Author: Minglu Xu (page 1 of 2)

Week 8

It’s hard to believe that we’re at the end of the Digital Scholarship Summer Research Fellows program. 8 weeks ago I was on a 13-hour flight from Beijing to JFK, and between the naps and the meals and way too many movies, I started thinking about possible directions I can take my research in the weeks to come. The changes that I had seen in China in my short time back reminded me of the numerous trips I made back there since migrating to Singapore when I was four. Each time I visited, there were significant changes I noticed and in recent years Internet use in China seems to be booming and seeping into every aspect of people’s lives. Wanting to learn more about the recent Internet developments within the country and their significance in the context of China, I decided to make this the focus of my project this summer. Now 8 weeks later, I’m excited to share with you the site that this initial idea led me to create:

It is incredible how digital scholarship projects can be tailored to so many different fields. Tyler, Justin, Rennie and I all came in with research topics that were vastly different and the tools that we needed to complete our projects also varied greatly. From Voyant to Tableau, each week we were introduced to digital tools that I had never heard of. While I ended up only using ESRI StoryMaps and TimelineJS, the exposure to the myriad of tools out there is extremely valuable and I can see them being applied in so many ways beyond my summer project. This summer also confirmed my interest in Economics. The process of researching my topic has been very enjoyable and I am eager to delve deeper into this area of study.  I also hope to have the opportunity to work with the Economics and East Asian Studies department in the future to build upon what I have created this summer.

The past 8 weeks have opened my eyes to the vast amount of resources students have access to on campus. There are so many academic journals and articles we have at our fingertips, and the librarians have been incredibly helpful in the process of navigating through these sites and huge amounts of information. This summer has also shown me the value of collaboration and the sharing of ideas. Our trips to Bryn Mawr and Gettysburg were especially helpful in giving us a glimpse of what students from other colleges are working on and also exchange ideas and propose changes that can better our individual projects.

A big thank you to Carrie and Courtney for introducing us to the world of Digital Scholarship this summer, and for giving us so much help and support over the past 8 weeks. I also want to thank Justin, Rennie and Tyler for their suggestions and input that contributed greatly to my final project. The conversations ranging from “is dead a state” to trouser choices have been fun.

Week 7

It’s always nice to have another pair of eyes glance through the same words I have been staring at for the past 7 weeks, and to receive feedback from someone who has not been involved with the entire process of my project. From changing the order of my paragraphs to defining specific terms that previously lacked explanations, I have made several changes to my project in the past week. The most significant of these changes would probably be the ArcGIS map that I have been working on since the start of the program.

Janine and Luyang have been incredibly helpful in teaching me how to navigate the ArcGIS site, giving valuable suggestions on how I can present my data and helping me transform an idea in my head to an actual visualization. For the past week, I struggled to put 2 different layers on together on the same map without having it be confusing or too cluttered. When I explained my concerns to some Gettysburg students on our trip there, one of them showed me a slider/swipe layout on StoryMaps that could be embedded in my Cascade site. It turned out to be the perfect solution to my problem and after some experimentation, I finally got the map to look the way I imagined it to. I’m so thankful for the opportunities to talk and interact with digital scholarship summer fellows from various colleges. The exchange of ideas and feedback has been extremely valuable.

As we are nearing the end of the program, I am working on refining the content and presentation of my site based on the feedback I have received over the past week. It’s hard to believe it has already been 7 weeks since we met for our first session and I can’t wait to see everyone’s final sites this Friday.

Week 6

As I get deeper into my research, I am coming across more and more issues related to my topic that I had never really thought about. It seems like the more we learn about an issue the more we are able to fully appreciate the complexities that surround it. My project focuses on China’s internet developments and their impacts on society, especially how the rural-urban gap is affected as internet penetration continues to grow. The 3 case studies I am working on have all launched initiatives that aim to bridge this gap and increase internet growth in rural China, but researching about these initiatives definitely took time. It is evident that these initiatives by the 3 companies are not of their utmost priority.

This is not difficult to understand, considering that every company’s value stems from their profit margins and perceived potential. Social responsibility, while important, is not what is most crucial in the eyes of investors and customers and hence naturally takes a backseat. This prompted me to think about the extent to which companies should be expected to be involved in social issues like poverty reduction. In the case of Alibaba, the company has much to gain from encouraging rural villages to have an online presence to increase e-commerce sales between urban and rural cities in China, which can potentially drive the company’s growth enormously. However, if companies do not see a direct link between engaging in acts of ‘social responsibility’ and their own growth, how motivated will they be in carrying out these initiatives if not for pressure from the government?

Looking away from China for the moment and turning our gaze to the rest of the world, it is not uncommon for us to see posters promising to donate a certain percentage of proceeds from a certain product to charity, or to donate a pair of shoes for each pair bought. I sometimes catch myself questioning if these initiatives count toward social responsibility or if they really are just marketing strategies to generate more sales and at the same time create a better image for the company. If it is the latter, is this form of advertising even ethical?

I  remain intrigued by the issue of censorship  in China and wonder if the Great Firewall will ever be broken down, allowing a flood of information to rush easily between borders. This is of course inextricably linked with politics which is far beyond the scope of my project. In the next week, I will be finishing up my last case study on Baidu and finalizing the ArcGIS map and perhaps Tableau visualizations. Also looking forward to receiving more feedback on my work in the coming week!

Week 5

The past few weeks have shown me the importance of making deliberate decisions with convincing justifications. Given the amount of freedom we have to develop our research questions and final projects, the process of deciding the direction in which to take my work proved to be a challenging one. I wanted to focus on internet development in China, but this topic remains very broad and can be explored in several different ways. It is only after reading reports by CNNIC and various other articles that I decided to focus on the areas in which consumers in China feel the greatest impact and is most evident in people’s everyday lives.

The next step would then be to understand the different developments that have been rapidly growing in importance in China over the past few years. I have seen snapshots of these changes through my short visits back, and hence started my project off intending to focus on the ones that I saw the most of and felt the greatest presence – Alibaba, WeChat, Didi Dache, Dianping. However, as I continued researching and reading about the topic, I was introduced to the complexities of internet companies in China. It was a challenge understanding the connections between different companies and recognizing the scale of each company’s influence within the market. I soon realized that Alibaba and Tencent were far more significant than Didi DaChe and Dianping. Baidu, a search engine company which I never intended to touch upon, became difficult to ignore as it appeared on reports and articles time and again. After further research, I decided to focus on the ‘Big Three’ and hopefully briefly touch upon the other companies they are each investing in and competing against.

Working on the timeline for Alibaba forced me to really think about the focus and purpose of my project. The audience I am writing to is likely to be someone not entirely familiar with China’s e-commerce or instant messaging companies, so I drew parallels of these companies to those of the US’ that reach a far wider audience all across the world. Also, among the numerous events that the company deems ‘significant’, which are the ones that I should fit into my timeline to answer my research question? Looking at reports from the perspective of a typical consumer, I picked out the ones that are most meaningful to the public and omitted what may be relevant to perhaps an investor or even the government.

I don’t want my final project to just be a business report of the three different companies I have decided to focus on without any further analysis of the data and pieces of information collected. It is definitely more difficult finding relevant reports and articles in these areas that add meaning to the data available, and this is an area I will continue to work on.

Week 4 – Tools I will be using

A large majority of week 4 was spent on exploring story maps and timelines, figuring out how to use them and deciding how best to represent the information that I want to touch upon. The past week gave me a much better idea of how I want my final project to look and the direction in which I hope to take my project.

I have decided to use ESRI StoryMaps and TimelineJS for my project. I envision my final project to consist of mainly 2 parts – the first being case studies of individual companies and the second being a map that marks out the internet penetration rate of individual provinces in China. With these ideas in mind, and after learning more about the various digital tools, ESRI StoryMaps and Timeline JS seems to be the most useful in helping display the information I want to present.

ESRI StoryMaps is extremely user-friendly and allows to me easily build upon layouts to organize content. It also allows me to add in GIS maps which are a crucial part of my project, allowing me to explore and analyze the impact of internet use on different parts of the province and draw links between internet penetration and purchasing power per capita or household income, representing a measure of wealth in the different provinces. I am still working to build on the maps that I currently have and hope to ultimately develop a map that clearly marks out significant comparisons and links that are noteworthy. ESRI StoryMaps is ideal for my project for not only does it allow me to embed GIS maps on the webpage but also timelines I create on TimelineJS.

TimelineJS will be very useful in looking at the progress of the different companies over time. By marking out the significant milestones of each company and the context in which they occurred, it will be easier to understand the impacts these events have on consumers and what they mean for the economy. I am in the midst of building my first timeline for Alibaba and one of the main challenges I’m facing is picking out the events and milestones that are most important to my project. There are numerous events that can be very significant to the company and their investors, but I hope to focus on the events that impact consumers and the society in general. It also proves to be a challenge to cut down on the number of words on each slide to make it easier for readers to glance through and comprehend.

These are the 2 tools that I will be mainly working on, but I am still very open to changes and additions to alter or build upon what I already have. I have been mainly focusing on Alibaba Group over the past week and because Alibaba Group comprises, Taobao and Tmall, there are plenty of information I can put into the timeline. However, I am not sure if this will be the case for my other case studies, and perhaps a timeline will not be as useful for these other companies that I will be looking at. I’m excited to keep making new progress in the next few weeks!

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