Don’t Bother with Voicemail in China

Clive Thompson writes in the NY Times magazine about Google and China.

“Google was not, in fact, a pioneer in China. Yahoo was the first major American Internet company to enter the market, introducing a Chinese-language version of its site and opening up an office in Beijing in 1999. Yahoo executives quickly learned how difficult China was to penetrate — and how baffling the country’s cultural barriers can be for Americans. Chinese businesspeople, for example, rarely rely on e-mail, because they find the idea of leaving messages to be socially awkward.

They prefer live exchanges, which means they gravitate to mobile phones and short text messages instead. (They avoid voicemail for the same reason; during the weeks I traveled in China, whenever I called a Chinese executive whose phone was turned off, I would get a recording saying that the person was simply “unavailable,” and the phone would not accept messages.)

The most popular feature of the Internet for Chinese users — much more so than in the United States — is the online discussion board, where long, rollicking arguments and flame wars spill on for thousands of comments. Baidu, a Chinese search engine that was introduced in 2001 as an early competitor to Yahoo, capitalized on the national fervor for chat and invented a tool that allows people to create instant discussion groups based on popular search queries.

When users now search on for the name of the Chinese N.B.A. star Yao Ming, for example, they are shown not only links to news reports on his games; they are also able to join a chat room with thousands of others and argue about him. Baidu’s chat rooms receive as many as five million posts a day.”