Three primary changes beginning next year will usher in the next chapter of internet usage.
Speaking at the "Bringing The Next Billion People Online" press event, Google Southeast Asia managing director Julian Persaud noted that, firstly, the internet has long been defined by developed countries, but when 500 million people from developing nations and emerging markets find themselves online between next year and 2015, the cyber-landscape will drastically change.
Secondly, Persaud explained that the internet has long been defined by rich countries, but now it's going to be defined by developing nations with huge populations that are also on the move _ China, India, Brazil and Indonesia.
Thirdly, the online topography has hitherto been defined by desktop computers. Now it's going to shaped by mobile devices.
This year, developed nations have seen a crossover from desktops to mobile gadgets, but as the Google executive observed, "emerging markets are not crossing over to mobile devices, they are starting from them", adding that mobile traffic already exceeded desktop traffic in India. Roughly one in 10 Indians use the internet, which means that the remaining 90% will never know an internet dominated by desktops.
In 2000, there were about 360 million global internet users _ but back then it was largely a rich man's tool and toy. It is estimated that half-a-billion people in emerging markets joined the internet between 2010 and 2012, and the same number will enter the digital platform between now and 2015. Google expects about 15 million additional users in the US to come online in the same period.
Citing McKinsey's report, which looked at 30 countries whose economic rise and use of the internet marked them as being on the cusp of being powerful internet forces, Persaud noted that these countries already make up almost half the internet population, and 73% do not use English as a first language.
"The centre of gravity of the internet is shifting, away from the north, away from the West, and away from English," he said. According to World Bank statistics, in 2011 around 2.2 billion people had the internet, and 4.6 billion did not. The markets with the five-largest number of people yet to go online are all in Asia _ India, China, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Those five markets alone have 2.5 billion people without internet access, meaning that half of the people in the world who still don't have the internet live in just five countries.
The growth of smartphones has taken off rapidly in emerging markets and in the last 12 months, and smartphones and internet-enabled phones are the key to these markets. People won't be progressing from desktops to phones; they will be progressing from cheaper internet phones to smartphones, without ever owning a PC.
Nelson Mattos, Google vice-president of Product & Engineering for Europe & Emerging Markets, pointed out that the barriers to internet growth are as follows: getting online is expensive and slow, the internet isn't relevant, and there are no sustainable communities.
Powered by Google, Free Zone is bringing the web into more hands than ever before. Nearly every web page from Google's search index is offered without data changes, by working with operators across emerging markets. Google launched Free Zone in Philippines and South Africa last month.
The goal of Free Zone is not to give free internet access to everyone forever, but to allow users to experience the internet and then they will be more willing to pay.
Google also expects that more people will utilise YouTube to drive and develop Asian culture further.
Adam Smith, head of YouTube Asia Pacific, noted that creativity and diversity have distinguished Asia in many ways and the internet is one of the best tools to preserve and nurture local culture.
"YouTube can promote and protect diversity," he said.
"In the past, there were very few television channels and the medium wasn't accessible to everyone in many countries. The ability to broadcast was in the hands of a few individuals. Now in the YouTube era, anything that is uploaded can be viewed by millions of people around the world, and it's getting cheaper and cheaper to create high quality content. YouTube has basically given rise to unlimited channels."
Citing education as an example, Smith said people can connect to global ideas and have the ability to acquire knowledge in video format from the world's leading scholars, teachers and academics. The power of YouTube is that it brings everything to anyone who has an internet connection. With YouTube, the entire world becomes a classroom.
"It used to be that you only had access to the teachers in your hometown. The internet and YouTube in particular has started to change all this" he said, noting that the website has over 700,000 videos from 100,000 education partners. There are also video channels promoting 450 major universities around the world, which feature the best lecturers and the best professors for free.
"Certainly, access to the best things in the world is no longer restricted to privileged users who can afford them _ it's open to everyone with an internet connection."
Nobody cares anymore where the culture comes from, as long as it's good.
The creators bring out the stories and YouTube ensures the platform is strong. Today there are 61 languages available on YouTube.
In many developing countries, mobile devices are the first way people access the internet, the experience they get from YouTube on mobile devices is the same experience they get on desktops. This guarantees YouTube will continue to be the global living room and bring diversity to global culture, said Smith.
"If Psy can reach almost a billion views in a few months, this can happen easily for many creators in Southeast Asia and other markets. Think about when creators connect not only the global culture, but possibly business ideas or others that benefit society. What's in store in the coming year is very exciting" he added.
About the author
- Writer: Sasiwimon Boonruang
Position: Life Writer