Living in China – has its usefulness expired?

Adam and I often disagree with one another, at least on matters related to the Middle Kingdom, and while I don’t fully agree with him on his outspoken new post about the Living in China megablog, I agree more than I disagree.

I have been amazed in recent days at how this site seems to have lost its focus and direction. Considering its quest to be all things to all people in all places, this isn’t surprising. As Adam notes,

LiC’s parent group Living on the Planet suffers from a lack of any context, as well as a pretty lame name. And I’m an expert at lame names. Who isn’t a site that calls itself “Living on the Planet” aimed at? Someone who … doesn’t live on the planet? Imagine a magazine that says “Living on Earth.” Yuck. Death by lack of focus if you ask me. Just a bunch of links with no indication of what’s going on at all.

And as Adam notes, Simon’s Asia by Blog is now more useful than the once-invaluable LIC aggregator.

So what happened? I can’t pinpoint it , but go take a look at the aggregator and you’ll see it’s cluttered with a lot of crap. Now, that is a terribly subjective judgement, but somebody’s got to say it. By becoming a clearinghouse for every blog in the region that wants in, it has become something of a cesspool. (I know that’s strong language, but it’s exactly what I was thinking last night, as I saw there were about 20 posts in a row by a new blogger, each of zero interest or relevance to the LIC readers.)

I know that nowadays about 50 percent of my own posts are irrelevant to LIC. Maybe they need to discriminate, and bounce posters like me. But I don’t think so — they just need to look with a critical eye at anyone who wants to be included and ask, “Does this blogger contribute enough that is China-related to make it worthwhile?” Right now, it is so diluted and amorphous, it’s all but meaningless.

In addition, instead of becoming more user friendly and simple, the exact opposite has occurred. The aggregator now shows the post headlines — but it doesn’t tell you what blog it’s from! There used to be a simple link to see the list of contributing bloggers, but now you need to hunt for it. And somehow, it has lost its sense of community. Last summer it was the place to go for the latest news and commentary, thanks to those featured articles. Now it’s dead.

What happened? Was there a collective loss of interest? Is it because one of the founders moved away? I don’t know, but I wish there were a way to do an overhaul and get it back on track. I don’t want to see it go, but as it stands it’s near useless.

Be sure to read Adam’s post. Maybe your comments there and here will help initiate some badly needed change.

The Discussion: 18 Comments

I thought it was just me! 🙁

Sadly I have also noted the decline in LiC. The featured posts are now few and far between, and often of marginal interest. The aggregator is usually clogged with crap-links to pointless single-sentence blog posts.

It’s true that the downward spiral seems to coincide with the departure of a key founding member (disclosure: he was a friend of mine), whether this is coincidence or cause-effect I do not know.

Let’s hope the LiC organizers take stock and alter course before such a promising and useful site becomes completely irrelevant.

September 26, 2004 @ 9:58 pm | Comment

I agree with both of you. I go there to scan for new posts sometimes, but it’s no longer a must-visit site for me. Richard, I hope this doesn’t mean you want to go off the aggregator. Even if your posts aren’t always on China, your voice is important when it comes to an expat’s outlook on China. Please stay there.

September 26, 2004 @ 10:02 pm | Comment

It’s a toughie guys, and despite being the manager of Living in China to an extent I have to agree.

OK, so a bad workman blames his tools. Anda really bad workman blames the other workmen. Now I’ve got that out of the way, can I try to objectively discuss a couple of the problems that I think are causing the malaise.

1. Lack of interest and participation. It’s a group site and if people don’t want to write original material for it, I can’t make them. And since the original flurry of interest since the site’s conception (by Adam Morris of Brainysmurf, it would unfair not to mention, though the building of the site was taken up by others) about a year ago, interest has died off.

There was a direct correlation between interesting articles on the site and site traffic, and when the site traffic goes down people lose interest too.

2. No reward. People are selfish – it’s not a criticism, it’s a fact of life. Good writers would rather write good articles for their own sites first rather than for a group site which brings no direct reward in terms of readers or comments.

Lately I and Ralph Jennings of Laowiseass have been looking out for good content on other sites and (with permission) cross posting it. The idea is to attract attention to what people write, especially lesser-known bloggers, but as you can imagine it’s a very laborious task.

3. Petty arguments. The comments on this and on Richards site are just and fair and I accept the criticism, but in the past there has been some real sourness (the ‘censorship’ and ‘community’ arguments can be seen elsewhere) that frankly puts people off.

If I was a new blogger, a bit nervous about the whole venture, those kind of tirades would put me off altogether.

4. Lack of focus and direction. No matter what is said on this topic, it is going to annoy people. Some will agree, others will vehemently oppose it.

The question is in some ways the question of ‘what is blogging anyway?’ Living in China exists to serve China bloggers. On occasions I have personally followed topics of interest such as the Typepad block etc. and at those times it’s been a good site – as a representative voice for China bloggers as a whole whatever their complexion.

But most of the time there is nothing to focus on. LiC is simply a tool for people to use as they see fit. I would like it to promote all bloggers writing about China – but it has to be proactive rather than reactive. Simon World, Danwei and others already have analyses of other peoples’ blogs and long may it continue.

For everyone’s reference, there is and always has been a statement of policy at and

Noone ever read them, choosing instead to say they didn’t exist!

5. The new publishing system. Like others I’m no technophile and the incredibly hard work that Michael Darragh and Brad Ferguson put into the new system may have backfired somewhat. It was supposed to be a more functional alternative to Movable Type but I’m worried that people are afraid to tackle the system. There’s still a number of bugs and glitches too that don’t help.

6. Me. I reserve this till the end since it’s the point people will remember, not because it’s least important. I had hoped that after a few months of a guiding hand, LiC would run itself and that people would post material on it of their own accord. They didn’t. It was a miscalculation.

I’m not paid to do this, and not every hour of my day can be spent working on LiC. Since March I’ve started dating a girl who doesn’t really appreciate being left alone while I tinker on a computer screen for hours! I work during the week, I have frequent problems with my laptop and connection not to mention all the issues of blocking. And sometimes I just want to watch a DVD, read a book or sleep.

I also haven’t sent a ‘newsletter’ e-mail for a while, which has reduced awareness I suppose – but then again chances are no-one read them anyway…

So I haven’t spent as much time on LiC as I should, and for this I apologise to all. But at the end of the day, it’s not my site – it’s everyone’s. If the content were just my writing or just my selections it would be ‘Living in Phil’s World’ – it’s not and never was meant to be that. I have my own blog if you’re interested in me.

If anyone does wish to take over the reigns, I’d be very happy to help and transfer the job to them – my e-mail is above. But for all the problems I list above, the biggest is lack of interest from people – and it’s become a vicious circle.

I would love LiC to keep going and still believe it’s a worthwhile project – does anyone else?

Phil Sen
Editor – Living in China

September 26, 2004 @ 11:04 pm | Comment

Sorry – my e-mail is

September 26, 2004 @ 11:09 pm | Comment

Asia by blog

Asia’s finest links for your browsing pleasure… Hong Kong, China and Taiwan Richard and Adam have some constructive criticisms of the Living in China e-zine & aggregator; read both sets of comments too. Dan and Pieter have thoughts on China joining t…

September 27, 2004 @ 2:04 am | Comment

Living in China – A Response

The knives are out again for Living in China. Initial criticisms are levelled by Brainysmurf and taken up by Peking Duck. Also alluded to by Simon World’s Asia by Blog and Danwei. My response as posted in the comments sections of the first two are repr…

September 27, 2004 @ 4:28 am | Comment

Blogs are the cholesterol of the internet. And China’s blogosphere is definitely clogged.

So, who wants to start a China Aggregator of the blogs “that matter”?

September 27, 2004 @ 5:01 am | Comment

what does a “blog” have to do to matter? Is it frequency of postings? Does it HAVE to be the same dreary political stuff all the time? strange world we live in.

September 27, 2004 @ 5:59 am | Comment

“What does a ‘blog’ have to do to matter?”

I have no clue.

“Is it frequency of postings?”

I hope not.

“Does it HAVE to be the same dreary political stuff all the time?”


September 27, 2004 @ 7:37 am | Comment

Richard and folks,

It’s a bit problematical for me to comment on this since I’m perhaps the worst offender of writing posts NOT about China these last few months. My only defence is that I believe the political and military wars of America are the most pressing concerns of the world at the moment, which very much includes China.

Also, I’m not sure how a process of choosing which posts are appropriate for the aggregator on any given day would work. That sounds a whole lot like what an editorial staff of a magazine does, and it ain’t easy, I’ve been there.

I do hope the LiC community can be saved, even if it means kicking my ass out of the club.

All the best,


September 27, 2004 @ 11:19 am | Comment

As Phil says, it’s a real tough call. All I know is it was absolutely great for a while, and then it got more and more diluted. As cruel as it sounds, maybe there needs to be a screening process for blogs to be included, or a committee that chooses the blogs for invitation-only participation. If they decide some blogs like my own aren’t relevant enough, so be it. But something has got to be down before it collapses under its own weight and drowns in its identitylessness (new word).

September 27, 2004 @ 12:19 pm | Comment

I remember Dave Winer once said that making the aggregator (feeding it with feeds) is like a curation.

It’s actually not easy to strike a balance between being all-inclusive and making it relevant, useful and interesting. Perhaps one possible solution, as I have said a few times before at other places, is that we put feeds into categories and come up with topic-based aggregator (i.e. current affairs aggregator, business & economy aggregator, etc.) This approach has its own problems too. As human, it is natural that we have diverse interests and hence our blog will cover a wide range of topics.

Until there are better blogging tools that allows us to better categorize each post, and send each post (rather than the entire blog) to the appropriate site / aggregator, we are stuck with the current way of content aggregation: being all inclusive and no focus; or focus but exclusive. The good news is, I think there are people (like Dave Winer maybe) who are trying to make better tools that allow flexible sharing of blog post with communities that I just described.

By the way, I actually don’t mind and in fact quite enjoy reading your posts on American politics and new life back in the States on this blog. I think the world is better off with the Kerry-Edwards ticket.

September 28, 2004 @ 1:01 am | Comment

Phil & Andrea,

Would it be possible for the aggregator to give a better description of what lies at the other end of each link?

I have no idea what kind of technology lies behind it. I assume the original authors submit their links – if so, could they be requested to add a one-sentence summary?This would allow readers to avoid the “Today I bought a new bowl” posts.

It’s such a bother to sift through so much chaff to find the nuggets of interest, that I have taken to “making the rounds” of worthwhile blogs on my own, nullifying what is for me the main reason to visit LiC – it’s useful function as meta-blog.

Any suggestions about improving LiC should be accompanied with sincere gratitude for the immense amounts of thankless toil maintaining any dynamic web site entails. My hat’s off to Phil, Andrea, and all others involved with LiC.

September 28, 2004 @ 3:39 am | Comment

All – thanks for your comments, it’s actually turned out to be a very constructive thread.

And Slim and Andrea – something just like what you’re describing is in the pipeline and was under development before Adam wrote his initaial remarks… it won’t happen overnight but here’s hoping.

September 28, 2004 @ 6:25 am | Comment

Thanks Andrea and I appreciate your kind words. I was once the most vocal evangelist for LiC, even when I was critical (like when some blogs were suddenly dropped).

Phil, I appreciate your comment, and I’ll reply to your email soon (I’m in over my head at the moment).

Slim, you make a good point, and it’s been a real source of frustration lately.

I’m sorry I used the word “cesspool” in my post, but the other night when I came across one after another utterly irrelevant and post from a blogger who had zero to say about China (or anything else) , I threw up my arms and thought, “what’s the point of this site?”

September 28, 2004 @ 8:58 pm | Comment

Is Living in China dying?

A series of fascinating posts this week about the decline of the Living in China site (here, here and here, with a response from Phil Sen of LiC). I have frequently praised LiC in the past, but have also been

September 30, 2004 @ 9:54 pm | Comment

Living in China – a Critical Digest

One reason for not posting here recently is that I’ve been spending some time trying to figure out the best directions for Living in China. A way to do this is to analyse and sift through the comments, suggestions and criticisms that have been made ove…

October 4, 2004 @ 10:02 pm | Comment

Living in China – a Critical Digest

One reason for not posting here recently is that I’ve been spending some time trying to figure out the best directions for Living in China. A way to do this is to analyse and sift through the comments, suggestions and criticisms that have been made ove…

October 4, 2004 @ 10:03 pm | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.