Thursday, 31 January 2013

Test for the Great Firewall of China

This article I wrote about 2 months ago about the Great Firewall of China concluded that my blog, which was accessible within China, was blocked after I tried to access it in Beijing. To recap very briefly, I got page views at least once a week from China before the trip. Nearly 2 months after I wrote this article, there had not been a single page view from Mainland China. Perhaps, Baidu - the Chinese Google - had stopping crawling my blog.

I could only arrive the conclusion by inferring from circumstantial evidence from such things as hits from China via Google Analytics (or any other traffic reporting tool). But this is only circumstantial evidence, not direct evidence that my blog is definitely blocked. My blog also don't get hits from more than a hundred other countries, albeit that China has more web users than there're people in USA. On the other hand, the number of English readers in China are indeed much lower than, say, Kiwis (c'mon New Zealanders, I visited your country 3 times), who had never visited my blog. So this could only due to my blog's low page rank, which in turns due to it being quite new (less than 5 months old).

So the conclusion that my blog was accessible before, and only being blocked after my Beijing trip was inconclusive (even if it makes a lot of sense). Until now, that is. I have discovered a tool that put that question to rest once and for all.

Interestingly, this website actually provides the tool for the specific tests for the Great Firewall of China. You can select locations within China and outside China. The locations outside China will give you references to compare the results with, side by side. Of course, if your site shows the same results to locations like NY, Munich or Melbourne to those locations within China, then there's something wrong with your blog. It means your blog couldn't be reached in those cities outside China either.

Not surprisingly, after putting my blog's URL into the tool for the Great Firewall of China, all tests confirmed that my blog was blocked. Except for HK, which I know would have no problem accessing my blog. Since my readers don't have access to my GA traffic report, simply look at my Flag Counter in my sidebar, you could see a HK flag, but no flag of PRC in sight. This isn't surprising, as everyone knows (and I stated clearly in the above mentioned article), HK enjoys one of the most free media in the world (and it has less internet censorship than Australia).

One simple straight forward way for the Chinese readers who wants to read blogs that are blocked in China would be to subscribe to the blogs' feeds. The Chinese firewall only blocks high profile blog sites like blogger's (and Wordpress's), but not the publishers of blog feeds. Because publishers of feeds could be any Chinese or other foreign internet firms, and reasonably standard feeds (like Feed Burner) are supported by many feed readers.

The problem is, they have to be quite familiar with your blogs before they decide to subscribe to your blogs. Without access to your blogs in the 1st place, there's no reason anyone would subscribe to your feeds. This is a catch-22 situation. Unless you're so very well known within China that your readers would just do it without reading your blogs first. Well, there's little risks of that with my blog.

Another simple way for a blog to be available in PRC, as far as I'm aware, is simply have a non-blogger domain name. Just need to pay annual subscription. But hold my words for it as things are always changing very fast in China. This might work in the past, but there's no guarantee it will work in the future as the Great Firewall of China is catching up with that as well.

Great Firewall of China is another website offering the same service, except this one provides much less info, and therefore insights. But it does offer availability for different locations like Yunnan, Inner Mongolia, etc. So running these 2 software together would give more confirmation for the availability of your site in China.

UPDATE (5/2/2013)  I had run further test on the 2 websites, and I found their results inconsistent. Having run different tests by entering different URLs into these 2 websites, I have to conclude that Website Pulse is more reliable than Great Firewall of China.

This conclusion is based on the fact that with the same URL entered into Great Firewall of China, sometimes, different results are returned for the same URL entered. While results returned by Web
Site Pulse are always consistent.

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