The reality of the need to do business in China — in spite of, and perhaps because of, the U.S.-China trade war — has been part of the general zeitgeist of late. This notion has even pervaded popular culture. In the West, the perception is that media Web sites inherently don’t work in China because of the Great Firewall, but this view isn’t entirely true.
While that may be the case for a handful of the publications and organisations, it’s far from a direct problem for most. News and information sites that are blocked by the firewall include BBC, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The New York Times, and Time. The total list of a few hundred sites that are blocked may appear extensive, but they’re only a small fraction of the whole.
Other western Web sites load much slower or not at all in China — not because the site is being actively censored, but rather due to the indirect effects of the Great Firewall. This leaves many global companies caught in the middle between the U.S. and Chinese internets, which are siloed due to their separate technology infrastructure.
Many sites rely on incompatible service providers like Cloudflare or AWS and resources like Google Maps, YouTube, and Wikipedia, which prevent their Web sites from loading in China. Blocking these social sharing and services providers creates digital holes and affects non-censored sites. As sites use Facebook or Google for login credentials, or embed videos from YouTube, it impacts the third-party site.
Even if a site does not utilise the services provided by blocked sites and loads completely, it loads much slower for viewers in China compared to the rest of the world. To illustrate this point, Chinafy compiled a list of load times for media sites in mainland China today, using its unique mechanism for localising a site.
Nearly all the sites on the list load at least twice as slowly because of western resources and service providers. Some sites, such as TechCrunch, TechRepublic, and MarketWatch, fare even worse and are three to six times slower in China than they might be in the United States. Load time is important for a host of reasons — first of all, many visitors will not wait if a site isn’t loading. Additionally, every metric that affects business on a site will take a hit. Conversion rates go down, bounce rates go up, and, most importantly, ad revenue goes down.
In fact, some analyses suggest cutting load times in half will deliver the maximum ad revenue benefits, resulting in a potentially significant financial return.
The first remedy for site owners looking to keep a competitive edge globally should be to check the speed of site load times and appearance in China. Tools are available to help news companies see if a site has a China compatibility problem and take a step toward linking the digital divide.
The world needs greater cross-cultural exchange, which media organisations have a unique ability to foster. No site should have to choose between using exclusively Western or Chinese technologies, and thereby having only viewers in the West or China.
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