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Twitter plans Chinese presence

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Google may be "99.9 per cent" certain that it will leave China, but Twitter will instead move into the Middle Kingdom.

Eventually.

Or so Twitter creator Jack Dorsey told a New York gathering sponsored by news site ReadWriteWeb. According to a report in Tuesday's New York Times, Dorsey was asked by Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei if Chinese-language access to Twitter would appear.

"I would say yes," Dorsey - who was participating from a remote hook-up - responded. "It's just a matter of time."

The key word in Dorsey's response, of course, is "time". Whether he was referring to internet time or geological time, he didn't say. There are numerous time-consuming obstacles to creating a Chinese twitter, both technological and political.

On the tech side, there's the fact that there are a number of different character codes for creating Chinese text. The web may support the most universally popular of these - Unicode - but as the NYT rightly points out, few cell-phone SMS systems do. And SMS texting is the weapon of choice for active activists from China to Tehran to Naypyidaw to T'bilisi to Chişinău.

Then there's the task of getting around the Great Firewall of China - which is both a technical and a political challenge. As the Tor Project has proved, doing so is possible, but as the old US civil rights song noted, "Freedom Is a Constant Struggle."

The power of a Chinese Twitter could be enormous, however. In that locked-down, heavily regulated, overtly censored state, short bursts of "here's what's going on" news could assist activists' efforts to keep tabs on government activities - and on each other.

Besides, as Ai pointed out to the NYT, the character-as-word structure of the Chinese language could enable richer tweets: "At 140 words, in Chinese," he said, "you can really write a novel. You can discuss most profound ideas really to democracy, freedom, poetry."

If Dorsey wasn't just blowing smoke, Twitter - although it would surely face attacks from the Chinese government - could provide Ai and his compatriots with a potent information platform.

Eventually. ®

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