Sure I understand HTML and I can understand the purpose of code and all that. But I only have a vague, vague understanding of what the internet IS and how it works. I can remember when I was a wee tot, I had to plug my computer into a phone line and it made these awful noises and then I could go to Dogpile and search for things and make some throwaway geocities sites I never ended up doing anything with, but for the life of me I've never really understood HOW it all came together.

I hadn't thought of Kids Today not knowing about, or understanding, or using basic HTML because of the preponderance of handy little buttons that do that work for them, like in the bottom right of this text box I'm writing in (though I find it easier to just type the commands out rather than pause and click buttons).
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 8:15 AM on October 29, 2009


You make some interesting points, but I think it's worth mentioning that with more and more people using the internet you are of course going to see more and more people becoming non-technical users that don't know about the details of creating websites. That is not a cause for alarm if there isn't also a drop in the number of people who have expertise in this area.

I think the problem though, is that computers in general have been slowly transitioning from a hobbyist platform to a consumer electronics platform. One of the main reasons I got into programming was that I knew my computer had the potential to do a lot of cool stuff, but wouldn't actually do most of it unless I figured out the technical details of how to make it happen. If my computer back then could have played music, tons of games, viewed tons of videos, downloaded all kinds of apps and widgets, and whatnot I probably wouldn't have felt the need to write my own programs.

I didn't bother learning how telephones or stereos worked, although obviously some people did and do. But the fact that most people just want to pick up the phone and make a call or turn on their stereo and hear some music does really affect what kinds of products are out there and how much control consumers have over them. It wasn't too long ago that an average person could do all kinds of routine maintenance on their own cars, whereas today a lot of cars aren't even designed to allow people to change their own oil.

The DIY nature of the early web and computers in general didn't necessarily mean that everyone was a technical expert, but it at least made the route from novice to expert more accessible for everyone. If the web moves further toward just consumption of existing infrastructure rather than creation of new infrastructure, I think we'll lose a lot of the innovation that allowed computers and the web to flourish in the first place.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:26 AM on October 29, 2009


此网站,它振动?
posted by mazola at 8:37 AM on October 29, 2009


Five years from now, won't "the web" itself seem like a rather cute idea?

Facebook is eclipsing Google as everyone's Internet start page - Facebook is its own internet-within-an-internet already.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:41 AM on October 29, 2009


华网恢恢,疏而不漏 (except it's not that 疏)
posted by Abiezer at 8:42 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't really give a flying goddamn about business – those folks can all sod off, frankly – but English was eclipsed in entertainment years ago.

Who do you think makes and sells all these commercially viable HK movies? Not businessmen somehow?
posted by thedaniel at 8:42 AM on October 29, 2009


there are loads of Chinese people, but how many people in the world know at least some English, or are learning it? and what is the net worth of people that know some English vs. some Chinese? how many people with Internet access know English vs. Chinese?

England isn't that powerful anymore, but their language is doing okay still. Probably better than ever.
posted by snofoam at 8:54 AM on October 29, 2009


You know what, this is all bullshit. If yesterdays teens are a model of how things are going to be in the future then why aren't we all on text based chat boards or using rip terminals? Because the present is not an accurate predictor of the future, period.

Trends, maybe, but accurate prediction? No way.
posted by NiteMayr at 8:59 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


malevolent: I'm not convinced that the behaviour of teenagers clearly signposts the future; it's a fickle, fashion-conscious segment of society with a lifestyle and outlook that are constantly evolving towards adulthood.
Me neither, for these and other reasons.

As you point out, teenagers are in the middle of a metamorphosis; they grow out of things. If Schmidt had instead asserted that "the telephone-hogging teenagers of 1950 were the model of everyone's relationship with telephones in 1960," people of all ages would likely scoff.

In addition, the web's still changing awfully fast. Five years is a pretty long time to make projections about. Wikipedia became hugely influential in just a couple of years. Twitter is only three. The next smash hit to shake up the media world and change everyone's idea of what the internet is for may already exist, as yet ignored by teenagers in droves.
posted by Western Infidels at 9:00 AM on October 29, 2009


In five years, I predict Microsoft will be a shadow of the company it is today, having had to sell off bits and bytes to Chinese software companies to stay afloat as Ballmer keeps running the company into the ground.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:03 AM on October 29, 2009


Has anybody else considered that by "dominate," Schmidt probably was talking about quantity of content, rather than power exerted? Pipe down already.

That said, Baidu is wiping the floor with Google here in most areas, and eBay never really had a chance -- the Taobao shopping experience is far better at every turn, and there are far more payment options than with eBay. You can even get same-day delivery in some areas. Amazon recently seems to have gotten serious with Joyo (or Amazon-Joyo, or Amazon.cn, or whatever it's called now), but there are plenty of book sites out there. Youku is faster, not blocked, and doesn't get overly concerned with issues of copyright, so it tends to win out over Youtube for most Chinese users. On the other hand, local Twitter clones like Zuosa and Fanfou haven't posed any real competition to Twitter so far, possibly because the sort of people who are into Twitter already had Twitter accounts and have got VPNs to access them.

haveanicesummer - Machine translation (Google's especially!) is getting pretty good in some ways -- if I were working as a Spanish-English translator I'd probably be worried about my job now -- but has not really made much progress with Chinese, in large part because of the approach taken. Google uses a statistical machine translation (SMT) approach that basically relies on having large numbers of identical documents in different languages, throwing them all into the hopper, and then letting the computer figure out what's what. This in contrast to traditional approaches to machine-translation, which were rules-based -- basically a set of word lists and explicit instructions for each language.

Unfortunately, Chinese doesn't do things like capitalization, pluralization, or spaces between words, which makes Chinese text a lot harder to parse accurately. And Google has apparently got a much smaller corpus for Chinese-English than it does for Romance languages. What it does have is apparently mostly either UN documents or news articles; you can tell from the kind of mistakes it makes, like a year or two ago when I saw it render 小京巴儿 ("small Pekingese [dog]") as "small Palestinian children." This makes total sense when you know that 巴 on its own is frequently -- especially in news or diplomatic contexts -- used as an abbreviation for either 巴基斯但 (Pakistan) or 巴勒斯但 (Palestine), and that 儿, which acts as a diminutive in "Pekingese dog," is a character that on its own means "child" or "son." The 京 Peking part of the phrase disappeared completely, but I guess you can't win them all.
posted by bokane at 9:17 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


And 640k is all anyone will ever need.
posted by HTuttle at 9:26 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


You're being unfair bokane - lots of people have been bitten on the leg by the feral packs of Palestinian children that roam Huairou, and Google naturally assumed this was the issue at hand (or ankle).
posted by Abiezer at 9:31 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Civil_Disobedient: I'd be more surprised if, with the opening of the Chinese to the west in the next 25 years, the Chinese language weren't forever tainted by English efficiencies.

The emergence of Panglish from Chinglish, Singlish and Janglish should be mighty interesting. This is already happening apace. Maybe you should have said 'in the next five years.' The Daily Mail, which used to be able to laugh at this sort of thing, does not seem to be amused any longer.
posted by koeselitz at 9:42 AM on October 29, 2009


I'm well aware of the obstacles in front of reliable machine-based language translation. But overcoming them seems to be inevitable, only a matter of time. It will probably spring on us as unexpectedly as the internet itself did, and once that hurdle is crossed, all this conversation about English and Chinese will be irrelevant; the world will suddenly seem a whole lot smaller. Revolutionary changes are almost commonplace these days. Soon we'll look back on the language barrier as an unfortunate historical oddity.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 9:50 AM on October 29, 2009


China has shown up this old lie about a free polity being a corollary of 'free markets' for the nonsense it's always been. The neo-corporatist state is now well-entrenched and finds some of its strongest support among the new bourgeois and entrepreneurs, many co-opted into the Party under Jiang's 'Three Represents'.
Are you secretly Ken MacLeod?

I've read these sentences about twelve times, and I recognize the individual words in them, but I have no goddamned idea what it actually means. All you're missing is some "reliable"s and you're bang on for much of "Engine City", though.

For those of us who don't have much exposure to the rhetoric of non-US political systems, or much political science, can you translate this?
posted by scrump at 9:51 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I know he's supposed to be smart, but every time I read or watch an Eric Schmidt talk I think "duh."

I thought this comment on readwriteweb was insightful:

Predicting the future is risky unless you are a powerful innovator. Otherwise you're just projecting trend lines and not accounting for revelations of thought.

... or what Pragmatica and NiteMayr said.

Simply put, you can't hobble together a free market in a country without real freedom. When you try, you get loans given based on political connections rather than on the inherent value of ideas and assistance given based on party loyalty rather than historic business performance.

Honestly, I wasn't sure if you were referring to China or the U.S. here. Both countries are very similar in their approaches. China uses capitalism to support communism. The U.S. uses socialism to support capitalism. Neither country has anything close to a "free market."

Mousing around a video site is one thing, creating an account on this and actually getting anything out of it is another.

Interesting that the captcha uses the latin/roman alphabet.

In other Google news, it's been announced Android 2.0 will have Google Map with turn by turn navigation.

I don't have an iPhone, but hasn't it had that functionality from the start? And aren't there a lot more iPhone users than Android users? I'm curious why the stocks dropped now, as opposed to when Google Maps hit iPhones. My wife's iPhone makes GPS (in the U.S. I suppose) mostly irrelevant.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:51 AM on October 29, 2009


I think chinese might actually be some threat if not for the characters, but Europe, South America, Africa, and India all hate the very idea of writing in asian characters. I suspect all the other asians hate Chinese characters. ;)

I suspect an analog of Moore's Law applies to empires today. Pax Americana will last less than 100 years. China's real economic power will last significantly less than 50. etc. China's current leaders are very clever people schooled under the cold war Marxist system. What happens when their kids take over? Our current free trade religion could easily collapse, closing China's external markets.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:51 AM on October 29, 2009


Also, it would be kind of nice, or at least useful, if those of you writing things like 疏 could maybe do that underlined-explanation-in-alt-text thing.
posted by scrump at 9:54 AM on October 29, 2009


Schmidt needs to think this out loud because he's CEO of a big publicly traded advertising company. His job is to chase Q-to-Q growth and dollars, and right now in case you haven't been paying much attention to the economy dollars are in China by the shitload. He wants to focus attention in that direction because his company sells ad space, and Chinese language sites are the product he's hyping up to his customers: ad buyers.

That's what this is: hyping up his upcoming products. Chinese eyeballs.
posted by majick at 9:54 AM on October 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


A complete move away from a media or software ownership model. Rental only, probably in the cloud. Why bother buying DVDs or music when you can stream them? Why bother trying to lock down content with DRM when the problem is that it's there to be owned in the first place.

The problem with cloud media is that someone has to add old media to the cloud, and when the original owner is dead or bought and traded 10 times in the last 5 years, it's hard to know who has the rights any more. I've downloaded more music from legitimate sources in the last year than I have in all the years prior added together, but that's only when the digital files are significantly cheaper (or not readily available) on physical media. Perhaps because so many people are shifting to MP3 and AAC audio, they're not keeping their CDs, but buying used retail media (not bootlegs) can be dirt cheap within a month of release date, especially for major releases.

Maybe we'll have (more or less realtime) crowdsourced translations of both English and Chinese websites in the future?

And those who know Chinese will be laughing a lot. If croudsourced translations work like crowdsourced answers, there will be some people who take it seriously, and some who pull answers outta their arses, and it seems the latter are more prevalent at present.

Oh wonderful. The web will be sleeping in, trying to sneak out of doing its homework, the web will think it knows everything, and want me to stop pressuring it. The web will need to take a shower, and have friends whom I sometimes think are suspect.

Currently the web covers 5/6 - right now it's always up, rarely showing proof behinds its claims and spending more time with online games and chatting with friends. It knew everything years ago, even though it keeps learning more. The web has mixed motivations, retaining it's youthful disregard for order or coherency one day and the next spouting forth some profound truths with big plans for the future. But have you seen where it lives? I mean, where the web really resides? Sometimes the rooms are clean and well-kept, but other times there are miles of cables connecting to unknown locations, chatting with shady characters like it was nobody's business.

eBay never really had a chance -- the Taobao shopping experience is far better at every turn, and there are far more payment options than with eBay.

I checked the site just now, and I'm not about to start clicking around with the hope of making a new account and paying a reasonable amount to get an item that I actually want. There is no language-specific site options, like there is with eBay. There are sites like Taobao field guide which claim to help English speakers navigate Taobao, but this is not like importing a Japanese language game and getting a walkthrough to make sense of the system. What happens when a buyer contacts you? Hope Google translations work out?
posted by filthy light thief at 9:56 AM on October 29, 2009


So I shan't put you down for a newsletter then, scrump?
posted by Abiezer at 9:58 AM on October 29, 2009


"...today's teenagers are the model of how the web will work in five years."

"I don't know about you, but this worried me more than anything else."



Yeah, I have teenagers and they hardly work at all.
'
So long, web, it was nice knowin' ya.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 10:01 AM on October 29, 2009


Comrade_robot: All due respect, but in my experience, Chinese grammar is a lot simpler than English grammar. English requires verb conjugation, which Chinese doesn't really have.

Actually, it seems to me that this isn't precisely true; and this is which simplified English spreads so quickly. English doesn't require conjugation, at least for basic understanding; or, at the very least, conjugation is dead easy compared to other European languages. Other European languages require replacing the ending of the verb with another ending depending on the mood and tense; English, at least in simple form, just needs "did" and "will," and sometimes -s to cover all the conjugation bases it needs to:

  • I run
  • I did run
  • I will run
  • He runs
  • He did run
  • He will run
  • They run
  • They did run
  • They will run

    If you know the verb, the pronoun, and the tense modifier ("did" or "will") you can conjugate almost any verb. There are very few irregulars ("is" and "do," for example) but these are few enough to be learned easily, and others can be ignored for simple language.

    Things in English get quite silly rather quickly when you move into our literary tradition, more complex examples of the language, further verb forms, et cetera. For example, the subjunctive in English is at turns vestigial and at turns sort of gothic in its ornate complexity. As much as I enjoy Joyce and the hidden recesses of the language, the interesting thing is that you don't need all that to order a meal, hire a cab, or even have a political discussion, as people all over the world have discovered.

    None of this is to say that English is innately simple, or that it even makes any damned sense. But it's amazingly easy to 'get by' in English, and we're approaching a time when the people who 'get by' in English will outnumber the native speakers by a wide margin.

  • posted by koeselitz at 10:02 AM on October 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


    Personally I think it's a bit of a shame that everyone in this thread got hung up on the language thing rather than talking about a far more interesting conundrum -- how does one go about qualifying, vetting, and ranking real time results?

    On that score, I think the PageRank of the future will (for good or ill) look more like the fabled geekery of the reputation economy than it does right now. But I doubt we'll end up with "whuffie" or Manfred Macxes running around.
    posted by chimaera at 10:04 AM on October 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


    So I shan't put you down for a newsletter then, scrump?
    Does it have pictures? I like pictures.
    posted by scrump at 10:06 AM on October 29, 2009


    filthy light thief -- Well, yeah, Taobao's not really intended for non-Sinologues or overseas sales, though there have been rumors of at least some moves toward internationalization IIRC. It's not particularly hard to navigate as-is, though, and if you're too lazy to learn Chinese, Google will probably be adequate in most cases, since the source translation text is unlikely to be particularly complicated in the areas where it counts. (i.e., product descriptions will frequently be slangy and make Sergey and Larry cry, but if you're just looking for, say, a bicycle seat, you'll be fine.) And for shopping it's not like there aren't pictures.

    Regarding crowdsourcing: There have been moves towards this with a number of blogs (from Chinese-to-English, ESWN and Danwei are at the front of the pack; English-to-Chinese is more scattered, but Yeeyan is a good place to start). In all of these cases, these tend more to focus on translations of news or op-ed pieces than of random amusing whiffdoodles.
    posted by bokane at 10:10 AM on October 29, 2009


    Hehe. "Too lazy to learn Chinese." Say that with English instead and you're a Republican.
    posted by smackfu at 10:27 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]



    None of this is to say that English is innately simple, or that it even makes any damned sense. But it's amazingly easy to 'get by' in English, and we're approaching a time when the people who 'get by' in English will outnumber the native speakers by a wide margin.

    posted by koeselitz at 1:02 PM on October 29 [+] [!]


    A native speaker of English may find Chinese a difficult language to learn, but this does not mean that English is an easy, efficient language. If you want to say that learning first grade English is way easier than learning to speak Chinese, well, fine, OK, but that's not the same as saying English is easier/more efficient than Chinese. There are simplified ways of writing Chinese as well.

    I am a native speaker of English and fairly awful at languages, but people have tried to teach me, at various times, Latin, Spanish, and Chinese, and personally, I found Latin to be the most difficult.
    posted by Comrade_robot at 10:35 AM on October 29, 2009


    Say that with English instead and you're a Republican.
    他们都窜进国门,大抢咱的姑娘与饭碗。。。
    posted by Abiezer at 10:40 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


    koeselitz:

    When quoting English grammar rules, there are many possibilities that make it far from simple. Take for example Shall vs. Will:

    "I shall run" not "I will run"; 1st person singular and plural take "shall" in simple future tense while 2nd and 3d person take "will".

    It may be possible to get by in English but one's dialect may show one as a non-native speaker/writer or of originating from a different and perhaps less prestigious economic/social class. If there is a "standard English" at all is debatable. See the new and popular The Lexicographer's Dilemma: The Evolution of 'Proper' English, from Shakespeare to South Park.

    My prediction is the English will start to pick up many many new Chinese loan words, and there will be increased use of Chinese Pidgin English. Finally don't forget the Science Fiction take on all of this: Chinese becomes the dominate language in Firefly.
    posted by mfoight at 11:31 AM on October 29, 2009


    The end of the video just cuts Schmidt off mid-sentence. He's saying "that's a problem that goo..." and then it just ends. I mean, shit --- talk about leaving the viewer hanging: what was he going to say about goo???? How could goo possibly figure into the future of cyberspace?!?!?! What sort of slimy, gelatinous future is in store for our beloved World Wide Web? I simply have to know what he was going to say!!!

    Arrrgh, so frustrating!!!
    posted by jeremy b at 11:36 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Remember what happened when we made pop music about what the kids were doing? Pretty sure music sales are still way down.
    posted by shownomercy at 11:51 AM on October 29, 2009


    In other Google news, it's been announced Android 2.0 will have Google Map with turn by turn navigation.

    I don't have an iPhone, but hasn't it had that functionality from the start? And aren't there a lot more iPhone users than Android users? I'm curious why the stocks dropped now, as opposed to when Google Maps hit iPhones. My wife's iPhone makes GPS (in the U.S. I suppose) mostly irrelevant.


    Google Maps has had GPS abilities on all smartphones with GPS for a long time. And you could map a route. But the key missing piece was turn by turn navigation. "Turn right in 500 yards", etc.
    posted by kmz at 11:54 AM on October 29, 2009


    Five years ago was 2004. The Internet today really isn't much different than it was then. More Youtube videos. LinkedIn and Facebook over MySpace and Friendster. People use Twitter instead of muttering to themselves. These are pretty small degrees of change. Evolutionary, maybe. Arbitrary, if you're a pessimist.

    So five years from now we'll still be on MetaFilter bitching about how we don't have jetpacks. It won't be video. It won't be in Chinese. It'll still be white words on a blue page.

    And Eric Schmidt will still be talking out of his ass.
    posted by rokusan at 12:04 PM on October 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


    I don't have an iPhone, but hasn't it had [Google Maps and turn-by-turn navigation] from the start? And aren't there a lot more iPhone users than Android users? I'm curious why the stocks dropped now, as opposed to when Google Maps hit iPhones. My wife's iPhone makes GPS (in the U.S. I suppose) mostly irrelevant.

    iPhone 1.0 launched with a special Google Maps app. It's only been updated a small amount since, but it remains one of the best apps on the damn thing, and I haven't seen the point of Garmin etc since launch day.

    Turn-by-turn navigation was only added with the recent OS update. Presumably Apple was waiting to have the VoiceOver instructions ready, because news stories about people driving into buildings because they where looking down at their phone for instructions was going to be a PR problem.

    iPhone is about 100x more relevant than Android today, yes. It will take a long, long time for anything to upset the now-entrenched market domination (see also: Microsoft Zune). Good thing or bad thing, I can see it either way. It's a great product, but competition is inherently healthy.
    posted by rokusan at 12:08 PM on October 29, 2009


    Take for example Shall vs. Will:

    Are we witnessing the intrinsic difficulty of the English language here, or is this just a reading-comprehension problem?

    English can be more difficult.

    But.

    English does not have to be more difficult.

    That is the crucial difference. And please, all you The World Will Speak Chinese Some Day people, please explain to me why, even behind the impenetrable curtain, Chinese coders code in Roman characters?

    Well, duh. Because it's more bloody efficient.
    posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:14 PM on October 29, 2009


    How much Chinese have you studied, Civil_Disobedient?
    posted by Comrade_robot at 12:39 PM on October 29, 2009


    Turn-by-turn navigation was only added with the recent OS update.

    For the iPhone? You can buy something from the traditional GPS makers for around $100 and it'll give you turn by turn nav on the iPhone, but that's a lot different from the free Google Maps Nav offering that's coming with Android 2.0.
    posted by kmz at 12:39 PM on October 29, 2009


    iPhone is about 100x more relevant than Android today, yes

    And much, much, much less relevant than Symbian or Windows Mobile, who dominate the actual phone industry that most people care about. Smartphones are a drop in the bucket and will be for a while, until iPhone-like smartphones are the free phones you get with your plan. That will happen, but not too soon I don't think, and I'll be surprised (although it's certainly possible) if Apple is the one to make those fully-subsidized phones.
    posted by wildcrdj at 12:44 PM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


    So one other question: what are the 1.1 billion Indians doing in the next five years that makes them so less important than the 1.3 billion Chinese?

    Well, they're not buying our dollars, and they're not selling us most of our cheap imports.
    posted by krinklyfig at 12:45 PM on October 29, 2009


    The Chinese thing will be interesting -- I think it's true, but only in a sense --- those of us in the West who don't speak Chinese probably won't _notice_ a huge shift in 5 or even 10 years, since we'll still have more content than we can consume in English anyway. And unless there starts being a lot of linking between the Chinese and English content, we probably won't discover it either.

    Translation software is getting better, but using it for anything but occasional news is still kind of annoying, and trying to carry on a blog-style conversation where the conversation gets machine-translated... ehh, no thanks.
    posted by wildcrdj at 12:53 PM on October 29, 2009


    I think chinese might actually be some threat if not for the characters, but Europe, South America, Africa, and India all hate the very idea of writing in asian characters. I suspect all the other asians hate Chinese characters. ;)
    I suspect you have no idea what you're talking about, since they all use Chinese characters already. Only Korea uses a recent phonetic alphabet, which is actually based on Chinese characters. Japan mixes Chinese characters with two phonetic alphabets, and a few countries use roman letters to spell out their languages.
    If you know the verb, the pronoun, and the tense modifier ("did" or "will") you can conjugate almost any verb. There are very few irregulars ("is" and "do," for example) but these are few enough to be learned easily, and others can be ignored for simple language.
    The comparison was with Chinese, though, where that's just not an issue at all. As if in English you would simply choose between: "Currently, I run", "In the past, I run" or, "in the future, I run".
    And please, all you The World Will Speak Chinese Some Day people, please explain to me why, even behind the impenetrable curtain, Chinese coders code in Roman characters?
    What makes you think they do? Lots of compilers and interpreters should accept Unicode characters in variable and function names by now. And there's Chinese Python if you feel like having conditional statements and keywords in Chinese as well.

    It's really obvious you have no idea what you're talking about.
    posted by delmoi at 1:07 PM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Civil_Disobedient: And please, all you The World Will Speak Chinese Some Day people, please explain to me why, even behind the impenetrable curtain, Chinese coders code in Roman characters?

    You can speak in Chinese and use Roman characters. Lots of people do, in fact.
    posted by koeselitz at 1:10 PM on October 29, 2009


    In five years, I predict Microsoft will be a shadow of the company it is today, having had to sell off bits and bytes to Chinese software companies...

    Well I predict that in five years it'll be IBM that has to sell off bits to Chinese companies... oh, wait.
    posted by XMLicious at 1:26 PM on October 29, 2009


    Think back 5 years. What were our predictions about what the web woulb be today? Internet2 was being talked about. Further broadband penetration. DRM would be a thing of the past.

    Which way did things go?
    posted by drstein at 1:26 PM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


    I have really been enjoying this thread. The initial post was most interesting, but this thread has been a standout. I've learned lots. Kudos to all.
    posted by bearwife at 1:27 PM on October 29, 2009


    Smartphones are a drop in the bucket and will be for a while, until iPhone-like smartphones are the free phones you get with your plan. That will happen, but not too soon I don't think...

    In plans, iPhone 3G's have already been $99 in Canada (Rogers) and can indeed be had as standard $0 phones in Mexico (Telcel), Australia (Telstra) and Europe (Vodaphone, Optus) last I checked, same as Blackberries.

    The combination lag-behind and stranglehold in the US/ATT market is brutal.
    posted by rokusan at 1:35 PM on October 29, 2009


    iPhone is about 100x more relevant than Android today, yes
    And much, much, much less relevant than Symbian or Windows Mobile, who dominate the actual phone industry that most people care about.


    iPhones have outsold all Windows Mobile phones combined since 2008.
    posted by rokusan at 1:37 PM on October 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


    The whole "my language is easiest/hardest" argument is silly.

    The language that is easiest is the one you learned when you were two.

    The language that is hardest is the one you try to learn when you're thirty.
    posted by rokusan at 1:38 PM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


    In plans, iPhone 3G's have already been $99 in Canada (Rogers) and can indeed be had as standard $0 phones in Mexico (Telcel), Australia (Telstra) and Europe (Vodaphone, Optus) last I checked, same as Blackberries.

    Contrast that to a place like Indonesia where the iPhone is going for 8 million Rupiah (about $825 or so USD).
    posted by Burhanistan at 1:40 PM on October 29, 2009


    mfoight: My prediction is the English will start to pick up many many new Chinese loan words, and there will be increased use of Chinese Pidgin English.

    You a bit the blur like sotongcatch no ball, you mat salleh, leh? Wake up your idea. Skali Chinglish and Singlish kena become king jame version for 71% of Singaporeans.

    [All from the awesome Coxford Singlish Dictionary. My favorite Singlish phrase happens to be "teh lum pah chi saht," an expression of intense regret literally meaning "to commit suicide by squeezing one's testicles." (!)]
    posted by koeselitz at 2:05 PM on October 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


    MuffinMan: "Why bother buying DVDs or music when you can stream them? Why bother trying to lock down content with DRM when the problem is that it's there to be owned in the first place."

    Streaming only prevents ownership of media until someone is simultaneously smart enough and motivated enough to write a program that turns streams of that type into static files. Worst case you can hack a program that plays a closed streaming API and add code for saving a file.

    You cannot stream without handing the bits to a player program. If you have the bits of the stream for decoding and display, you can trivially store them for playback later. A simple question of adding a single subroutine. Easier to break than video-game copy protection. Even if the program for playback is totally locked down, a subroutine call can be inserted via a hex editor, this is how people crack software, it is pretty standard stuff.

    That is pretty much worst case; In practice, for a stream to play smoothly, you need to store that stream somewhere, either a file, or a block of memory with the same format the saved file would have. And in practice, if a player can play a stream, it can also play back that stored file used for buffering.
    posted by idiopath at 2:08 PM on October 29, 2009


    This is fascinating stuff. As far as English vs. Chinese, they're both pretty difficult. English grammar is more complicated, and seems to have more exceptions than rules (if it's "drink, drank, drunk," why isn't it "think, thank, thunk," not to mention words like "cough" that aren't spelled phonetically). That makes it a lot tougher not only than most other European languages (like Spanish and German, for example), but also tougher than many Asian languages, like Japanese.

    On the other hand, Chinese has the character system, which is a whole lot more to memorize than the 26 or so letters used in most Latin-influenced languages. More importantly, Chinese is tonal, and learning to speak a tonal language when you haven't really been exposed to one in childhood is no small feat.
    posted by infinitywaltz at 2:15 PM on October 29, 2009


    The whole "my language is easiest/hardest" argument is silly.

    The language that is easiest is the one you learned when you were two.


    Right, but for someone who grows up speaking Arabic, or Urdu, or Hindi, Swahili which is easier to learn at 30? English or Chinese?
    posted by delmoi at 2:17 PM on October 29, 2009


    More importantly, Chinese is tonal, and learning to speak a tonal language when you haven't really been exposed to one in childhood is no small feat.

    Manderan Chinese has only four tones, they're not hard to learn. It is hard to remember which tones go with which words though.
    posted by delmoi at 2:19 PM on October 29, 2009


    MetaFilter: an expression of intense regret literally meaning "to commit suicide by squeezing one's testicles."
    posted by jason's_planet at 2:33 PM on October 29, 2009


    MuffinMan: A complete move away from a media or software ownership model. Rental only, probably in the cloud. Why bother buying DVDs or music when you can stream them? Why bother trying to lock down content with DRM when the problem is that it's there to be owned in the first place.

    idiopath's right – what you're predicting is predicated on the impossible. There's no way to restrict things to "the cloud" (good god, how I hate that marketing-stinking neologism) and have people see them in any way at the same time.

    If you can see it on a screen or hear it through a speaker on your computer, downloading and saving it is easy. Very easy. And there's no way to get around that.
    posted by koeselitz at 2:40 PM on October 29, 2009


    delmoi: Right, but for someone who grows up speaking Arabic, or Urdu, or Hindi, Swahili which is easier to learn at 30? English or Chinese?

    The answer seems to be a little of both.
    posted by koeselitz at 2:41 PM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


    How much Chinese have you studied, Civil_Disobedient?

    Full disclosure: the only Chinese I have practiced has been while helping my best friend (who is half Chinese) learn the language with drills over the course of a couple of years. Which is to say, not very much, but enough to see how infuriatingly difficult it can be.

    Manderan Chinese has only four tones, they're not hard to learn.

    Pure, unadulterated horseshit. Or was that mother shit?
    posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:46 PM on October 29, 2009 [4 favorites]


    I think I've posted about this here before, but the whole tone thing in Chinese is really pretty overblown. Yes, I'm sure it can be hard for a non-native speaker. But 99% of the time people will understand you even if you get it wrong. Context matters a lot more than the tone itself. After all there's tons of different characters that have the exact same pronunciation including tone. Plus, accents will alter tone. And tones are thrown out the window in song.

    So, while it's good to get tone right, nobody's going to crucify you for getting it wrong. Unless they're assholes anyway.

    And yes, I am a native Mandarin speaker.
    posted by kmz at 4:32 PM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Cantonese has nine tones - that's much harder. But it certainly can be done.
    posted by awfurby at 6:47 PM on October 29, 2009



    Full disclosure: the only Chinese I have practiced has been while helping my best friend (who is half Chinese) learn the language with drills over the course of a couple of years. Which is to say, not very much, but enough to see how infuriatingly difficult it can be.


    With all due respect, you seem quite certain of yourself for somebody who has never studied Chinese.

    Pure, unadulterated horseshit. Or was that mother shit?

    Yes, ma with different tones means different words. On the other hand, depending on your accent, palate, pallet, and pallette sound exactly alike, yet mean entirely different words.

    Yet somehow we manage.
    posted by Comrade_robot at 7:40 PM on October 29, 2009


    Regarding coding in Chinese characters: it may now be an option, but none of the programmers I know here uses anything but roman characters, regardless of the language they're coding in, probably because it is objectively easier to type "if" than "如果“ (or 若, for that matter) even if you don't speak English.

    I tend to believe that Chinese is not nearly as hard as people make it out to be, and that the whiners should either just suck it up or find another language to study, but the following quote from John Cikosky (a historical linguist specializing in archaic Chinese, so it's not like I can accuse him of laziness or whining) made my day when I saw it recently:
    Over 3800 syllables are distinguished in 廣韻, and Archaic Chinese had more. That would be a burden if each syllable had one symbol, but in Chinese writing we find the inventory multiplied ten-fold. It is the worst script in the world, save only one, and that one is derived from it. (I mean of course the one Sir George Sansom called “surely without inferiors,” the monumental junk-sculpture of a script that the Japanese have made by remorseless bricolage of Chinese books.)
    posted by bokane at 12:10 AM on October 30, 2009


    [A few comments removed. Drop it or take it elsewhere, guys.]
    posted by cortex at 7:10 AM on October 30, 2009


    Manderan Chinese has only four tones, they're not hard to learn.
    Pure, unadulterated horseshit. Or was that mother shit?

    Uh. I'm not sure if you're saying that Mandarin Chinese has more that four tones, or if you're saying that those four tones are hard to learn which is more subjective. but it's just a fact that there are four tones in Mandarin and I don't know anyone else who had trouble learning say or tell them apart by listening.
    posted by delmoi at 8:26 AM on October 30, 2009


    "They're the ones who'll never see what we see, right?"

    A bit of both, really.

    My guess... they will have a lot of content, the great majority of which never gets linked to and viewed by those who *aren't* behind the Great Firewall, because...well... we don't read/speak Chinese very often, and uncensored content is generally more interesting.

    They will be unable to see a percentage of what we can see, but what they can see will still have a lot of uncensored information and will be much more likely to be seen by Chinese than something similar in China would be likely to be seen in the US.

    Despite their government's censorship, they will *STILL* likely know us as a people far better than we will know them.
    posted by markkraft at 9:30 AM on October 30, 2009


    I have studied a very little Mandarin, and I certainly could get along easier if I'd been studying it as a teenager or child, but it seems relatively easy to me compared to the bits of Spanish, French, and a little Russian and Japanese which I've also studied. You really can't beat not having to conjugate verbs. And like delmoi said, there are only four tones and they're easy to distinguish, whereas there's nine in Cantonese as awfurby mentioned.

    I'm wondering if the "Chinese is soooo difficult" meme arose from one or more tone deaf people trying to learn it.
    posted by XMLicious at 8:38 PM on October 30, 2009


    The fact that you need to learn a new symbology also adds to the "soooo difficult" thing. You don't need that to learn to speak the language, but you do need it to "learn the language". Also, it's not like people make the distinction between Mandarin and Cantonese in everyday speaking, other than that they exist.
    posted by smackfu at 9:43 AM on October 31, 2009


    Yeah, maybe you're right about symbology being the thing that intimidates people... that fits, since "it's Greek to me" is the other cliché about learning languages and it also involves a different alphabet.
    posted by XMLicious at 5:18 PM on October 31, 2009


    I'm wondering if the "Chinese is soooo difficult" meme arose from one or more tone deaf people trying to learn it.

    My experience here in Hong Kong is that the complaint about tones in Cantonese is used by people who are too lazy to try and learn it because "they don't need to speak Chinese in Hong Kong".

    I will say this though - I worked with a guy who was learning Mandarin and he had a tin ear (and he didn't practice very much, and was arrogant about his abilities as well) and whenever he tried to say something in Mandarin to his local staff NO-ONE had any idea what he was trying to say, because he absolutely butchered every part of the pronunciation - the tone, the vowel sound, the consonants. It was murder.
    posted by awfurby at 7:16 PM on November 1, 2009


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