It's A Big World After All

I get a lot of email from other countries. I have correspondents in India, Pakistan, Australia, Germany, South Africa, Brazil, and Turkey, to name just a few.

Most of the advice I give them is based on assumptions I’ve gleaned from 14 years working the U.S. online beat.

Most of that advice may be wrong.

The folks at International Data Corp. recently surveyed 29,000 overseas users on their web site and found some interesting facts I wasn’t aware of.

While Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) services never made it in the U.S., they were a hit in other countries. While U.S. users are stepping up from modems directly to 1.5 Mbps ADSL, over 40 percent of users polled in Western Europe reported access speeds faster than 56 Kbps – mostly through ISDN.

While Internet access is a fairly elite activity in nations like India and Pakistan, the elites are not just surfing, as early adopters did here in 1995 and 1996. No, they’re buying, according to IDC, with as many as one-third of respondents in Chile, China and India saying they’d bought something online in the previous three months.

From what I have seen in my own online travels, most overseas use of the Internet is for business. It is conducted in offices, and users are just as entrepreneurial (maybe more so) than their U.S. counterparts.

In just the last week, I’ve been asked to comment on three different Indian business plans. The invitations usually come from principals (in the U.S. they usually come from public relations people making interview requests) but they do come.

My foreign correspondents are also sponges for information. English has long been the international language of business, and business leaders in Asia may be more fluent in the language than I am.

This means they know (and use) everything we talk about here, which is good. They learn from our mistakes, and as a result don’t usually make them. Don’t expect to get away with two-year old solutions in Bangalore or Shanghai – they won’t fly.

Partly because it’s an elite activity, and partly because of restrictive political systems, I don’t find my overseas correspondents engaging in flame wars, looking to sell pornography, or being anything but respectful. There seems to be an assumption of filtering and monitoring among my overseas correspondents that I don’t find here. Internet use is a privilege, those who use it feel privileged, and no one wants to see that privilege taken away by doing something stupid like downloading the latest Pamela Anderson Lee porno tape.

What this means is that the Internet world we live in is going to become a lot more complex, and a lot more competitive, in the next few years.

If just 1 percent of India’s market is online, or just 1 percent of China’s market is online, that’s 25 million people, 25 million intense, alert, and entrepreneurial people. They face huge opportunities in their home markets, but something tells me they’re not going to be satisfied with those opportunities forever. When they get their act together, watch out.

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