The New China Syndrome

Hollywood and the anti-nuke community may have popularized the fanciful phrase, "China Syndrome," but they’ve pretty much left it on the shelf for the past twenty years: I’d like to salvage it, if I may, for more productive use.

I’d like to suggest that the quickest test of any IT proposal today is to ask, "Would this be a good approach to try in China?" If it isn’t likely to catch on there, perhaps it should be on its way out everywhere.

A technology conforms to the China Syndrome if it doesn’t depend on elaborate measures to protect intellectual property. It satisfies the syndrome if it’s spectacularly scalable, able to handle demand growth far outpacing anything ever seen before. It’s a candidate for the syndrome if it’s a suitable host for infectious entrepreneurship.

Say, something like the combination of’s newly unveiled Platform Edition and China Edition.

What makes SaaS in general, and the ecosystem in particular, a reference case for the new China Syndrome?

  • When applications are built and sold as services, the bits aren’t out in the open where they’re readily pirated. Cultural differences in this area can really wreck a pricing model when bits are frozen onto plastic platters and sold out of physical storefronts.
  • When services are provided by high-capacity data centers with superior peak-load handling and failover networks, the up-front capital cost of modernizing a business is greatly reduced; the ease of dealing with geographically dispersed operations, or worldwide partner networks and supply chains, is greatly increased.
  • When a service provider’s ecosystem includes a globally visible storefront with try-before-buy and with point-and-click data integration into an existing application portfolio, new market entrants get instant face time with the world’s best potential customers.

If you can’t make it in China today, can you make it in the long run anywhere?

April 23, 2007