Why Singapore will never develop “YouTubes” or “Skypes”…

Wanted: Singaporeans to develop the next YouTube or Skype

This Straits Times article came a few weeks back, but I’ve brought it up in light of the “copyright + creative commons” week for my COM125 class.

The article demonstrates how our Singapore government has missed the point again (so much for their Web 3.0 idea!). They need to better understand how such disruptive innovations work against traditional social and economic system, something which the government of Singapore (and most other countries’) is presently struggling to adapt to.

Disruptive Technology = Breaks Rules
Youtube isn’t exactly copyright-friendly, which is why it’s so popular with everyone. If you were to upload a video there, it gets published faster than any other video-sharing services simply because there are no checks in place. Seeing how Singapore’s copyright act stipulates a 70 years post mortem auctoris, which is on the higher end compared to other countries (see list of countries’ copyright length), there’s an even lower chance of the creative culture (of sharing, mashups, and remixes) being appreciated here, which is sad since YouTube has enabled everyone to see the world in its rawest form for the first time.

Skype isn’t exactly telco-friendly, since it’s finally made telephone-like voice conversations affordable to everyone. With the telecommunications industry being one of the Singapore government’s much invested rice bowls (see SingTel’s Board of Directors), there would have been little appreciation of VoIP being pushed to replace existing cash-rich telephone services. Skype was born out the realization that citizens around the world were tired of being extorted of exorbitantly high charges by their respective telcos.

Forget “Killer App”.
A lot of popular web innovations (aka the bastardized term “killer app”) were developed by accident. From this, we have to forget about short-sighted economic gains, focus on experimentation and openly accept failure as part of the creative process (i.e. fuck the $$$). Citing USA Today on the history of Flickr:

Caterina Fake knew she was on to something when one of the engineers at her Vancouver, British Columbia-based online game start-up created a cool tool to share photos and save them to a Web page while playing. “It turned out the fun was in the photo sharing,” she says. Fake scrapped the game. She and her programmer husband, Stewart Butterfield, transformed the project into Flickr. In less than two years, the photo-sharing site — now owned by Internet giant Yahoo! — has turned into one of the Web’s fastest-growing properties.

Update Your Old Regulations
My advice to the government is not to look to citizens to innovate, but to themselves in making a concerted effort understanding what social media (aka Web 2.0) is really about. Remarks like these are utterly embarrassing as it is in the international media.

Given Singapore’s current legal, political and economic structures, this country probably remains as the worst place to develop such online innovations. It isn’t just about the funding, but the holistic climate of innovation which we lack.

If you want a “lighter” understanding of all this, listen to the MrBrown Show podcast (7th Feb 2007) for details.

  • http://gadgit.blogspot.com/ ed

    Yes, singapore lacks a ‘holistic climate of innovation’. But this is not an accident of freak of nature. It is a climate that was brought about from the 70s onwards to ensure that the masses would be critically decrepit enough so that the political continuity of the party in power would remain unchallenged – via confucianisation, de-anglicisation, mariginalisation and segregation, etc. If singapore was left to develop along those lines which it was on in the 70s, you would not be writing this comment. Little is known now of the times when singapore comprised two races – one, the westernised and innovative, two, the traditional and conservative. The former were silenced via a variety of means whilst the latter went on to serve as the foundation for the underdevelopment of the current intellectual status quo. The SAP school system, for instance, ensured that the english speaking, anglicised sector did not take over the economy, and through it, the medium of social influence.

  • http://gadgit.blogspot.com/ ed

    p.s. the popularity of ‘mr brown’ indicates the low level of the singaporean intellect that is most receptive to humour and superficial analysis. One can rest assured, for instance, that ‘mr brown shows’ would not rank very highly in, say, the UK. The people have been ill-prepared for profound insights and intelligent debate over the decades – thus, the popularity of ‘mr brown’.

  • http://eok.net Benjamin Koe

    What I don’t get is we seem to have a government that’s genuinely trying to improve Singapore, bring it to the world stage, but doesn’t want to do it with its own people.

    A quote from Dr Balakrishnan in the article: “For us to get our share, we need to be able to attract some people with some ideas and give them a launch pad to develop these ideas and plug into the global market.”

    Why do we keep needing to ATTRACT others to build Singapore? What’s wrong with the locals? Not good enough? Boy its beginning to suck being Singaporean now.

    Even if this is their intention, maybe they should work on their messaging and be a little more thoughtful don’t you think?

  • jer

    In addition to Ben Koe’s comment. I’d have to say that the general feeling is the same. In fact, the government is pretty misguided in their attempts to improve Singapore by listening almost all the time to the wrong people. People who might be able to get the job done, but not with the same amount of quality as from the people suited for the job.

    There is a general consensus that a lot is being said, but nothing is being done either because of the restrictions the government puts on itself, or the unwillingness to do anything at all.

    Still if you look at it from another point of view, if you peddle Web 2.0 concepts and manage to market it well, you could say you’re one of the few unique people in Singapore who actually manage to create a market outta it.

  • http://bjornlee.wordpress.com Bjorn

    indeed, this is such an embarrassing time to be Singaporean. where else does a country trumpet that it needs foreign talent to come and create web 2.0 startups? going beyond youtube and skype, web 2.0 startup founders are mostly young, passionate and idealistic folks who spend tons of time understand consumer and user tastes and preferences on the web. Can singaporeans not do that ourselves with our broadband infrastructure?

    This is a joke. Vivian seems to think that the EDB approach of importing MNCs to spur ANY industry in Singapore still works for the web industry. Estonia was chosen by the Skype guys more for legal reasons due to their Kazaa problem and low cost labor. Instead of relying on flukes to eke out successes, Singapore should look towards making the existing climate better for IT professionals already in Singapore. As it is, if i want to create a web2.0 startup, i will look to India where programmers are cheap and plentiful.

  • biao

    Hey Kev, thanks for posting the photo of the news article. Reading the article made me feel a bit closer to home. Even if it was a comical piece.

  • ed2

    Hey Ed, yes i’m sure in more developed countries, crude/stupid humor is never popular! (btw stop being an elitist snob!)

  • ed2

    PS Monty Python. Jackass, Family Guy, Simpsons, American Idol, Howard Stern, David Letterman, The Chasers War on Everything, The Goon Show. Once upon a time, people called them CRASS, Low Intelligence, idiotic etc. And guess what? So what? It was funny and and celebrated stupid ideas. How can you talk about encouraging creativity while putting down people who push the evelope. people like YOU are a prime example of unimaginative and uncreative singaporeans pooh poohing anything that doesnt fit your personal tastes. so what if its stupid, at least its creative! Stop whining and start doing something about it!

  • http://www.rsf.org/ lunatic fringe

    Dear Kevin

    I agree with you totally.

    The Government just “doesn’t” get it.

    Top down, hierarchical, paternalistic, totalitarian Singapore Inc style of doing things kills creativity than it fosters innovation. The Govt pumps in billions into the R&D funds and wastes billions in adventures in Thai Stock Market to what end while enforcing a stifling intellectual climate where even MPs and Ministers fear to debate REAL issues about bread and butter problems of the citizens like the 2% GST hike.

    NS is killing Singaporeans. And to some extent is the Government, it’s killing our spirit.

  • nuMentally

    Shouldn’t The People rule the Government?

  • http://www.mallr.com Splendour

    In a democratic society, in the new world of web 2.0, people is power.

  • http://shionsosei.blogspt.com Shion

    I worked with an American Researcher/Scientist last year and was totally blown away by the R&D “attitude” as compare to Singapore.

    My boss personally told me in the US people just dump in time and money not knowing if a project will suceed or not. In fact they don’t expect it have any result, but when they do … it’ll be 100 times worth the effort and money spent.

    Singapore ? First thing they’ll ask you when you bring your idea to them is : ” Is it gonna make money now ? ”

    CREATIVE sound card is just a classic example.

    Well written piece as usual !

  • http://bjornlee.wordpress.com Bjorn

    hmm, if chad hurley & steve chen started youtube in Spore, they would be sued before long by Mediacorp and then fed to the RIAA and MPAA wolves. Niklas Zennstrom? we would probably have deported him back to US where he’s wanted for his Kazaa misdeeds. So, Singapore to have our own youtubes and skype? stop sueing those moochers who just want free broadband, make CD ripping legal, have a DMCA-esque law passed and liberalize existing copyright laws.

  • biao

    This came out in the NY Times today. I thought it was relevant.
    http://tinyurl.com/yoa47q

    Just ask Sim Wong Hoo. About seven years ago, I met Mr. Sim in Singapore, where he was born and was then living. He talked about the rising creativity of Singaporeans and with a flourish, as if to dramatically make his point, he pulled out a prototype of a hand-held music player that he insisted would replace Sony’s famous Walkman.

    Mr. Sim’s device was breathtaking, possessing all the elements of what we now know as the MP3 player. Yet today, a Silicon Valley icon, Apple, dominates the market for MP3 players with the iPod. In recognition of its emergence as a music powerhouse, last month Apple dropped the word “computer” from its name.

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    Thanks for your heartfelt comments. Let’s put things in perspective and figure out a viable solution here:

    1. Ben’s argument against “the need for attracting foreign talent”
    Agreed. I don’t understand how we can quantify foreign talent as better. Realize that in nations such as China, they are well-recognized for pushing their own people hard in various disciplines (e.g. athletics, arts, technology), which in turns build national pride and culture (something which Singapore lacks).

    2. Shion’s account of America’s “R&D attitude”
    You’ll hear the same thing from friends with govt scholarships. Typically located somewhere in the local govt scholarship form would be a field asking for your research work’s “expected economic worth”. I need more people to verify this, but if so, that needs to be changed in order recognize the fact that we often need to fail before we can succeed. While seemingly wasteful in terms of investment dollars, a less rigid structure would allow for greater creativity and experimentation, which would allow for more interesting innovations that go beyond short-term economic gains. As Dr. Hiroshi Ishii mentioned in his talk at NUS, “A killer app lasts 10 years, a vision lasts 100 years”. He was referring to how visionaries gravitate towards the unknown, rather than being stuck fixing minute earth-bound problems. Seeing an unknown is well, the tough part, and that’s where inventors like him situate themselves. In summary, we’d want to leap, not walk, to the next big thing.

    3. Bjorn’s “opening of the legal floodgates”
    This was something I was driving towards, and while we cannot simply abandon all legalities which protect creativity and economy, we should lighten some of those regulations in order to let creative thinkers thrive. In essence, we should try to empower the individuals now, and lessen control that has been given to media and communication companies. A new balance has to be struck between the creative freedoms afforded to individuals and corporations.

    4. Biao’s NYT article on “Geography is Destiny”
    What a timely article… it applies neatly to innovations beyond the tech industry too. I was just sharing this in class today and paralleled this notion with our music industry. It is typically impossible for a local musician/singer to become a celebrity within our own country. There tends to be a need go abroad to say Taiwan or Los Angeles where there seems to be a better way of recognizing talent. After going to these “proving grounds”, a musician/singer would then be welcomed home as a celebrity. As ridiculous as it sounds, this does prove that geography does play a huge part in the creative culture. The trick now is to discover what makes these proving grounds tick (e.g. silicon valley = IT, Taiwan = music) and to embody those implicit features here on our own soil.

    Let me know if any of these points makes sense to you. The government doesn’t like us to simply critique but not offer solutions, and I agree to that. :)

  • http://www.justinlee.name/ Justin Lee

    nice analysis there. I also have some points of my own: 1st version: http://www.justinlee.name/2007/01/29/wanted-sporeans-to-develop-the-next-youtube-or-skype-can-it-be-done/

    and an edited version with more comments:

    http://sgentrepreneurs.com/innovation-technology/2007/01/30/youtube-skype-can-it-be-done/

    i guess.. the point about “Geography is Destiny” is most important because it’s much easier for an individual to plug into an ecosystem that’s already there.

  • http://www.sgwiki.com/wiki/Main.htm Norey

    Tweaking the population in which direction?
    quoteDeputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng, who oversees population policies, said on Friday that attracting new talents would help Singapore scale new heightsunquote..yea, Singaporeans are getting faten for the CNY and such poor climbers! so wee r needing foreign climbers foreign footballers, batminton and pin-pong players for the Olympicks!

    see forum blogs[[2]]

    The PAP of Singapore has constantly tweaking the demographics of the population in order to stay in power: that’s a fact we seem to ignore altogether even during the election.

    In Malaysia, when Dr. Mahatir was in power, there was a growing tendency which he viewed as unhealthy when a lot of Chinese voted against him and his party. So he allowed the Indonesians (not allowed before his administration even for them to visits) to come and stay, and many becoming Malaysians by marriage etc.. Therefore, there is a also kind of support helping him to stay in power too. This is a quiet way to allow it to happen. In Singapore, for years we have done the same thing with Chinese from the Mainland to come and stay too! The purpose is similar: it’s keeping the future ruling party to stay in power when the margin of success in each election gets to be marginal!

    A word of Caution:

  • mkao

    develop what happen is the creator will never see the money why? because all the money will go into the govt. this is how the country works