I was asked by Tom Chatfield from Prospect Magazine to form part of the committee to identify the top ten Web thinkers of the digital future for the issue that came out just before Christmas. The remit was broad: it could be anyone, from any time, who’d done anything.

I struggled with this one more than usual. I have a dislike for lists like this, as “definitive” is a moving target (particularly in the Web world), and moreso for celebrating people whom I feel have been celebrated enough.

Another thing that I discovered in doing my research is that I am hopelessly English-centric; being an English-speaking academic with no technical or academic foreign language skills means that I don’t have the facility to burrow into other Internets. I do, however, have colleagues whom I’ve met on my many travels who can enlighten me.

I reached out to one of them after the Prospect piece, to find out more about the Chinese Web. Yee-Ming Chang is a broadcaster and digital media strategist in Taiwan who works with the Pak Lee Foundation, the organisation that advises the Taiwanese government on their digital strategy. We met when I was invited to speak at several events he and their parent company, Quanta Computing, were hosting.

In addition to being extremely switched on to the English-speaking intellectuals, Mr Chang proposed the following people, equal in stature to pundits, academic and commentators like Clay Shirky, danah boyd, Sherry Turkle and Henry Jenkins.

For your edification, I include his list below (and his comments in quotes):

Hu Yong, Associate Professor, Peking University. “One of the best Chinese internet observers since the early 90s, expert/translator on Clay Shirky”. Follow him on Twitter (English and Chinese).

Hu Yong (胡泳) is associate professor at Peking University’s School of Journalism and Communication, and a pioneering developer of China’s Internet. He has worked for a number of media, including Sanlian Lifeweek, China Daily, China Internet Weekly and CCTV.

A respected authority in his field, Hu Yong has been published widely. He authored Internet: The King Who Rules, the first book introducing the Internet to Chinese readers, as well as several other best-selling books concerning Internet economy.

He is also the translator of several groundbreaking English books on digital technology, including Being Digital and Release 2.0: A Design for Living in the Digital Age. His most recent book is The Rising Cacophony: Personal Expression and Public Discussion in the Internet Age, documenting the major transformations in the Chinese cyberspace.

A frequent speaker at IT events and management conferences, Hu Yong is active in industry affairs. He is co-founder of the Digital Forum of China, a nonprofit organization that promotes public awareness of digitalization, and advocates a free and responsible Internet. In 2000, Hu Yong was nominated for China’s list of top Internet industry figures.

Hu Yong’s academic honors include China Media Project Visiting Fellow, Journalism and Media Studies Centre, The University of Hong Kong, and China Internet Project Visiting Fellow, Graduate School of Journalism, The University of California, Berkeley. He is a founding director for Communication Association of China (CAC) and China New Media Communication Association (CNMCA).

Bio via Danwei, in an interview titled “”http://www.danwei.org/media/hu_yong_interview.php">The digital age, Orwell’s ‘Newspeak’ and Chinese media," from April 2009.

Jack Linchuan QIU, Associate Professor, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Young HK scholar, expert on digital citizen/NGO 2.0 in China.”

Jack Linchuan Qiu is associate professor at the School of Journalism and Communication, the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He researches on information and communication technologies (ICTs), class, globalization, and social change. His publications include Working-Class Network Society (MIT Press, 2009), Mobile Communication and Society: A Global Perspective (MIT Press, 2006). Some of his publications have been translated into German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Korean. Besides academic projects, he also provides consultancy services for international organizations such as the OECD.
Bio via his homepage.

Isaac (Xianghui) Mao (Chinese language blog) Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet & Society. “The Prominent Blogger, fluent in English, a progressive yet practical activist, organizing quite a few forums.” Read Isaac’s thoughts on being China’s first blogger (The Guardian, 2008). Follow him on Twitter. (English and Chinese)

Isaac Mao is a philosopher on Sharism, social entrepreneur, blogger, software architect and researcher in learning and social technology. He divides his time between research, social works, business and technology. He is now managing director of Social Brain Foundation, board member to Tor Project, advisory  to Global Voices Online and board member to several web 2.0 and media businesses(Wealink.com, Blogbus.com, Anothr.com,etc).

As one of the earliest bloggers in the Chinese community, Isaac is not only co-founder of CNBlog.org which is the earliest evangelizing site in China on grassroots publishing, but also the co-chair of Chinese Blogger Conference (2005 in Shanghai, 2006 in Hangzhou,2007 in Beijing, 2008 in Guangzhou). The CNBlog program then transformed itself into Social Brain Foundation (SBF) later on to umbrella Social Media and  free culture in China covering Free Access, Free Speech and Free Thinking areas, exampled projects like Digital Nomads, Ideas Factory, Memedia, Digital Nomads, Open Education and Creative Commons China (before 2006), etc.  Isaac is now studying how to apply social doctrines and technologies to totally eclipse global censorship clouds. At the same time, Isaac pays more attention on how social software can really improve the collective intelligences, then help evolve the whole society into a social brain. 

Isaac is also a global bridge in blogosphere. He is regular speaker/keynote to World Economy Forum, Wikimania, Chinese Internet Conference, Ci’Num, PICNIC and other global internet cultural events. As a trained software engineer, he has a long history leads developing both business and consumer software. He worked as a Chief Architect in Intel HomeCD project and Tangram BackSchool suite. He applied many HCI methodologies into software design process and improved the usability of software so much. He turns to Social Computing research and organized the first Social Software Forum in China.

Bio via the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

Michael Anti, Harvard Nieman Fellow ’08, “Familiar with western Internet literature, expert on the civil journalism/News 2.0”. Follow him on Twitter (Chinese with some English).

The name “Michael Anti” is known by almost everyone who follows free speech issues. Journalist 赵京, aka “An Ti”, became internationally famous when Microsoft blocked his Chinese-language politics blog hosted on their Spaces service. Before he became well-known as a blogger, Anti worked as a researcher in the Beijing bureau of the New York Times. He was – very briefly – a Chinese correspondent in Baghdad during the Iraq war, but had to leave when the newspaper he worked for was shut down by the government. He’s now a Nieman Fellow at Harvard, and is studying the question of how blogs and mainstream media have interacted in different countries.

Bio from an article by Ethan Zuckerman in 2007. More from Wikipedia.

Wen Yunchao, (Chinese lanugage blog), AKA Bei Feng. Internet observer. “A coffee shop owner, smart techie, active blogger, twittie, civil journalist; interviewed by Virtual Revolution.” Follow him on Twitter (Chinese).

Wen Yunchao (温云超), also known as Bei Feng (北风), a well-known journalist and blogger at the forefront of current social and political events in China, talks about censorship and the way netizens get around it.

Via Danwei.org

Finally, Matt Locke recommended one other Chinese Web intellectual for this list:

Kaiser Kuo. “Chinese-American writer, guitarist, Baidu int’l comms director, father of two in Beijing”. Follow him on Twitter (English).

Kaiser Kuo (simplified Chinese: 郭怡广; traditional Chinese: 郭怡廣; pinyin: Guō Yíguǎng; born 1966) is a Chinese American freelance writer and rock musician living in Beijing. He is a former member of the rock band Tang Dynasty and has further enlivened contemporary Chinese music culture with the formation of another ethnically-oriented heavy metal rock group, Spring and Autumn (simplified Chinese: 春秋). Kaiser’s musical involvement also involved playing bass for Dirty Deeds, an AC/DC cover band based in Beijing.

Kaiser currently works as director for international communications for Chinese search engine Baidu. He was previously a technology correspondent for Red Herring magazine, and also worked as director of digital strategy, China, for Ogilvy & Mather in Beijing. He writes a column “Ich bin ein Beijinger” for the English-language magazine the beijinger.

bio via Wikipedia

Do you have any other suggestions? Please do tell in the comments below.