Asia rocks Web, social scene in 2012

The boom in e-commerce and mobile messaging, use of Internet blackouts as a form of protest, and the online phenomenon known as Psy top the industry's headlines for what was an eventful year.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

The Internet and social media landscape in Asia had a bumper year in 2012 in terms of the developments and news generated, many of which proved to have far-reaching impact.

From Web blackouts as an expression of protest and arrests due to illegal comments posted on social networking sites, to the e-commerce boom aided by the entrance of IT bigwigs such as Apple and Amazon in the region, it was headlines galore.

ZDNet Asia recaps some of the top moments in the Web and social media spaces in the past 12 months.

Online protests gain traction
Early in the year, the United States government reviewed the implementation of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) which would have given American officials the power to seek a court order against targeted offshore Web sites that allow piracy and intellectual property infringement. This court order, in turn, may be served on Internet providers in an effort to make targeted sites disappear.

This proposed bill was the catalyst for many prominent online stakeholders such as Wikipedia, Google and Mozilla to collectively protest, and they did so by shutting down or blacking out their Web services for a day on Jan. 18.

The Web blackouts proved to be a hit. So much so that a similar act was carried out in Malaysia in August to protest against the country's amended Evidence Act, specifically Section 114a which places the burden of proof on Internet account holders in disputes involving defamation.

The Centre for Independent Journalism Malaysia rallied several Web sites and bloggers in Malaysia to shut their sites down or display a pop-up window to promote the "Stop 114a" campaign for 24 hours. Participants included the Malaysian Bar Council, the Democratic Action Party, and online news site Malaysiakini.

Social media sparks arrests
The online space may be useful in making grievances known but cross the line and the government has the tendency to come down hard on offenders, particularly in Asia.

In Vietnam, for example, three bloggers were sent to jail for posting "anti-state propaganda" such as denouncing corruption, injustice and Hanoi's foreign policy on a banned Vietnamese Web site as well as their own blogs.

Malaysia, too, made the headlines after a 25-year-old man was arrested for allegedly making offensive comments on Facebook about Islam and Prophet Muhammad.

According to Klang South district police chief Mohamad Mat Yusop, the man was taken away for investigations under Section 4(1) of the Sedition Act and Section 298A of the Penal Code for causing disharmony, disunity, enmity, hatred or ill-will on grounds of religion. The suspect, however, claimed his Facebook account was hacked into and he did not post the offensive comments.

The Indian government also got in the act on regulating the Web after the police arrested two girls--21-year-old Shaheen Dhandha and her 20-year-old friend--for commenting on Facebook about the Mumbai city shutdown after the death of Shiv Sena leader, Bal Thackeray.

The arrest prompted the online community's outrage, and Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal had to come out and say the case might have been mishandled by the Maharashtra police and it was illegal to arrest people under the controversial Section 66(A) of the IT Act.

Asia embraces online shopping
E-commerce have been earmarked by many Asia-Pacific markets as a growth engine which, in turn, have attracted the attention of online retailers and marketplace operators. According to a MasterCard online shopping survey released in August, China and Thailand came out tops among other Asia-Pacific countries for having the most people indicating they shopped online, beating Japan, South Korea and Australia along the way.

China, in fact, had laid out plans to drive the value of online shopping to 18 trillion yuan (US$2.86 trillion) by 2015 in its E-commerce 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015). The country's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) said this target was feasible due to the rapidly developing mobile Internet, cross-border trade, growth in the small and midsize business (SMB) sector and online payment industry.

The potential of China's domestic e-commerce market was not missed by U.S. giant eBay, which is making a second foray into the scene by partnering luxury online retailer Xiu.com. The first attempt ended abjectly despite the company pouring large amounts of resources, as it eventually ceded ground to Alibaba Group's Taobao.com.

In India, more foreign companies are also entering the scene. Amazon.com, for one, announced a new Web site--Junglee.com--in February to cater to Indian consumers even as it looks to grab its share of the country's US$10 billion e-commerce market. The site offers more than 10 million products from over 14,000 Indian and global brands, including The Bombay Store, Bata India and Reebook.

The entrance of foreign competitors was welcomed by one of the country's largest online retailer Flipkart. Senior Vice President of Marketing Ravi Vora said India needs some serious players in the space due to the country's large untapped online shopping market. He said about 150 million local Internet users are e-commerce ready, but only 10 million were shopping online.

Foreign Web players concede China defeat
It was also the year where several global Web giants put up their hands and conceded defeat in trying to expand their footprints in China as local competitors such as Baidu, Renren, and Sina proved to be more attractive to consumers.

Yahoo, for one, had to close its music service in China on Dec. 19 as part of an adjustment to its global product strategy.

Google already has a limited presence in China following its decision to pull its search engine and e-mail services out of the country. But its exodus continued in September as it shut down its China-only music site, which was launched in 2009, as the impact of the service was not as great as it expected. This was followed by the shuttering of its shopping search service in December, which was originally intended to be a bridge between consumers, and retailers and traders.

The U.S. Web giant did say it intends to grow its mobile advertising business in the country though, confident in its ability to serve advertisements on various platforms such as mobile applications, Web pages, mobile search results, and online videos.

Asian mobile messaging apps make strides
Mobile messaging app developers in Asia have made their mark on the international scene in 2012 too, competing well against international rivals to attract more users on their integrated communications platforms.

South Korea's Kakao Talk revealed in December it had exceeded more than 70 million subscribers now, and on average, each user would spend 43 minutes per day using its service. China's Internet giant Tencent meanwhile has grown its user base for its WeChat app to some 200 million users.

Apple opens iTunes Store doors to more markets
To those in Asia who were hankering for Apple to make available its movie and music libraries, the wait finally came to an end this year. Cupertino threw open its virtual store doors in June to 12 Asian markets, including Singapore and Hong Kong. This was followed by in Indonesia and India in December, to the delight of consumers.

However, the online platform poses a threat to brick-and-mortar stores selling CDs and DVDs as it provides more alternatives for consumers and simplifies the buying process without having to leave one's room, according to analysts and consumers ZDNet Asia spoke to following Apple's announcement.

"Gangnam Style" most viewed YouTube clip ever
It would not be a recap of 2012 if no mention of South Korean rapper Psy and his catchy ditty "Gangnam Style" was made.

Indeed, the unconventional "horse riding" style of dancing quickly became a hit and everyone from United Nation Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Uruguayan footballer Edinson Cavani to pop stars Madonna, MC Hammer, and Britney Spears have attempted to replicate the dance, with varying success.

Psy's rocketing fame was captured best, perhaps, by YouTube's own counter. On Dec. 21, YouTube revealed the 34-year-old star's video broke its one-billion-views milestone for the first time. It surpassed Justin Bieber's "Baby" video, which was the previous holder of the most-viewed video accolade and did so in a record-breaking time of five months, the video streaming site stated.

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