How to Pave a Digital Silk Road

On: March 31, 2009
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About Pieter-Paul Walraven
Besides enjoying my MA New Media and doing research on Web 2.0 developments in China at the UvA I am working 2 days a week as a project assistant at KREM ( KREM is a web 2.0 oriented company which specializes in so called corporate social networks. Movies: Koyaanisqatsi, O Brother where art thou?, Amores Perros. When not studying: Golf!, running, traveling, China, Web 2.0. Books: Life of Pi, War and Peace, The World is Flat. Furthermore I am currently doing research on Web 2.0 in China and Chinese Web companies expanding overseas. For this MA thesis research I will travel to China on the 14th of April to interview the most prominent Chinese Web companies that have the ambition to expand internationally.


If somebody would have told me 1 year ago that as a result of my New Media Master’s thesis research on the Internet industry in China I would be moving to Beijing, I would have reacted: ‘Right, and I am the father of Steve Jobs!’ Now, as I am writing this I have been a Beijinger for 4 weeks: I ride my 300 RMB pink bike to work each morning, enjoy the occasional MSG covered chicken feet and every weekend I play with my LED decorated dragon-kite. Looking back it has been quite an exciting road. In this post I will describe how I ended up working for a Chinese consultancy in Beijing focusing on mobile and Internet innovation and what it is exactly I am doing.

Basically I moved to China because I had such a great time here 10 months ago and met so many inspirational people. So how did I meet them, how did I get my Dutch foot in the Chinese door? I think I managed this because I incidentally chose a field of research for my theses that turned out to be quite original. Most people and companies I contacted were very happy to meet me as I approached them with an offer they could not refuse: ‘I will interview you NOT on the Great Firewall. Neither will I bother you with prejudiced questions about censorship or copycats. I would rather want to talk to you about Chinese online innovation, interesting start-ups and the Silicon Dragon expanding overseas.

As a result of this unusual approach (sometimes combined with the inevitable spamming on multiple platforms: E-mail, Twitter, SNS, IM and even Skype) I got the chance to get some deep insights in the Chinese Internet industry. I visited the major players in the Chinese Internet market and was lucky enough to meet some interesting English speaking like-minded people. Moreover my approach gave me the opportunity to visit a small consultancy company that has specialized in analyzing the Chinese, Japanese and Korean Internet and mobile markets and capitalizes on the fact that there is so much to learn from these markets, mainly because their environment and culture is truly unique.

+8* (Plus Eight Star), the consultancy company I am talking about (and where I work now) is actually ‘the leading cross-market and cross-culture innovation consulting company about Asia’s telecom and Internet.’ It is all about the idea that, as Tom Kelly the author of The Art of Innovation has said: “There are more ideas outside your country than inside.” So what kind of ideas do we look at and advise our clients on?

Some recent projects +8* has done:

  • Making an overview of virtual worlds in Asia for the EU-China Information Society Project, a joint effort between the European Commission and the Chinese Government to work on IT policies and regulation. The purpose of the research was to provide some background for the recent workshop that took place in Beijing: virtual worlds are growing and governments worldwide wonder if and how they should regulate them. Download the free report here.
  • Updating the +8* report on QQ, Tencent’s IM, SNS and VW service. Tencent recently published its annual results and had over USD 1 billion of total revenue last year. Some figures to put this in perspective: Net profit was USD 412 million (39%) and revenues are almost 90% directly from its users (in a developing country!) , so hardly any advertising. Check this sample of the report to get an idea of QQ and how clever it is making use of the virtual goods business model.
  • +8* is also the organizer of Mobile Monday Beijing, a monthly returning event for everybody related to mobile in Asia. Moreover there is an interesting start-up in the same office focusing on Social-Casual Gaming-Virtual-3D-World stuff. Basically they (Cmune) have made an in-browser 3D platform and one of the things they have built to demonstrate the possibilities of the platform is Paradise Paintball, a FPS. People can simultaneously play in the same world as they access the world via an Apple widget, within Facebook or in MySpace. The good thing about Paradise Paintball is that I get to test new stuff a few times a week with the whole office.

I could go on for hours about stuff that I’m doing here, but I guess the main point is that a masters thesis is more than just a research or a large paper; it is a springboard. Especially in the area of New Media where there are plenty of ‘uncultivated’ topics, thesis research can be a very good tool for building up a network in a certain area of interest. Moreover it is a great chance to market and expose yourself on the web before you go on the job-hunt and your future employer starts Googling your name.

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