Google are driving Internet adoption through language, price-point and keeping their ear to the ground
New media companies aren’t just winning the hearts and minds of the people; they’re also putting the power in your hands, right here in Egypt.
Available Internet access is growing in the region, as is awareness and local content. Take news for instance.
Egypt has a strong newspaper culture, whereby millions of people each morning buy a newspaper – generally the same one every day – and rely on it as their main source of news. This is also true to some extent in other countries in the region. Now there’s much easier access online, thanks to so-called ‘news aggregation’ services such as Google News, recently made available in Arabic.
Just by going to the news.google.com.eg, you can see not only what the top news stories are, but you’re shown multiple news sources for each story so you can dig around the various angles on any given story and ultimately decide for yourself what’s really happening out there.
Even aside from online news, much of the content available online requires an active hand from technology companies to make it of any use to Arabic speakers, hence the growing number of players working on online Arabic translation. Google Regional Manager for the Middle East and North Africa, Sherif Iskander, believes his company’s translation tool sees significant interest of online users seeking Arabic translations of English content. It also works in the opposite direction outside the region, whereby non-Arabic speakers can nonetheless read an admittedly-unpolished translation of any Arabic news item of their choosing.
But is all Internet adoption and growth in Egypt hinging on language? Hardly. Contrary to rich countries where the average person can afford not only a computer but a broadband connection and other high-tech benefits, in Egypt the average per capita income simply cannot sustain the same level of financial investment in getting online.
Egyptian-born Iskander cites this as a main reason why Google is so well received in developing countries such as his own, since Google’s world-dominant search engine, Gmail email service and newer applications for spreadsheets and word processing are all funded by advertising, meaning for the consumer they’re free.
Setting aside the issue of computer and Internet access for a minute, entrepreneurs and other individuals can register their own domains, set up a branded online presence and start networking – all without handing over a dime.
“If you want to drive Internet adoption, and if you want the Internet to become as ubiquitous as other means of communication and media, then you cannot have those tools being expensive, says Iskander.
But with only a fraction of Egyptians online, they need long-term vision. “You can not expect a 45-year-old taking care of a family of eight to spend LE 100 a month on high-speed Internet at home if he doesn’t see the value. He’s actually spending a lot more on subscription based TV, on mobiles – he does have that income to spend – he’s just being careful where he spends it, says Iskander.
Google does intend to make money in Egypt, just as with elsewhere in the world. This is done by corporate ads rather than via consumers. “We think that this country has inherent strengths for Google. We see signs that are very encouraging – the Google-tourism economy – there are many advertisers in the country that want to reach the whole world. And what’s the number one source of information for travel? It’s the Internet, says Iskander.
And it’s also a medium that provides a demonstrable return of investment, where you can track targeted promotional campaigns to a level impossible before the advent of the Internet. “You create an online campaign, you know how much it costs you, you create a special landing page for that campaign – so you know how many people have hit it – and then give them a special offer on that page and you can find out how many people have actually gotten you business, explains Iskander. “You can close the whole loop. You can’t do that on TV.
The region has been significantly under-served by the Internet in the past and it is only in recent years that Egypt’s love for chatting and blogging has done so well. And even the leading political party made the most of its Web site.
“The Internet has been used as a very powerful tool. There was an online campaign with the election program. Some of the other parties did the same thing, says Iskander This highlights the flexibility of the medium and its ability to aid many different aspects of life in Egypt, assuming industry players can help people do what they want to do in their native language and in a way that’s affordable.
“Any initiative we do at Google is tied to our mission statement: ‘To make all the world’s information universally accessible and useful.’ One of our initial studies was: Is this a market that lacks the infrastructure for access? Our answer was ‘not really,’ says Iskander. “It’s just been underserved.