Postcard From Greece

Dear Readers,

Greetings from Serifos, a small island in Greece, and the setting for this week’s column. I needed a vacation, and the kind folks at ClickZ have allowed me to file this week’s article from the beach.

Of course, between sunning, swimming, and breaking plates, I have been keeping my eyes open for Internet developments here. Greece, a proud member of the European Union, is in many ways still a developing nation. As far as I can see (when my eyes are unclouded by Ouzo), it occupies an interesting place in the Internet revolution.

Here, as in many parts of the world, mobile is king. Among the younger set, cell phones are de rigueur, and used incessantly. In a country where many still rely on donkeys for transportation, it is striking how reliant many are on wireless technology.

My Greek friends, mainly in their 20s and 30s, use their phones not just to make calls, but to send short text messages. It’s just shy of email (message length is limited) but striking nonetheless. And it amazes me how fast folks can use a keypad to type out words.

Greek people are highly social, and their cell phones keep them in constant touch with each other. Friends are continuously sending little notes across a bar, or across the city. A text message is usually followed up by a phone call, even though cell service is very expensive. In Greece, it seems that the killer app for wireless is flirting.

But no matter how frivolous, wireless communication has young Greeks hooked. Last night we drove a half an hour to the island’s highest point, where dozens of cars were there for the same purpose: to receive a clear enough signal so that they could exchange messages with Athens, a few hundred miles away.

But when it comes to the web, Greece is years behind the U.S. People are very unfamiliar with e-commerce, and Internet penetration is very low. And forget about using the web for getting information we take for granted in the U.S., like ferry schedules.

My friend George, who manages Greece’s leading pay TV service, told me that he thinks it will take another generation for Greeks to become comfortable with the Internet. But George is bullish on convergence (remember, he works at a pay TV company) and thinks that many Greeks will have their first taste of the Internet through a television screen.

Sunday’s newspaper was filled with Internet-related job listings – HTML programmers, e-business consultants, project managers – mainly from international firms doing business in Greece. There aren’t that many Greek Internet companies yet, and judging from the absence of URL promotion here and on the mainland, there is still lots of opportunity for growth.

It has been a great trip, and good to gain some perspective on our all-consuming industry. Today we watched as dolphins danced in the sea, drenched by the colors of the sunset. In this land, the bedrock of our civilization, generous with sun, friendship and laughter, some things never change. I think it’s better that way.

I hope all is well. See you when I get home.

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