For most of this month Internet users and IT experts thought the block of widely popular Google.com was the first step in a wider Net crackdown. One user called it the 'Great Firewall of China' and predicted a widening blockage of other search engines. Then, as suddenly as it was blocked, Google came back online - well, sort of - on Thursday and nothing else appears to have happened. Web surfers can search Google freely, or until they enter a taboo phrase or word such as Falun Gong. Even then, the filters do not always work. But many doomsday predictions suddenly turned to frustrated confusion yesterday as Google moved into a second day of hit-and-miss searches. Now no one agrees on what might be going on, or why, or even which government department could be making the decisions. For every guess about a renewed attempt on censorship ahead of the Communist Party Congress in November, someone else expresses optimism about the lifting of blocks on Web sites belonging to the New York Times, CNN and now Google. Some speculate the government itself lacks a mandate on which sites to block, making actions such as Google's case almost random. Google, a four-year-old Silicon Valley company, said it had no information about why it was blocked, or unblocked. The Chinese founder of an IT company in Beijing said: 'The Google incident shows us precisely that. Nobody knows. 'The actions are not that clear cut. It shows everyone is walking a fine line.' But he said he was optimistic about Internet freedom in future. He said the lifting of news site blockades and China's commercial interest in the Internet indicated progress. But state security, especially before the five-yearly party congress, still mattered, he said. With a new leadership expected, the government has a lot on its plate. 'It's understandable to feel nervous about any changes,' he said. But others who were asked to comment on what they thought the Internet's long-term prospects were, either hesitated to voice their opinions or expressed optimism. Some felt the government would not slow anything related to modernisation. Internet use has exploded across China in the past five years, with 45 million people now connected. The founder of the China Labs Internet Research Institute in Beijing, Fang Xingdong, said: 'These few years have been some of the best for China.' He predicted Google would resurface a day before it did. Google and fellow American search engine AltaVista were blocked around September 2. State media reported foreign search engines had been blocked to stop people from looking at smut, gambling sites and anything else deemed 'unhealthy'. Users also noted that Google, which has a Chinese-language version, produced controversial results when a search of President Jiang Zemin's name was carried out. Foreign analysts say they fear the government may in future block other search engines and Web sites. An Asia-Pacific analyst with IDC, Nathan Midler, felt the government might start blocking only sections of sites in order to avoid total public outrage. He said he thought the government could have been surprised at the public outcry, reported in the media, over the Google blockade. Analysts also suspect a social clean-up for the 16th Communist Party Congress which starts on November 8, while others say the government wants to browbeat well-used foreign search engines into partnering with Chinese engines. Mr Midler said: 'If it is the case that international search engines are all being blocked, it would signal that the government is looking to require search engines to set up operations here.' He suggested the lifting of news site blockades indicated the government did not mind a relatively small number of English-reading Chinese people seeing anti-government news sites. For now, however, the only sure thing is confusion. With government officials mum on the Google blockade, the Internet industry feels there is a lack of direction and possible debate between censorship hardliners and liberals. Experts also see a pattern. As major events, such as November's party congress, near, authorities tighten control over both Internet and media. But one Beijing-based analyst, Simon Xiang, said he thought the government blocked Web sites out of habit. He expects no further disruptions and foresees a possible lessening of curbs after November. 'These things have been happening for four to five years, so it's not that big a deal,' said Danny Levinson, chief operating officer of Xianzai.com, an e-mail software and online marketing service in Beijing. 'Yes it is [big], but no, it is par for the course.'