People in China don’t use calendar as often as United States. I talked about it in a blog entry back in 2005: Do You Have a Calendar?. I also talked about Why Classified is NOT Popular in China, Yet. Today, I want to talk about another thing about absolutely no people in China use today. That is voice mail.
Chinese is Unique? No
Four years ago, when I just joined eBay, and had the golden opportunity to witness the fight between eBay and Taobao from an inside on the eBay side. During many in-depth discussion with Meg Whitman when she was in Shanghai, I tried very hard to convince her that China is different. China has a unique culture, unique history, and unique user behavior, and we should treat China very differently.
Four years later, when I analyze what happened around me, I more and more tend to agree that people are very like each other across the world, and by nature, they are the same. The different behavior comes from different history. Taking the eBay example, people in both China and US want the website to be fast and stable, and eBay’s problem is, it is not fast and stable in China as in US (and in US, not as fast and stable as Google).
So, let’s discuss about why people in China don’t use voice mail.
How Voice Mail Started
The voice mail started in most countries from 1970s, to 1980s, when there is no such a thing called Internet, or mobile phone. From today’s point of view, voice mail is more like a a asynchronous pull-mode mobile phone. In contrast, mobile phone is synchronous, push mode; SMS is asynchronous, push mode, and email is asynchronous pull mode.
With voice mail, although there are no technologies like mobile phone, it is impossible to reach a person at any time, and voice mail is a not perfect, but working solution. So voice mail became so popular that the current generate grow up with voice mail recorder at home, and in office.
Today, when there is mobile phone, SMS, email, or even Skype, the user behavior changed in United States, and Europe, but slowly. Voice mail still plays an important role, before it fade out from the history scene.
Voice Mail Just Missed a Historical Chance
In China, fixed line telephone itself has never become as popular as the States. When I was young, let’s say, early 1990s, the telephone number for my city was still 4 digits (FYI, in 2005, it became 8 digits). In China, when people start to use phone, they jump start from mobile phone. Many cities just started from mobile phone without fixed line phone installed.
With this background, Voice Mail seems to be a stupid thing. There are 6 billion mobile phone users, you literally can reach any people in this country if you know his/her mobile phone number. Mobile phone means instant talking (Yes! With Interruption!)
The usage of mobile phone also shape people’s behavior. People would like to take mobile phone immediately and people love to have instant interact, and don’t care about interruption as much as people in the States. In a era when the people first used instant messaging like QQ, mobile phones that go with them, they don’t use voice mail any more.
There are Many Examples
Email appeared before SMS, but SMS is more convenient. That is the reason why email is not popular and people use SMS all the time. Blackberry is something attractive for non-corporate people in China. Offline classified? Before Internet, there is still a chance, but when Internet comes, the newspaper based classified that didn’t take off, permanently lose the opportunity to grow bigger.
Is this something called “Late Mover Advantage”?