So, a couple of days ago I put up a blog post wondering when Kenya might be able to support professional bloggers. As it turns out, we may as well ask Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny for a new pet unicorn and a free pass to Heaven, because it ain’t never going to happen. According to an article in the New York Times, tech companies are taking active steps to ensure the developing world does not sample the same virtual delights as the rest of the internet community.
It’s not because we smell or because our clothes are raggedy. It’s because we don’t earn them enough money. Well, not enough money to justify the costs of delivering us content. Users in the developing world are apparently voracious for new content, but the costs of the bandwidth to reach consumers can be much higher than in more connected countries. Because most internet advertising is geared towards a Western audience, advertisers don’t see much ROI when they do place adverts on networks accessed by thier African or Asian users.
So, what are the tech companies doing? Well, MySpace is launching something called Profile Lite, to give a “stripped-down version” of the website so that we unprofitable parasites don’t eat up too much bandwidth. YouTube is thinking about restricting the amount of bandwidth it serves “in certain countries” to make sure we don’t watch too many high-quality videos, and Facebook is thinking of implementing similar methods.
Of course, it would be interesting if one of the major internet companies would take the developing world seriously and actually think of introducing solutions rather than limiting access. Why has none of them cosied up to M-Pesa to make internet payments a viable option? Or even, why have they not come up with a solution of their own? Why are so few major tech companies investing in data hubs in the developing world so that they could serve content more efficiently? Why must we depend on scraps from the developed table?
Shareholders and CFOs may bitch and moan that the developed world is not profitable enough, but what they forget is that their current web 2.0 success is founded on the (at the time) experimental expansion of access that drove the first internet revolution. If they want to see the same from the developing world, they’re going to have to invest. Heavily.
Obviously, things are hard for all companies at the moment, no matter where they operate from. I just hope that focus on short-term profitability does not so blind tech companies to the opportunities that they are passing up by neglecting developing countries.
[Image by Osde8Info]