How Can Taobao Succeed in China?

It’s been quite some time since my last English article, and the reason is mainly because I have been thinking about my choice in future career path in the past couple of months. I have left Xiaomi Finance as well as Beijing in May, and hopefully I’ll be on my next journey soon after some solid consideration.

Okay it could be a huge title but in fact I am not going to elaborate the reasons from a general view, since there are tons of well-written articles already around the web dissecting it from all possible angles. Instead, I want to talk about it from a tiny little detail that I have experienced yesterday, and it might draw out the whole picture from an unexpected perspective.

The story goes from my purchase of one microphone on Taobao, because in the past three months I have been working on my Youtube channel in the part time, and the audio quality issue has been driving me crazy. After some initial research, I decided to buy a wireless microphone for my mirrorless Sony Camera. To be honest I know not too many of you will be geeky enough to be willing to know the details of my choice, so in short the wireless microphone for DSLRs is kind of a new area where few companies have technology to tap into, so it is a small, niche and competitive market.

I bought a Sennheiser wireless microphone from the only available seller on Taobao, and it is quite costly with a $350 price tag. In the meantime another brand called Rode from Australia has a competitor product coming out next month, and it is considered better but with a $200 price. So the background is the Sennheiser one is likely to be overshadowed by the Rode one very soon, but out of the love and trust for Sennheiser mic system, I decided to give it a try. I received the product yesterday, and after some brief trial, I chose to keep it and commented about the pros and cons in the product page, as what I would do usually.

Purchasing goods on Taobao is a very personal experience, because you will need to talk to the merchants directly asking whether the products are in stock, any details you’d like to know in advance before you click the “Buy” button. Unlike Amazon in the US, there’s no direct chatting feature available for you, since Amazon considers all useful information is already there, no communication is needed, and the price is the price, the package is the package – that is to say, there’s no room for negotiation. (Amazon has pulled back from China last month, “announcing” their failure in competing with local giant JD.com and Taobao, and it could be another interesting case for businessmen to look into.)

No negotiation could be a huge problem in China, or similar in most other developing countries. For those who have travelled to developing countries, for example, China, I bet most of you have the idea of bargaining. Especially for stalls on the street, if one merchant sells you a T-shirt for 50 yuan, you know it is highly possible for you to take it away with 30 yuan, and that is a shocking 40% discount. While some might not like bargaining, it does give others lots of fun during the process. Along the process you and the store keeper might act a little bit, showing your cards one by one, and eventually reaching a win-win price – it is quite an interesting journey if you like shopping. Okay, you got the idea that on Taobao you can do this all day. For example, if you buy in large quantity, you can negotiate with the merchant for a lower unit price, or ask the merchant to give you some extra stuff in the packaging.

Back to my Sennheiser microphone example, after I posting the neutral comment, the merchant came to me saying they could send me some useful accessories for free and a 50-yuan gift card for future purchase in his shop, in order to thank me posting the first comment for the microphone. The owner is really nice, but he is not the only one who is this nice to me in my Taobao purchase history. I still remember when I purchased my second acoustic guitar from another merchant, the specific model I want is out of stock, and I was a bit angry that the guy who chatted with me lied to me about this fact. However before I made any act, the shop called me apologizing about their carelessness and gave me a free leather guitar case, a box of picks and a tuner, all being extremely useful to me. And I can raise numerous other similar cases from my own experience on Taobao.

And the core of that is one thing, that all is negotiable, and all is personal. It is like dining in a local, crowded but cheap restaurant compared to a McDonald’s drive-through. You can’t imagine negotiating with McDonald’s staff on a drive-through lane, can you?

But China is still kind of like a developing country, because in many ways standards have not been set, or more sarcastically, not been met since there’s still plenty of gray area to operate on. Taobao has successfully inherited this cultural message by transforming our love in negotiation on the streets since ancient time to a modern, high-efficiency web portal. The model could be possibly successful in some other developing countries, but I could hardly believe that it can be used in developed countries, where everything has a standard and the standard has to be met.

Ironically, that also makes China, as a country, attractive, at least I love that. 🙂

Thoughts on the battle between Huawei and Apple

I am an Apple fanboy, if you have an opportunity to ask any of my close friends, and I guess I will still be a slave to Apple, because the phones and laptops are just too great to escape from. People love to talk about “ecosystem” when it comes to Apple, for example, iMessage is a service you will miss when you switch to Android phones.

Recently, Huawei is quickly gaining its place in smartphone market, and it has even been risen to a level that Huawei represents China and Apple represents America. As far as I am concerned, this comparison is quite confusing, and dangerous. Some Chinese companies produce decent hardware, for instance, DJI which makes drones, Huawei and OnePlus which make smartphones, Xiaomi which makes smart devices. But none of them is even comparable to Apple’s “ecosystem” at this time, and the incentives to include countries behind them are unnecessary. It will only do harm to both companies, when China and US governments step in this issue.

China is soon becoming the largest market for Apple, and the success in the US is the ultimate destination for all electronic device makers, including Huawei and other Chinese companies. Companies, as an independent identity, are often at stake when customers suspect it having relations with the government, especially after the Snowden incident and GDPR policies being rolled out in the Europe. What I’ve seen so far is whenever Huawei has some problems overseas, Chinese government will seemingly help Huawei out of trouble, sometimes too directly. I don’t believe it is the right way to help Huawei or other companies overseas, to be accepted by foreign customers. It will enhance the suspect that these companies have unusual connections with the government.

On the other hand, I can see countless examples for Apple to try getting rid of the impact from US government. I am not saying that Apple has no connection with NSA at all, because I am not Tim Cook. But Apple constantly states publicly that the data is stored somewhere safe, and nobody except itself can decrypt it. Previously even FBI got rejected by Apple to help them get access to a phone from a suspected terrorist. Unfortunately, I can’t find the actual endeavor from Huawei except useless statements.

For Chinese companies to go abroad successfully, they need to be independent, strong and stable, just like all those legendary multinational companies in the history. Huawei has been out there for so long that it often gives me an image contrary to that, and probably it is not due to itself, but the eager-to-be-helpful government that hopes its children to be successful.

Thoughts on Vlogs

I believe every person who has been into Youtube or other video sites would have found vlog is gaining its place gradually. Let it be a lifestyle one, tech review one or other genres, it seems to suit everybody’s desire at this time of age. Would it be the next generation of social media? Very likely.

But seemingly, if one decides to shoot vlogs for living, it could be extremely difficult to pay off the efforts. Let’s put celebrities away first since they get all the attention wherever they go. For normal people, nobody will be interested in seeing how they live their lives, unless they are living very exotic ones, such as living in the North Pole. For them to succeed, they need to have a very specific theme, at least at the very beginning, to gain enough solid audience before they start to record their “boring” daily life.

Apart from the toughness to get initial audience, it is the personal character and the video quality that eventually get vloggers the attention they want. One might initially attract lots of viewers by his/her looking, but it is not everlasting if he/she doesn’t have a personality that goes along with audience. It is probably a talent instead of a skill that can be acquired. Additionally, the video quality has set a high standard on vloggers’ skills in video editing, so those famous vloggers often have background in directing or have a team who works on this.

Being famous is not easy, especially when there are over 6 billion people living on the earth, and most of them have free Internet. But I guess vlogger’s hard work will have its meaning for their colorful life at last as long as they don’t shoot videos out of the desire for money. Please, do it with joy. #SaluteToLife

The Down of PUBG

I can still remember around this time last year in 2017, PUBG(PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds) was still the hottest game in gaming industry. It almost strived to be the best game of the year in TGA, but fell short to the legendary Zelda game from Nintendo. In the morning when I was just casually browsing the tweets I found a chart about the most popular games streaming on Twitch, and PUBG had dropped out of Top 5, losing to much older games like DotA 2.

What has happened in a year? Is Fortnite the one to blame? Indeed Fortnite has a very similar setting like PUBG, nevertheless at the same time it provides gamers with much better experience. But I think it is the PUBG itself that has caused the problems.

Firstly, the poor optimization of the game has driven tons of gamers away. In some ways, PUBG has set the new standard of computer specs for those who love online gaming. The vivid graphics in the game has made most last-generation PCs out of date all at once, and if you want to play this game at a comfortable setting, you’d better have a GTX 1060 or above graphic card. But is it really a good thing to the company? Fortnite could even be run on Nintendo Switch, with playable graphic performance, and it has also enabled cross-platform plays. The power of connecting to the bigger user base is imperative for a game to thrive. Are you really going to pay for a $2000 computer for a game?

This leads to my second point, I think PC is not the future platform for most games, and instead, the role should belong to game consoles. I think console gaming has been gaining its share gradually, and whoever has tried it would feel good playing good games in front of TV. It has made the connection between friends and families more easy, and has allowed more interaction both physically and mentally. The lack of PUBG support on consoles will slow down its pace eventually.

Additionally, the popularity of the game has also helped the business of cheating software, but Bluehole has done a poor job in alleviating it. Not long after the game became crazy among fans, more and more users have found that there are some incredible kills during the game, all of which have highlighted the issues of the cheating scripts. It is not a new problem for FPS games, due to its mechanism in transmitting information, but the company behind PUBG is not keen on improving the condition for the fans, at least on the surface. I used to play PUBG with friends a lot last year, but after continuous being killed by impossible ways right after I hit the land, I told my friends I won’t play this game anymore out of rage.

PUBG could have been a 10/10 game, at least for us gamers, but now it is falling short of our expectation, and I am afraid it can never be as popular as before.

Deep Learning is severely overrated!

If I am not working in this field, and work as a general tech guy in a tech company, I would have been overwhelmed by this trend as well, seriously. While the world is promoting AI (specifically, tech companies), few people really understand the techniques that are in the center of play.

Machine learning, AKA modeling, has been in the field for a much longer period, and its base on mathematics and statistics has made it a very powerful tool for statisticians and engineers to train computers to help their business. Deep learning, which is signified by the development of computing power in neural network models, has become the hottest topic in recent years, followed by the successful stories of AlphaGo which has beaten one of the best Go players in human history.

If you look closely, though, or if you work as a data scientist like I do in one of those “big” tech corporations, you would soon realize that deep learning can quite often give you worse results in reality. In other words, deep learning is not for everyone in every situation. Neural networks have been great in three specific fields. Firstly, it is an excellent tool for computer vision. The development of new network structures such as convolutional neural network has transformed the way machines see pictures, thus giving it a pretty decent accuracies in fields like object detection and image recognition. Further more, text analysis, such as machine translation and word prediction have been enhanced by recurrent neural networks, in which the structure can remember previous occurrences for a specific event. Lastly, reinforcement learning(which is basically machine learning new things by exploration or exploitation) has seen its biggest enhancement followed by the help from deep learning. AlphaGo uses a more complex type of this network setting to succeed in overcoming the difficulties to defeat human top-notch Go players.

However, if you are in a traditional field such as anti-fraud, and you have about 20 features with slightly over 100,000 observations, you would be amazed by the fact that as simple as a model like logistic regression can serve you better. Theoretically, though, deep learning has the power to imitate any linear or non-linear models, but setting the hyper parameters just about right is an art instead of science. Quite often, at least to me what happened is tree models(gradient boosting machines, random forest) or linear models(logistic regression, elastic net regression) have better predictive power and easier to be interpreted. Does it mean some mistakes in my deep learning experiments? I used to think so, until I realized that the inner drawback of deep learning: it can’t replace math and statistics in modeling! Especially when you are dealing with a highly imbalanced dataset, using deep learning models would easily make it overfitting or less predictive than math models, and this has been exemplified by some practices of mine in my daily work.

So don’t be fooled by any crazy promotions of AI. It does have change some fundamental ways for machines to learn new things, but it can’t guarantee you good results when it comes to modeling. A lot of companies are using this as a trick to attract new fundings, just like what Bitcoin has been to our world. You won’t assume there’s a Swiss knife for modeling, won’t you? LOL.

Chinese Internet Companies Are Starving For Money

Not long ago, world’s fourth biggest phone maker – Xiaomi, has successfully held its IPO in Hong Kong, marking this newly-rising Chinese giant company a new milestone in its journey. It is hard to categorize Xiaomi as an Internet company, like how Google is, when the primary profits of it still come from its low-end smart phones.

I work for Xiaomi as of now, and I am proud to see its rapid but huge development in different areas, although I am indeed not convinced by its decision to go public. But I also understand that was probably not a perfect timing for the board, either. China has tighten its control on financial area recently, and as visionary as a CEO could be, he should realize that missing now probably would cause missing the future. Therefore, it is not really a multiple choice question. Instead, all would tend to do it as soon as possible before everything else goes wrong in the bigger context.

We all know recently America has been impacting the world economy aggressively, with the latest example being Turkey getting crushed in its financial section. When people rush to Istanbul to purchase luxuries, they need to realize that thing could happen anywhere any soon around the globe. For Chinese Internet giants or startups, they could be witnessing an approaching storm in funding area very soon. For giants, they could just hang in there for several years and then make it till next spring; for startups or unicorns, it would be a different story, since they still need tons of funding to support their great ideas and visions.

How does the storm come anyway? I guess it can’t strip away the relation with the real estate market, which is worth trillions of dollars today. It has become the centerpiece of the underlying problems – the ever-growing real estate market has taken away all the investment that should have gone into other industries, thus creating probably the biggest bubble in financial history. Other than that, it has also brought a lot of corruption because the land is controlled by the state, so it means by selling more land, local governments can increase their profits in the financial sheets. There are some other problems as well, but none of them is quite comparable to the one we just mentioned, which has taken years to form. Internet companies, which have enjoyed rapid investments and funding, inevitably would be impacted by the real estate market. On the other hand, employees of those Internet companies, many of them are strongly talented, are starting to feel huge pressure in terms of apartment rentals. The rents in Beijing area have gone up by a growing rate, and many of my colleagues are under pressure with limited payments from the company. It drives, instead, the companies to seek more funding from possible sources.

Although some of the Chinese tech giants originally copied their business model from foreign companies, I have to admit that in terms of localization they are far better than the original idea-holders. The CEO of Baidu just mentioned that if Google wanted to come back to China again, he has the confidence to win again. That is not completely bullshit, because the vast majority of Chinese netizens are not what we believe they are.

Anyways, the economic conditions are still not yet clear, but it has reminded me to be careful with what decisions I make, especially for financial decisions. Obviously more Chinese Internet companies will go for IPO soon, but we all know it is not the signal that the economy is going well.

Value something, not somebody

People who have gone through a lot of ups and downs would like to convey this concept to the young: value something, not somebody. When I was young, I used to put all my goals and plans on the girl I “loved”, for instance, I would choose the place where she is to go, and I would start to learn the things she likes. Nonetheless, that is not all. When we are in a relationship, we would tend to be over caring because we are afraid of losing, so some of us keep giving love without any valid feedback, only to find out that by putting all he wants/likes/needs on somebody, he has already risked losing all he had.

People change, and it is the truth. But it is not a bad thing. As intelligent creatures, we human beings have well adapted to the rule of nature – competition. No matter we are cooks, servers, coders, athletes or what, we compete against others to show we are valuable in this world. Some people would have already found what they love for the lifetime, but some people don’t. I happened to be one of them when I was young, so I used to rely the decision making on my girlfriend’s wills – whichever you choose, I will follow your path. While some of this type of stories would end up in good romance, most of them don’t. When your decision maker left, your entire system broke down. You feel like a zombie with no actual living purpose, crawling around searching for food.

Life is not like that, for sure. Something is always true, and that should be the things that we are after, that we should value. By finding those valuable things, such as good habits, good manners or morales, you will find your life unbreakable by anyone else, because those things won’t break. Some of us want to be a travel journalist because they want to show the world wonders that are undiscovered; some of us want to be a splendid cook because they like the smile when customers take a bite on the well-made food; some of us want to be coders because they love the simple idea that can change the whole world.

Those things don’t break, and we should value them instead of some individuals. Think about the time when we fall in love with somebody, we love them as a whole, not just their body. The abstract part of love is what we often ignore when the hormone effect hits. If you love to do something, keep the motivation, and if you still haven’t found one, go find it. Just don’t put your life’s blueprint on any individual, and if there has to be one, it got to be yourself.

Be your god, and love your world first before you can care others’.

NBA > NFL

Let’s face it, NFL is getting more and more boring nowadays, and I am not saying football is getting there, but NFL, specifically. Two years ago I started to get really into college football, and now I can convincingly say: college football is the most fun sport in the world, with no exception.

NFL is making itself quite embarrassed recently, by announcing that it would give the team that has players kneel down during national anthem a stunning 15-yard penalty, before the game even starts. This sounds very familiar to me, because I have been through quite a lot of similar penalties since I was young here in China. Yes, I am talking about coxxxnism. I wouldn’t say that this is not effective, instead, it is probably the most impactful policy ever if you want to punish an individual: if you don’t listen to me, fine, cause I am going to threat your teammates or families.

I don’t understand why would NFL choose this type of penalties. Even so, I don’t understand why would there be a penalty before the game starts. I’d rather attribute to this joke to NFL’s incompetence during these years, because clearly basketball is gaining more and more ground.

This season, at this time, there’re two 2-2 finals in both eastern and western conference, making it an exciting year for basketball fans since the foundation of warriors dynasty. I just hope NBA could get better and more balance between teams, and keep treating players as their partners instead of their tools.

Before the opening of next season’s college football, let us enjoy the May/June Madness!

Python is reigning!

When I started to learn Spark back in 2016, Scala is the best option to write Spark programs due to its simplicity and quickness. Back then PySpark was also available to Python users, but in order to use it, people have to initiate a SparkContext at the very beginning, and then go through some tedious steps to set things up.

As time reaches to 2018, I find that Spark community has officially created a new way for Pythonistas to interact with Spark core. The savior in this context is called SparkSession, which has bundled up a lot of things that normal users may not care at all. With SparkSession, Python users can dive right deep into data exploration, just as what they like to do in terms of machine learning. Though Scala still owns the crown in writing Spark programs, PySpark is now catching up.

Similarly, when I reviewed my knowledge in TensorFlow, I also found that Google has provided two new high-level APIs apart from the original low-level APIs. This has greatly lower the cost in time and effort for Python users to get their hands on this great open-source deep learning framework.

Java and other low-level programming languages are probably still the best overall for those who care about performance. I didn’t expect that Python would gain such huge popularity if its community is not active in machine learning area, thanks to third party packages such as scikit-learn, pandas, numpy and others. There’s a good saying about this – when one rides with the wind, even a pig can fly.

Next Big Area for Data Analysis

Artificial Intelligence? No, since it is already very popular and everybody wants some out of it.

Block chain technology? Nope, since it is more of a security thing, and data analyst is not playing a main role in its development.

Then what are we talking about here? I want to define the “Big Area” in the title as something that we could easily tap into with our current techniques, and it has not gone viral globally yet. The area I’d like to share my insights on, is electronic gaming.

Yep people might say that sports analytics has already been maturing especially in developed countries, and top players have dedicated data analyst to improve their performance. However, they could afford them partially due to the global recognition of their type of sport, and esport hasn’t been at the stage yet – it is still struggling to make itself enter the vision for most people. That is to say, the data analytic part in esport is very much related to the industry itself, and I would say it has a prosperous future.

Additionally, esport is so perfect for data analysis that I couldn’t think of another sport that has more appropriate case for data analysis. As of now, we have adapted high speed computers and machines to do complex calculation for us, and at the same time esport is played on computers. In other words, we’ll be able to analyze anything you would care about in games in order to improve the performance, because all data is available theoretically.

Esport’s data analysis has inherited the advantages from traditional sports, for example, you can’t be a good analyst without the experience or knowledge of that specific sport. It has also some merits that traditional sports can’t achieve, such as the low difficulty of getting observable data. As the esport industry continues to grow with more competitive games such as Dota2, League of Legends and Overwatch emerging, I believe it has quite a bright future for those brave pioneers.

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