Tom Pickett, director of online sales and operations at YouTube, says the company still hews to its vision of bringing online video to the entire globe. In the last two years, it has pushed to create local versions of its site in countries like India, Brazil and Poland. But Mr. Pickett also says that YouTube has slowed the creation of new international hubs and shifted its focus to making money. He says that does not rule out restricting bandwidth in certain countries as a way to control costs
— essentially making YouTube a slower, lower-quality viewing experience in the developing world.
In the recent New York Times article In Developing Countries, Web Grows Without Profit Brad Stone refers to what he calls the ‘International Paradox.’ The term refers to the fast growth of social networking sites in developing markets. The same places that are the hardest to monetize. Michelangelo Volpi, chief executive of Joost (a video site) explains, ‘Whenever you have a lot of user-generated material, your bandwidth gets utilized in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, where bandwidth is expensive and ad rates are ridiculously low.’ The result is that many companies now consider scaling back their platforms and services. One example the article gives is MySpace and their stripped down version called ‘Profile Lite.’ This is part of a growing attempt by social networking sites to reduce costs and minimize the use of bandwidth in non-effective markets. If anywhere, this means in Africa!
To me this sounds like the Twitter debate we’ve seen before. Why are people in less developed countries expected to use ‘watered down’ versions of what is used elsewhere? This is like Microsoft thinking they can give simplified versions of their programs to developers here and then expect them not to find their own solution. This is backward thinking and it opens up a whole new field of opportunity. Services like YouTube and Facebook are distracted by there primary markets. They don’t have the time, the resources, the know how or the local context needed to figure out what works in a country like Uganda. This creates new opportunities for local entrepreneurs with bright ideas. People who can appreciate local circumstances and innovate the business models that make the difference.
Before long, we might see some of these companies coming back to Africa with a sincere interest to get involved. Let us hope they can only participate through partnership or acquisition! 🙂