Inside The Noodle Bowl

by Jon Russell

Asia Reporter for TechCrunch

Read this first

Goodbye, The Next Web. Hello, TechCrunch.

Photo 27-09-2014 11 22 18.jpg

I don’t often write about myself, truth be told I prefer not to, but this update is probably worthy of note. After three years at The Next Web (almost to the day), I’ve moved over to join the team at TechCrunch.

I’ll continue to be based in Bangkok and I’ll continue to write about tech news and topics in Asia, just over at techcrunch.com. Likewise, my weekly Asia tech newsletter will also go on as usual.

Working at TNW has been an incredible experience. The move from a ‘safe’ corporate job to the world of tech blogging in 2011, which I saw as a risky leap at the time, has been the best decision I ever made. TNW has been an amazing place to learn the ropes and develop, and I’m looking forward to taking that to the next level.

TNW has been in the process of shifting its editorial gaze on more internationally-relevant, consumer technology-focused topics, so my move to TechCrunch will...

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Twitter as a breaking news service: Bangkok protests 2014 edition

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Image via New York Times/Reuters

I was relatively early to Twitter, more through luck than judgement. I signed up in 2007 because I was working with a startup that had integrated Twitter and, as the youngest (and therefore apparently most technology savvy) member of the team, I was tasked with understanding how this new-fangled concept of ‘microblogging’ worked.

It wasn’t until late 2008, however, when I moved from London to Bangkok, that I really 'got’ the service and became hooked. With barely a few hundred registered users in Thailand at the time and me being fresh off the boat, Twitter was an amazing way to make new friends and network for jobs, but its true value as a breaking news service became apparent in November/December 2008 when anti-government protesters blocked Thailand’s main airport causing chaos.

It’s a common situation played out worldwide. Local media struggled to...

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Tech and startups in the Middle East are bubbling with potential

One of the reasons that I love living in and writing about Asia is that society and life in general is in a constant state of change thanks to technology – many of these elements can be found in the Middle East, and that makes the region an exciting place for startups and entrepreneurs right now.

I’m (literally) on my way back from the most recent Geeks On A Plane tour organized by 500 Startups (disclaimer: 500 Startups covered my flights/accommodation) which gave me and a bunch of investors/entrepreneurs an opportunity to look at the tech and startup scene in Turkey, Jordan and the UAE for ourselves.

I’m planning to write a number of articles exploring the details in some depth but, sitting at the airport, a quick summary seems like a good idea.

Geeks In A Plane On A Cake

Turkey

– A population of over 70 million makes Turkey one of the largest individual markets in the region… assuming that you loosely...

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Is mobile killing rural Internet cafes in Asia?

I’m spending this month with my in-laws, who live in a tier-2/3 town in Thailand that’s around 100 kms outside of Bangkok. I spent a month working here two years ago, and this is the first time that I’ve has a similarly sustained period of time here doing anything other than relaxing. During this spell I’ve noticed a few interesting trends relating to the growth of smartphones: chiefly that the Internet cafe business is looking a lot less attractive these days.

Note that this isn’t your typical urban coffee shop with (perhaps) free Internet access and decent coffee, it’s little more than a shopfront decked out with 20-30 old school Windows PCs and fixed-line Internet that is priced per hour.

Coffee not included

ISP issues at my in-laws’ house forced me to spend a week working from a local Internet cafe which I frequented for work back in 2011, here are some observations:

– Far fewer young people came to...

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Building your startup, hiring and raising funding in Asia

Over the past month we published a four-part series of must-read opinion articles on building startups in Asia – the last one of which dropped this past Friday. The series is authored by Thomas Clayton, a Silicon Valley veteran who has spent the last few years based out of Singapore as the CEO of Bubbly, a Twitter-like service for voice messages.

Thomas Clayton

Bubbly has over 30 million registered users, partnerships with numerous operators and has raised more than $60 million from investors, so – leaving aside his experience running companies in the US, which provides further context and basis for comparison – Tom has a lot of interesting insight to impart to aspiring Asian entrepreneurs or those investigating the potential of Asia from afar.

You can enjoy Tom’s 6,400-plus words at the links below:

Ready to expand your startup into Asia? Read this

Expanding your startup into Asia? Here’s how...

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The only way to be anonymous on the Internet…

It seems the NSA managed to gain access to Al Jazeera’s internal communications system, and that got me remembering some recent comments on Internet security.

From someone highly qualified to speak on the subject.

Don’t believe that there is any method of online communication that is free from surveillance of some kind.

‘The Grugq’, an information security ’pornstar’ based here in Bangkok, explains that even systems like the TOR Network are not guaranteed to be 'safe’ or free from the prying eyes of those who are paid to know all online.

The publicly available tools for making yourself anonymous and free from surveillance are woefully ineffective when faced with a nationstate adversary. We don’t even know how flawed our mental model is, let alone what our counter-surveillance actions...

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Fast-growing Asian messaging service Line by numbers (lots of big numbers)

I’ve written enough about Line, an increasingly popular messaging service in Asia, for TNW today, so here’s a fairly crude dump of data that the Japanese/Korean company released at its annual event today – consider it reasons to watch this company as it increases its international presence.

Line, for those that don’t of it…yet, started out as a more feature-rich version of WhatsApp, becoming one of the first to offer photo sharing, voice calling and stickers.

These days it’s more akin to a social platform, that’s to say that beyond messaging it includes social networking, gaming, opt-in marketing and more.

The key data:

  • 230 million registered users worldwide (of which 47 million from Japan – Thailand: 18 million; Taiwan: 17 million; Spain: 15 million; Indonesia: 14 million)
  • Over 100 million Google Play downloads (iOS figures unknown)
  • 63,000 new users each hour
  • 52 connected apps...

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An intro to Southeast Asia for VCs from VCs

Here’s a great article that helps explain why so many US- and Europe-based VCs are said to be keen on getting into Southeast Asia. It comes via Forbes in a guest post from Fenox Venture Capital’s Anis Uzzaman and Tom Maxim.

Go read the post now – if you didn’t yet – but basically it points out that China and India are seen as huge opportunities for VCs (thanks in no small part to billion-plus populations) but actually Southeast Asia (and Japan) also represent a real opportunity to invest in a fast-growing ecosystem.

We like to call Southeast Asia, “New Asia.” These countries have large populations, even larger economies, and are creating dynamic communities of entrepreneurs. Founders in this region, we’ve seen, are increasingly willing to take on risk and innovate.

Indonesia (a huge market with 250 million people) and Singapore (a financial hub) are focused on as two of the prime...

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The spread of second-hand smartphones in Thailand/SE Asia

I’ve not posted here for a while as I’ve been a little short on inspiration and time. But taking the trip from Bangkok to Laos for a visa refresh and a few other recent sojourns outside of the big smoke have given me both in sizeable doses.

It’s been 18 months since I last made the trip to Vientiane – an all-nighter on a coach that brings a new meaning to the phrase red-eye – and, ever-inquisitive about the adoption of technology and its effects on society I’ve noticed a few things that have changed.

In no particular order:

  • Lots more people using iPhones (and to a lesser extent Samsung smartphones). What struck me most is that folks you wouldn’t expect to have them – such as migrant workers in Bangkok, who catch the bus to back up-country on their breaks – have older devices, like the iPhone 4 or 3GS. All the usual apps, Line, Instagram, Facebook, etc are on-board (from what I’ve...

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Facebook Home won’t stop the Asian mobile messaging rivals

I’ve been thinking about the Facebook Home launch this week, particularly in the context of Asia and a couple of things stick out.

1) The move is Asia-inspired. That’s to say that forking Android is something that has been done in Asia more than anywhere else.

Baidu, China’s top search engine, offers an Android ROM that, when installed, switches out Google’s services for its own. It’s available to download and is pre-loaded on some phones. Equally, KDDI in Japan already has an Android ‘launcher’, as they’re called.

2, and more importantly) Facebook Home won’t kill the messaging services in Asia that are increasingly rivaling Facebook in the continent (despite the fact that Android, which FB Home is exclusively built for, is Asia’s dominant mobile operating system).

The reason for my skepticism is that Facebook Home is little more than an amped up version of Facebook, which aims to...

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