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, a factory or design team will spot a fledgling new product on the internet, figure out how it’s made, and start churning out near-identical products. Other times, a Chinese partner factory will produce extra units of a product they agreed to make for another company, and sell the surplus items themselves online or to other vendors.

Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, drew criticism when he told investors in June (paywall) that fake goods “are of better quality and of better price than the real names” and come from “exactly the same factories” as authentic goods. But there’s some truth to his comments. Fake goods “are of better quality and of better price than the real names,” Jack Ma said.

Many analysts and historians have attributed Chinese counterfeiting to perceived aspects of Chinese culture like its emphasis on Valentino Tassel Suede Booties Discount Best Place KDnm3
, or an authoritarian government that stifles innovation . But rather than these reductions of culture, it has more to do with the evolution of China’s gadget and electronics manufacturing hub of Shenzhen, explains Silvia Lindtner, who researches Chinese entrepreneurship culture at the University of Michigan.

The city’s rise throughout the ’90s and early ’00s coincided with a boom in outsourcing among global multinational corporations. Instead of overseeing all the manufacturing of all the parts inside a product, large global hardware companies signed contracts with local manufacturers in Shenzhen to make and design products piecemeal. These contractors would then turn to smaller sub-contractors to help fill orders.

Many of the factories involved in these fragmented supply chains were small, family-owned entities operating without government approval. As they worked together, they realized they could do more than just supply parts that ended up in name-brand hardware. They could create rival products on their own, and reach customers who were too poor to buy a Nokia phone or Apple iPod, said Lindtner.

They banded together, at times sharing the recipes for specific electronic devices on online message boards. Thus began the shanzhai phenomenon, a word that literally means “mountain fortress,” but came to stand for products that skirt existing intellectual property laws. Phones and consumer electronics with names like “aPod” and “Nokla” flooded the market in the late ’00s.

The shanzhai era in consumer electronics gradually faded as incomes rose and brand-name smartphones became more affordable. But it enforced a culture of knowledge-sharing among manufacturers, wherein no single product design is sacred. Lindtner compares the culture of Shenzhen’s manufacturing ecosystem to the open-source movement among software developers. Much like how programmers will freely share code for others to improve upon, Shenzhen manufacturers now see hardware and product design as something that can be borrowed freely and altered. Success in business comes down to speed and execution, not necessarily originality.

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OBSERVER MUST-READS

The toy knows your name along with the answers to all of your questions.

By Sage Lazzaro

The toy tells jokes and helps with everything from spelling to math. (Photo: New York Observer/ Sage Lazzaro)

All of our devices are getting a dose of “smart,” including ourchildren’s toys.

A NYC-based company is developing Barbara Bui Suede Studded Ankle Boots Cost Sale Online CBRtAsoAw
—a line of fun and interactive educational toys packed with personalty, jokes and facts. Their premiere toy is a friendly green dinosaur that is the first toy ever to be powered by IBM Watson, the AI computer that won $1 million on Jeopardy! .

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campaign today, but we stopped by their Midtown officelast week where Cofounders Donal Coolidge and J.P. Benini showed us everythingthe Wi-Fi-connected toy can do.

The toy, which oddly doesn’t have a specific name, is a pal children can go tofor answers to anything they’re wondering about. In a recent focus group in Pennsylvania, children asked the dinoquestions like, “How far away is the moon?” and “Who is Barack Obama?” The answers are engaging, often quippy andleveled for children in grades one through three. When asked, “What is a banana?” the toy responds, “A banana is a long, yellow tropical fruit that is high in potassium and so good for your brain. Why don’t you have one now?”

The toy, which is engaged by pushing the center button, is a perfect homework tool and even features lessons on topics from spelling to mathematics. But what’s especially unique is the personality and the way in which the toy adapts to the child using it. It learns the child’s name, favorite things and other qualities specific to him or her, incorporatingthis knowledge into lessons and interactions. It’s far from robotic-sounding and makes every conversation personal by often including the child’s name along withfriendly phrases. The mouth even lights up when the dinosaur speaks.

“It adds that level of responsiveness,” Mr. Benini told the Observer . “There will be other lights for when it’s listening, and other cues so you know what it’s actually doing, so it won’t seem just like a hunk of lifeless plastic.”

Mr. Benini and Mr. Coolidge described three types of interactions they’ve seen between children and the toy. There’s the information retrieval aspect of it where the dinosaur offers explanations to a child’sbig questions. Then there are the interactive exercises where the dinosaur actually guides the child through a topic, such as counting. But most importantly, it’s not all educational. Because the interactions are personalized, it allows for a natural dialogue that encourages children to just talk and play with the toy.

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