23 January 2010

Ethnographic research could make Google more relevant in China

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Tricia Wang
Ethnographer Tricia Wang wrote an excellent and long comment on why Google is having troubles in China:

While unfortunate that Google.CN may be shutting down, my ethnographic work in China revealed five things that aren’t being told in the current story:

  1. Many Chinese internet users don’t find Google to be very useful. Therefore, a Google withdrawal would not have any immediate impact on the daily Chinese internet user because most people search with Baidu, the reigning search engine in China.
  2. Many Chinese internet users prefer Baidu over Google because using Baidu makes them feel more “Chinese.” Baidu does an excellent job at tapping into nationalistic fervor to promote itself as being the most superior search engine for Chinese users.
  3. Chinese internet users don’t know how to get to the Google site. While they may “know” of Google, it’s a whole other matter when it comes to typing or saying Google’s name.
  4. Google is primarily used by highly educated netizens. And even these users prefer Google.COM over Google.CN.
  5. Google is not successful at reaching the mobile internet market.


It’s one thing if Google’s difficulties could just simply be attributed to government interference, and bad marketing and publicity. But that’s not the case. Their services just simply are not useful for most Chinese users. I suggest that Google dedicate itself to understanding the Chinese market in a socio-anthropological way. They should be hiring teams of Chinese and non-Chinese ethnographers, sociologists, and anthropologists to work intimately in all phases with human-computer interaction designers, programmers, and R&D managers. Google should invest in long-term fieldwork for teams to immerse themselves in a diversity of environments. While usability tests and focus groups are useful for specific phases of app development, they aren’t as useful for understanding cultural frameworks and practices because by the time an app is being tested, it already has accumulated so many cultural assumptions along the way in the design process that users are asked to test something that functions in the programmer’s world, not the user’s world.

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(via danah boyd)

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