Out from Behind the Great Firewall

It’s been a quiet month, blog-wise, mainly due to MyOpera being inaccessible from behind the “Great Firewall of China“. Not sure what content on here is worth screening out (except perhaps on quality grounds ;), but anyway…

I was in China for WWW2008 initially, and then two weeks of holiday, giving me a chance to see some of this vast country, meet some great people who went out of their way to help us, have varied success at avoiding being ripped off (an occupational hazard for travellers in China it seems), and catch a glimpse of somewhere undergoing huge changes.

On the subject of the Great Firewall, I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed that TimBL’s Keynote at WWW2008 didn’t address this issue more explicitly. On the other hand, he gave a great plug in his speech for the Linked Data on the Web workshop we co-chaired with Chris Bizer and Kingsley Idehen earlier in the week (summarised nicely at ZDnet by Paul Miller), which really made my day.

To be fair to Tim though, I wouldn’t have wanted to be in his shoes, which were undoubtedly treading a very fine line. Before the conference I was see-sawing between thinking “he’s got to address this issue head-on”, and thinking “no way, it would just be too confrontational to raise it in this venue“.

Yesterday I came across this blog post on the subject from the New Scientist. Whilst I wholly sympathise with the strength of feeling, I think the post itself is misplaced, or at least misdirected. The IW3C2/W3C/Web community at large has two choices: engage, and hope to bring about change through dialogue and stronger relationships, or keep China at arms length and stand no chance of influencing policy on censorship.

In the end I think the correct decision was made, just as siting the 2008 Olympics in Beijing was probably the right decision. Let’s just hope that the human rights situation improves as much as was promised (and as fast as the public toilet situation seems to have done in Beijing ahead of the Olympics – excellent, in case you were wondering).

If the New Scientist writer is really going to take issue with the WWW2008 slogan, I think an equally valid target should be the “One World” aspect. OK, so geographically it’s true, but on all other counts I’m not convinced.

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