Thursday, March 14, 2013

RSS being killed off as Google Reader is retired

This week Google announced they are to retire Google Reader, an RSS aggregator more popular amongst journalists and news junkies than average Internet surfers. However, it has caused a stir in the online community with many users of the service voicing their anger on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Declining use

The service will be taken down on 1 July. In a Google blogpost the firm's senior vice-president of technical infrastructure, Urs Hölzle, acknowledged that Google Reader has "a loyal following" but that "over the years usage has declined".

Launched in 2005 to help people track updates on their favourite sites Google Reader is one of the simplest aggregators to use. iGoogle also performed similar functionality with users being able to add RSS feeds as well as gadgets. However iGoogle is also being shut down in November 2013.

RSS is dead

The closure of easily available and user friendly RSS aggregation sites begs the question as to whether RSS is dead. Ben Parr writing for CNET certainly believes the days of RSS are numbered.

With Twitter, Google+ and and even news aggregation like electronic magazines such as Flipboard and Google Currents, RSS certainly hasn't got the glossy feel, nor the accessibility of modern day equivalents.


The backlash shouldn't surprise anybody. Reader's power users consist primarily of hard-core bloggers, says Parr. Bloggers often use the tool both for research purposes, as do professional journalists, and to publicize their own output. Indeed it is simple to incorporate an RSS feed into many blogging platforms including Google's own Blogger.

For independent bloggers getting onto big platforms such as Flipboard and Google Currents is out of the question, thus many writers will see audiences dry up or disappear.


There are some alternatives to Google Reader, and after all it is unlikely Google will reverse their decision despite petitions and complaints. Social Media Today  offers up a few alternative RSS readers, though it has to be said that just as aggregation sites and readers dwindle and become more geekish, fewer and fewer websites will offer an RSS feed to follow. In fact feeds can often be killed off, or forgotten about and effectively become dead links.

It is perhaps with sad irony that RSS is being killed off bit by bit soon after the death of Aaron Swartz who at the age of 14 co-authored an early version of the RSS specification [BBC].

Further reports: Sky / Guardian / Independent / PCWorld / PCWorld / DashBurst]

tvnewswatch, London, UK

China elects new president as Vatican elects new Pope

Blinked and you'd have missed it, but while saturation coverage of the Papal election at Vatican City continued on many news channels around the world, there was another election of perhaps far more significance taking place - in China. In fact both elections might have significance both for China, the Catholic Church, and in particular Chinese Catholics who have been hounded or ignored by both sides.

China's president elected

Less than two decades ago a change of leadership in China would have been of little significance. However, China is well and truly on the world map, both politically and economically. Now the second largest economy in the world, China wields significant clout and influence, second only to the United States.

While many eyes focused on the inauguration of Pope Francis I, China was welcoming in Xi Jinping as its new president [BBC / CNN / Guardian / Washington Post]. And while the former Cardinal of Argentina, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, faces many challenges, so too does the new Chinese president.

Scandals & corruptions

The Catholic church has been rocked by scandal concerning misappropriate behaviour by Catholic priests. China has itself been thrown into turmoil over allegations of corruption which have threatened to tear the ruling Communist Party apart.

Xi faces more than the challenges of putting the Communist Party leadership in order. He also needs to face up to the increasing environmental problems that affect many people's lives.

Environmental concerns

In recent months China's cities have suffered from some of the worst air pollution in decades [FT]. But it is not just the air that is filled with dangerous toxins. The land is also saturated with pollutants and so too are many of China's rivers. In the last week it was reported that nearly 6,000 pigs had been dumped in the Huangpu River which runs to Shanghai, an indication that regulations and strict laws are failing to prevent individuals and corporations polluting the land, air and watercourses [BBC / Sky / CNN].

Anti-corruption drive

Xi has already launched a highly publicized anti-corruption campaign and called on officials to reduce the daily reams of official documents and speeches they churn out. He has banned all forms of ostentation surrounding leaders' events. There will be no more red carpets, welcome banners or traffic-inducing motorcades. And lavish government banquets have been cut down to just four dishes and a soup!

But these are just minor changes to what is actually needed. Xi needs to rein in widespread corruption that is believed to be deep rooted within the country's leadership. Xi has promised to bring down the "tigers" and the "flies", a reference to bureaucratic corruption at all levels of society.

New direction

So far Xi appears to making good on promises of weeding out corruption and bring about reform to the way China is ruled. Days before his official inauguration Xi appointed a reformist member of China's decision-making politburo as his vice-president, snubbing the country's top censor who had been widely tipped for the post. Li Yuanchao, 62, steps into a post that many expected to be filled by Liu Yunshan, 65, a former propaganda minister who was made responsible for propaganda and ideology in the powerful seven-man politburo standing committee in November. Liu was reportedly backed by former president Jiang Zemin, who stepped down in 2003. He is also known for his iron grip on the Internet [IBT].

Xi Jinping is said to have a great deal more charisma than his predecessor Hu Jintao, and is even looked upon, by at least some members of the public, as a man who might bring about change. Xi's appointment of Li as his right hand man is an apparent snub to former President Jiang Zemin who himself had helped foist Hu Jintao into power and who were both hand picked by the late Deng Xiaoping.

Silent voices

But in a country like China it is difficult to gauge the real mood of the people. Sky News travelled to a small town where only a year earlier Xi Jinping was met by enthusiastic villagers. But on their arrival they found checkpoints and a mysteriously empty village where no-one appeared willing to speak.

Sky's Mark Stone met only silence as he rolled into the impoverished Chinese village of Luotuowan. While officials let the news crew past the roadblock, their paperwork and passports were checked by police and details taken down.

But there seemed to be little to film, and hardly anyone to interview. The only person who was not camera shy, spoke only of praise for the new Chinese leader.

"I got up in the morning and it was cloudy, then suddenly Xi Jinping arrived and the sun came out. He's an honourable man. Close to the people. He's like a bright light from heaven," said the only apparent resident, and the only one willing to speak to the Sky News team [Sky]. 

Politics & religion

Calls for reform and democracy are never far away in a country where the iron grip of the state is all pervasive. There are strict controls of the Internet preventing the free flow of information, especially where such information could rock the status quo. Free assembly and protests are generally forbidden, though can often be overlooked if such demonstrations serve the interests of the state or are seen as a way to let of public anger. Religion too is also strictly controlled.

Mao Zedong was particularly suspicious of organised religion, seeing it as a threat to his own powerbase. To stamp out this threat Mao expelled foreign Catholics and set to work on taking over Catholic run schools, churches and other institutions. Ties between the Vatican and Beijing were broken off in 1957 when China expelled the Papal Nuncio, the diplomatic representative of the Holy See, and Pius XII excommunicated two bishops that Mao himself had appointed. Mao then created the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, but Chinese Catholics, estimated at more than 3 million at the time, were far from safe. Hundreds of Chinese Catholics are believed to have been executed, while others were persecuted.

Rift with Vatican

Beijing and the Vatican had already severed diplomatic ties in 1951 after the Vatican recognised the Nationalist government in Taipei. But even after Mao's death and well into China's opening up policy, a rift still exists between the Vatican and the state sanctioned Catholic church in China.

In a letter written by Pope Benedict XVI [Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger] in 2007, he referred to the agents of the Association as "persons who are not ordained, and sometimes not even baptised", who "control and take decisions concerning important ecclesial questions, including the appointment of Bishops."

Now, following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis I some Catholics in China are hoping that relations will improve. "We hope the new Pope can improve the Sino-Vatican relations and that the relations can be normalised as early as possible, so Chinese Catholics can enjoy a normal religious life," said Bishop John Fang Xingyao, bishop of the Linyi diocese in Shandong, soon after the new new Pope was announced.

"Never ending crisis"

In recent years Sino-Vatican relations have been rocked by a series of bishop appointments made by the Chinese church without papal approval. In July 2011, Bishop Joseph Huang Bingzhang, bishop of Shantou , Guangdong, was excommunicated from the Vatican because he had not been endorsed by Rome.

In 2010, Beijing chose Fang, who is recognised by both the Vatican and Beijing, as the chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, a body denounced by the Holy See in 2007 as being incompatible with church doctrine.

At the same time, Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin, from the Kunming diocese in Yunnan province, who was ordained without papal approval in 2006, was selected as president of the Chinese Catholic Bishops Conference. Ma, who is not recognised by the Vatican, said he hoped all the conflicts between China and the Vatican on the appointments of bishops will pass [SCMP / NYT].

Nonetheless Sino-Vatican relations are seen by many in the West as a "never ending crisis" [Vatican Insider].

China, as a country, has many problems to sort out at home, from reform and the economy to environmental concerns and corruption. The Catholic Church too has many problems to address, least of all the continuing allegations and fallout surrounding priests and cardinals who abused young priests. Sino-Vatican relations are probably the last issue on the agenda for either side.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

China accuse Coca Cola of illegal GPS mapping

Last week Google's Android was singled out for dominating the Chinese mobile phone market. Now another American company has been accused of illegally gathering GPS data.

Illegal data gathering

The Yunnan Geographical Information Bureau of Surveying and Mapping has said Coca Cola have been "illegally collecting classified information with handheld GPS equipment"

The US soft drinks manufacturer is not the only company under investigation. The Yunnan Geographical Information Bureau of Surveying says it is considering 21 other cases, some said to have gathered data connected with military locations.


Coca-Cola says it has "co-operated fully" with the inquiry, adding that local bottling plants use "e-map and location-based customer logistics systems that are commercially available in China" to improve customer service and fuel efficiency. "These customer logistics systems are broadly used for commercial application across many industries in China and worldwide," the company said in a statement sent to the Financial Times.

Security concerns

China has long been guarded about mapping, both for national-security reasons and because of political sensitivity concerning disagreements with disputed territories. It has stepped up regulations as GPS technology has proliferated in handheld devices and mobile phones. There are many anomalies apparent when trying to use GPS devices in China. Most notably a GPS location shows as correct on Google Maps on a foreign mobile device when in the plain mapping mode but places the user several hundred metres away if viewed in satellite mode. The reason for the discrepancy is unclear, though much of China's street mapping data is provided to Google by AutoNavi a corporation of digital map content and navigation and location-based solutions (LBS) in China. Founded in 2001 AutoNavi is subsidiary company of Beijing Mapabc Co.,Ltd [北京图盟科技有限公司,]. AutoNavi also provides mapping data of China for the built-in Maps App in Apple iOS 6 [WSJ / CNBC / Register]

Bad timing

The recent allegations of illegal mapping do not come at a good time for the US soft drinks giant. Coca Cola recently saw sales in Europe and China fall in the last quarter of 2012 and warned the year ahead would be unpredictable.

The company's chief executive, Muhtar Kent, said in February that 2012 had been a tricky year and that the company expected the "volatility to extend through 2013" [BBC]. Being accused of illegal data gathering was probably not the sort of volatility the company was predicting.

There are only two countries in the world where Coca-Cola is not officially bought or sold. The soft drink is unavailable in both Cuba and North Korea due to trade embargoes with the US.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Google’s Android in China’s sights

Google is once again running into problems in China, this time with its Android operating system which is fast becoming the main software on mobile phones around the world.

Android dependency

According to a paper published by the China Academy of Telecommunication Research the Android operating system has become too deeply embedded within China and stifling the competition.

"Our country's mobile operating system research and development is too dependent on Android," the paper, posted online on Friday and carried by local media, said. "While the Android system is open source, the core technology and technology roadmap is strictly controlled by Google."

The paper says Google had discriminated against some Chinese companies developing their operating systems by delaying the sharing of codes. Google had also used commercial agreements to restrain the business development of mobile devices of these companies, it claimed.

The Chinese think-tank said that while Android was an open system, "its core technology and technology roadmap are strictly controlled by Google and our [operating systems] development companies often face commercial discrimination, delays in sharing codes and restrictions on device makers through commercial agreements". [FT / WSJ / WSJ / Yahoo / YouTube]

Protecting IP

However other observers believe that Google is only protecting its intellectual property. Several Chinese companies including e-commerce group Alibaba, online search firm Baidu and device maker Xiaomi, have launched their own mobile operating systems. However they are little more than customised versions of Android and seen by some as blatant copies.

Last year a planned joint venture between Alibaba and Acer, the Taiwanese PC vendor, to launch a smartphone was called off. Alibaba executives claimed Google had put pressure on Acer, though analysts said Google may have been concerned that Alibaba was trying to use basic Android technology to create a competitor system [WSJ].

There is a further problem for China however. While it might be argued that the likes of Google and Apple have created a duopoly, China maybe suffering from a lack of homegrown talent. Even the think-tank's white paper lamented that Chinese developers were starting from a technology level that was too low, too late, and existed within a small and weak ecosystem which struggled to gain support or interest for their own operating systems from device makers.

Sledgehammer approach

One reason might be the all pervasive controls placed upon the Internet which often uses a sledgehammer approach to curtail the spread of content deemed by authorities to be subversive or harmful.

The so-called Great Firewall of China is employed primarily to weed out pornography and subversive content. However any website seen as a potential risk can come under the spotlight. Particularly at risk are websites which can be used to share material between groups of individuals. Social networks in the west have been singled out, such as the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google+. But it is not just social media popular amongst the young that have been blocked by Chinese authorities.

For a short period, LinkedIn, a site aimed at linking business professionals together, was blocked. In 2009 the site for the computer programming site Python found itself blocked in mainland China [tvnewswatch: Expats in China atwitter over Internet blocks].

Former head of Google's China division Kai-Fu Lee found himself in hot water and banned from local microblogging sites after airing his grievances about China's strict censorship controls. In a February 16th post Kai-Fu Lee summarized a Wall Street Journal article about how slow speeds and instability were deterring overseas businesses from locating critical functions in China [SCMP / CNET / Bloomberg / Telegraph / TechCrunch].

"Unjustified" blocks

He had also posted comments and links to articles taking issue with the apparent blocking of computer-code sharing sites like Github which became inaccessible in mid-January [].

In a post made the the Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo, Lee said, "GitHub is the tool of choice for programmers to learn and with the world. GitHub has no ideology, no reactionary content."

The blocking of GitHub was, said Lee "unjustified" and would only lead to problems for domestic programmers who might lose any competitive edge over foreign competition. In an article posted on LinkedIn he noted the site was eventually restored, though did not take credit for his protestations

Uneven ground

Lee has commented too about US and other foreign Internet companies that have failed in China, saying that many companies are too impatient or have a misunderstanding of the fierce Chinese market [LinkedIn].

However the failure of many US tech companies in China is as much to do with legal or censorship hurdles. While there might be some favouritism by both government and consumers in China for locally developed brands such as Taobao and Alipay over foreign competitors Ebay and PayPal, this is not always the case. Twitter, Facebook and Google+ would likely sweep away any homegrown competition should the authorities relax the Internet blocks.

But the opposite is also true. Baidu, China's largest search engine, has effectively secured the Chinese search market following Google's shift to Hong Kong in 2010 and the constant interference by censors on its service. However Baidu has failed to gain any traction outside of China. Neither have any of China's other social websites which are virtually unknown in the west.


While some developers, programmers and web designers will use circumvention software to see beyond the firewall and develop plans for a more global approach, most will be hemmed in by China's Internet restrictions. Not having a clear picture concerning the competition will leave China's tech innovators less able to compete in the future.

For China's new tech generation, they are disadvantaged by not having access to the whole picture, somewhat like a baby who has had a number of letters removed from his alphabet building block set for fear he might spell some naughty words. Without the letter 'F' there is no future. Similarly, without an understanding and access to the whole of the Internet, there is no real chance to make tools which might work or appeal to everyone.

The game may already be lost since the like of Google, Facebook and other western tech companies have established themselves so completely every else other than China, and a few tin pot dictatorships such as North Korea, Iran and Cuba.

Tech firms such as Huawei might be beginning to make inroads with smartphones said to be the fastest on the planet [BBC], but they still face other obstacles, such as trying to convince the US that the companies supposed military ties are benign [Washington Times].

China's door may have opened but for businesses on both sides of the wall that door is still only half a jar.

tvnewswatch, London, UK