It’s a great pleasure and honor to be in China again, this time for the 21st Century Learning @ the West Lake Expo held Oct 31 – Nov 3, 2009 in Hangzhou, China. This is my 3rd visit to China– I was in Hong Kong this past September, and in Shanghai in 2007. This current visit to China has brought home a problem I encountered in 2007 but did not address adequately at the time: The wiki website I use to share my presentation and workshop handouts is blocked by the Chinese government. This isn’t a personal issue the government’s censors have with me– it stems from the fact that I use the wiki website PBworks, formerly PBwiki, to share my presentation resources, and that particular wiki site is blocked in China. For some reason, other popular wiki sites like WikiSpaces and WetPaint are not blocked in China. Google Sites, unfortunately, IS also blocked.
Since I want to provide all the participants at this conference, as well as others who may be interested in the content there, with unfettered digital access to my ideas, this content filtering situation is very problematic and troubling. I am very thankful my main blog site is accessible / not blocked in China, but a LOT of the resources I share are on my presentation wiki, so this blocking situation is really frustrating.
Several years ago, I mapped my PBworks website to my personal domain, so the site is accessible (assuming content filters don’t get in the way) from the URLS teachdigital.pbworks.com and handouts.wesfryer.com. This subdomain mapping functionality provides an easier-to-remember website address for my handouts page, but does NOT help circumvent content filtering situations like we have here in China. My guess is that the Chinese content filter is blocking PBworks sites by IP address, not simply by domain name, so even when people try to access my handouts.wesfryer.com site from China it is blocked just as the main/default teachdigital.pbworks.com site is.
In 2007, when I was in China for the Learning 2.0 Conference in Shanghai, I created a partial “mirror” of my wiki site on Wikispaces, since for some reason Wikispaces is NOT blocked by the Chinese government but PBworks is. I created the website teachdigital2.wikispaces.com to share my session resources in 2007, but have not made any updates to that site since that time.
The following are some of the websites I’ve tried to use since I’ve been in China this week, but have not been able to access without a proxy server since they are BLOCKED by the Chinese government.
http://wiki.wesfryer.com/ (Google Site)
http://lc.celebrateoklahoma.us (Ning site mapped to a custom domain, indicating Ning is blocked by IP range)
The following websites are some I have used this week and are NOT blocked in China:
http://www.speedofcreativity.org (my blog)
http://www.wesfryer.com (personal site)
http://teachdigital2.wikispaces.com/ (a wiki I setup in 2007 for the Shanghai 21st Century Learning Conference, as a partial mirror of my “Teach Digital” handouts site on PBwiki/PBworks)
http://wiki.speedofcreativity.org (a wiki I started awhile back for my dissertation using TikiWiki)
See my posts from September 2007, “Working behind the great firewall of China” and, “Content filtering in Communist China versus an Oklahoma school” for more on my past experiences dealing with these issues, as well as some troubling behavioral parallels we see between the Chinese government and the leaders of many public school districts in the United States.
In 2007, Jeff Utecht had recommended at that time I use the website Proxify to access websites blocked by the great firewall of China. As in 2007, this website works pretty well in 2009 for accessing all of the above “blocked” websites.
Proxify is not free, so I had to pay $20 US for 3 months of access to use it.
I know there are MANY other choices for proxy servers, but since Proxify is one I’ve used previously with success I went with it again for this visit.
For some reason I was not able to successfully edit my PBworks site, but I could access it via the proxy service.
Here is my dilemma: While China’s content filter can be fairly readily bypassed with a proxy like Proxify, there are certainly large numbers of people online today in China who are NOT using proxy sites. If I used a wiki site like WikiSpaces or Wetpaint, instead of PBworks or Google Sites, I could (at least today) provide people in China with direct access to my workshop curricula / resources.
A second option, and perhaps a more durable option (since the Chinese government could decide to block other commercial wiki sites at any time, without warning) would be to run an open source wiki platform like TikiWiki or MediaWiki on my own website, and post presentation / workshop handouts there. As a bit of a sandbox, about a year ago I installed TikiWiki on with my main blog host and created a site for dissertation materials I was using at the time. I’ve also installed MediaWiki on our Storychasers site, again as more of a sandbox than anything else, to see how the interface works and what functionality it offers.
I love using PBworks, and definitely think it is functionally superior to either TikiWiki or MediaWiki in the last iterations I tried, but these content filtering issues provide a pretty compelling reason to consider abandoning it in favor of a more accessible wiki option.
I’m not sure what to do.
Does anyone know why PBworks is blocked in China? I wonder if this stems from a particular PBworks website that was built with content the Chinese government censors found offensive, and as a result of that site the entire PBworks domain was blocked? I’d love to find out the answer to this question.
If I have to copy all the content from my current handouts site to another one, I’ll probably outsource the work using a web service like Get a Freelancer. Since I learned about sites like this from Mark Wagner at NECC09, I’ve wanted to find a reason to give them a try. Even if that website copying/duplication process is outsourced, however, I’d still face the challenge of using a comparatively weaker/less capable wiki platform for my site like TikiWiki or MediaWiki rather than PBworks of I make this change. I’m not eager to do that.
I welcome any input and suggestions you have on this dilemma.
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