Maybe I'm just bitter because Popup Chinese is now ranking below nine pages of spam rather than our usual seven, but I had my hopes up for this latest Google salvo, mostly because of an unexpected Hacker News exchange with a member of the Google search quality team who followed up by email and sounded like he actually cared about... you know... search quality.

So when I heard about the latest Panda rollout I tried a few queries only to discover that Google has managed to get worse. And this is no mean feat, since we're not talking about trivially worse so much as a plunge from pseudo-relevance into an almost total disconnect with reality. Impressively, the most popular Chinese learning resources online are now entirely invisible on the Big-G, buried below spam-friendly Chinese-run operations which do not have any actual content or even any inbound links. Maybe the company shouldn't have committed seppuku in Beijing after all.

In any event, I've tried to figure out what possible rule change could be causing this and my best guess is that Google is now penalizing the English language, a conclusion I've reached since visiting these top-ten sites now presents a smorgasbord of Chinglish offers for "numbers of free classes and free Beijing tour guiding" once one does such things as hand over all one's personal information to "dawnload the applition." "Singing up" is easier than ever and who would not rush to hand over their credit card given the promise that "real business scenes of various situations,authentic and practical expressions are revealed"?

Sarah Lacy and Audrey Waters, or anyone else who wonders why startups these days veer towards trivial apps that can be distributed anywhere but Google need look no further for the cause than the search engine's profound inability to show websites that people actually use. Because even if you're not interested in learning Chinese just try this search to see exactly how screwed up Google is. And then compare the results to something like the App Store or Apple podcast directory, where things people use actually float to the top. What sort of product would anyone sane devote years of their life to, one that will never be found by the mainstream market or one with a shot of actually getting visibility if people use it? There is such a stunning contrast here between Apple and Google that it invites disbelief.

We all hear that search is a hard problem because Matt Cutts keeps telling us it is. But I'm starting to have my doubts. Because if Google can tell me as a webmaster what exact queries people are using to find my site and how long they are staying, I'm starting to wonder why they can't they use that data to get the trash off their front page? Or why their blog posts announcing the sanctity of the anonymized Analytics data I would happily share with them are now sandwiched between alerts that Facebook is the enemy and it is open season on my search history.

A panda throwing sh*t: all hail Google in 2012.
 said on
March 24, 2012
Thanks to this article, I actually found your website, and have already registered for lessons. I've searched in vain for good chinese learning websites the last few weeks, and had pretty much given up. Forget that an open search didn't get any useful sites, but even a blog search wasn't turning up anything on Google.
 said on
March 24, 2012
@ hooeezit

You have arrived at the crème de la crème of chinese learning! Nothing even comes close to what Popup offers in terms of quality, humor, and extremely useful content. Glad you didn't give up and I hope enjoy what Popup has to offer. It has been a godsend for me, that's fur sure.
 said on
March 24, 2012
Where is this page located on the site? I'm only able to see it because someone commented on it.
 said on
March 25, 2012

If you look at the URL, you'll see it's just a quick re-use of the lesson publication system as a private blog of sorts. Rightly or wrongly, I was put into a bit of a pique and didn't want the hassle or security risk of installing Wordpress or having to theme a remote-hosted blog to gripe about it.

I toyed with the idea of deleting the post actually -- the Google dance has cleared the most egregious offenders onto the second page, although the first page is still cluttered with absolute garbage (results #2 and #3 both have 8 inbound links and zero original content as far as I can tell), and I'm not sure how Popup Chinese is managing to rank on page #9 below the Chinglish stuff on page #2 and #3. But I guess Google knows best.

Anyway, there are obviously some things that will need to change for this to be a usable blog -- the suggestion of the PDF transcripts to the right, for instance, but maybe we should be publishing a blog. And if people would be interested in writing about their own learning experiences, we can always open this up more generally.

 said on
March 25, 2012

What a cruel irony that your Chinese study materials are buried, but your private blog is showing up in Google search results >:-/

A Popup Blog or a return to regular Announcements is a great idea. I'd love to read what new with the site, what projects you guys are working on, etc.
 said on
March 27, 2012

I would be more than happy to talk about my experience learning Chinese. I always tell my English students that to expect to learn everything from osmosis, listening passively to me speak, isn't as effective as engaging with each other and learning from a peer-to-peer dynamic. In the same way, I think everyone who's serious about learning Mandarin has a contribution to make.

By talking about our experiences, methods, etc, we can help each other out. In fact, I was thinking about making a weekly thread about movies, written entirely in Mandarin. I've recently taken to spending a class per week telling my teacher about the latest movie I watched, and it's a great way to learn new words and perfect your grammar. If you guys think it's a good idea, I'd be happy to do it, and maybe even go through a couple of grammatical points while I'm at it. Even though my level is probably elementary, I have my written summary of the movie checked by my teacher for grammatical errors and "authenticity", by which I mean whether it sounds like Laowai Chinese or the real thing, so hopefully it would help others out.

Sorry for the absurdly long post. If you guys reckon it's a good idea, I'll do it without a doubt :)

 said on
March 28, 2012

Sorry for taking a while to get back to you. I think it's a great idea, but we'll need to make some changes to the site before we start in order to make it worthwhile. There's no point in having people blog right now if we're not setup to give visibility to what they're writing. And I'll want to tweak the interface for writing posts so that it's a bit more intuitive than our lesson creation system.

Right now we're working on a revised version of the site we're expecting to roll out next week. So this is probably about three weeks off. I will get in touch by email though with details when we're closer to getting this off the ground.

And Thanks,


 said on
March 28, 2012

No worries, when you get everything set up the way you want it let me know and I'll gladly do my bit :)
 said on
September 4, 2012
I hear you, David. This is getting more and more insane and people need to start looking outside of Google to get the real goods.

Word of mouth still carries a lot of weight, as done good networking with similar websites.

There's no question you guys should be at the top for 'learn chinese', and it's sad that so many people fail to have the attention span to really look into things enough to find what will truly serve them.

I'll keep promoting you guys as the #1 Chinese website :)

Keep up the goods,

 said on
September 4, 2012

Thank you Chapman! Support from our fans like you is really important for us :)

 said on
September 4, 2012
@Chapman, Freelanguage,

Google , as it is and forever will be with all companies and all consumer products, has now passed the all-I-do-I-do-for-you phase and has entered the all-I-do-I-do-for-loot phase.

It's the old, get them loving the product while it's cheap, then when there is a large enough consumer base, switch to ultimate profit mode business model. Which means, offer less for more.

I would love to switch from Google and wherever I can I try to use Bing, but it's, unfortunately, not a suitable replacement.

I'd also love to see Popup Chinese #1 on Google for Learn Chinese, but it's easier said than done.

At very least, social networking sites of all kinds, Twitter, Facebook etc., are all good ways to build the name.

I wish more people would link to Popup, which a base of good relevant links is the first step to Google placement.
 said on
September 6, 2012

For the record, the blog idea is a great one. In class there is only one teacher and lots of students, so if we want the opportunity to use our Chinese more often in the class setting, we can only engage with each other as peers. Whether our Chinese level is good, bad or indifferent, is not important. What is important is that we come out of our shells and use our less than perfect Chinese to communicate.

Blogging and making comments to other's blogs (hopefully in Chinese) is great practice, and a way to learn from each other. Billingual blogs is a way to add more relevant content to the site which aids in Google placement for both Chinese and English searches. Plus if the page title in the address bar reads the same title as the blog;

EG: "

This would also be a great help to get placement.

So, like I said, personal Popup blogs are a good idea on multiple levels.
Mark Lesson Studied