Dean Ran Yang of Sun Yat Sen University’s new school of Mobile Information Engineering starts her talk by showing pictures of Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Seve Chen, Sergey Brin – she argues that these guys are software engineers as well as CEOs, and that for Chinese students to succeed, they need to know how to create innovative mobile tech.
They’ve got a good record so far. Sina Weibo is the world’s leading microblogging service, founded in August 2009, and reporting 503 million users in December 2012 – on the average day, 100 million messages are posted online. We Chat was released in January 2011 and now has 300 million users. We Chat includes a number of features that are unique to the platform – “shake”, “look around” and “drift bottle” are all designed to introduce people to other mobile users.
She tells us about Cloud Newspapers, a new technology released in May 2012, which combines paper media and video media through image search. A traditional paper posts a picture of an event, and Cloud Newspapers encourage people to search for other images and videos online, building on that initial post to create a richer multimedia experience. (Conveniently, it’s also a new platform for advertising.)
The new school accepts the conventional wisdom that mobile internet is growing much more quickly than fixed internet, and that the future is in the mobile. The school will focus on four areas: mobile application development, the internet of things, mobile health and vehiculear intelligence.
The curiculum of the school will combine software engineering, computer engineering, harware engineering and communications engineering. Students will get a strong background in those four fields, and focus heavily on learning by doing, with one TA supervising a dozen students through engineering and design projects. In addition to classroom training, there’s a wide set of clubs (Android development, game development) and peer learning structures designed to support academic development and learning.
I asked Dean Yang about the challenge of innovating for markets beyond China. I’ve been using WeChat while here in China, and it’s a pretty damned cool platform – text chat, asynchronous voice messaging, photo sharing, as well as some features I’ve not seen before, like the ability to connect with a random user (shake) or a nearby user (look around). Dean Yang was surprised to learn that Weibo is more full-featured than Twitter, and I get the sense that the community here is still thinking of itself as catching up with the US, even in cases where local software development is opening some new directions.