eCommerce, Communications and the Global Internet Community.
In our increasingly online world, cyberspace is still experiencing "gold fever", but there have been and will be many casualties. Only the innovative, responsive, financially sound and flexible will survive. Many new markets are joining the world of eCommerce; over the last 6 months I have seen a remarkable increase in visitors to my site from countries such as India. This trends means more visitors to our sites perhaps; but it definitely means more competition between web developers, etailers and other service providers.
India will be extraordinarily competitive in web development, due largely to favourable exchange rates. In Australia, our struggling dollar still favours us in securing work with U.S companies, but not to the same degree. I can see that the Internet will play a considerable role in the valuation of our currencies in the future.
Up until now, the Internet has been very focused on the U.S. By 2003, the Asia Pacific region will catch up and overtake in regards to Internet usage. While we are all busy submitting our sites to the U.S and U.K search engines, have we considered their Indian or Taiwanese counterparts? There are literally thousands of Asia-Pacific search engines and indices. Some of them will grow to be major players in the next five years.
The Western world tends to forget that we are a minority. Only about eight percent of the earth's population speaks English as the primary language. As countries such as India, Korea, Taiwan and perhaps even China open up, we will need to adapt to this change. The big players can afford to have their pages translated into different languages. For those of us without the budget, perhaps even a simple greeting in a variety of languages on our pages would encourage a visitor with limited English abilities to explore our sites. If you are going to translate your site, ensure that the person undertaking the translation really knows their stuff, as a single word misinterpreted can turn a welcome into a curse. The proper use of images and other visual cues can also assist in relaying information more effectively than English text.
One of the other ways we, the smaller companies, can welcome these newcomers without spending a cent is to drop our xenophobic reactions to "foreigners". There are no "foreigners" as the Internet is now more than ever a global community. Instead of fearing these new arrivals stealing our bread and butter, we should be seeking to establish alliances with them. We should be striving to learn a little about the culture of the emerging electronic economies. This will assist us in using the correct protocols during business dealings.
As web masters, we receive many communications via email from our "foreign" visitors. Some of these emails are, in our way of thinking, poorly worded. As an example I received a note the other day that didn't have the usual signature line of "Regards" or "Sincerely", but had one word at the bottom of the message - "Waiting". Many of our visitors to whom English is a second language struggle with email writing, sometimes appearing rude to us. Perhaps we become impatient with this and devalue the communication or ignore it.
Bad move... both from a human and business point of view.
Nothing angers me more than to have an email unanswered. I am sure most others feel the same. I have written to a large U.S Internet presence four times in the last month, without a response. It's a shame, not for me, but for them.... I was a customer with a sizeable amount of money to spend. I'll go elsewhere.... and remember my dealings with the other company... for years.
In traditional business we are taught that an unhappy customer will tell 10 others about their experience. In ebusiness, an unhappy customer can tell tens of thousands through newsgroup postings - that's well worth keeping in mind.
When we do receive communications from someone and it's apparent that they may have troubles with our language, take the time to try and understand what it is they require. This may entail several notes back and forth, but it will be worth the effort in the long run.
From the "warm and fuzzy" (human) point of view; the Internet has allowed us as a species to communicate in real time with any other part of the planet. We are no longer dependant on government propaganda to shape our views of a particular country; we can hear it directly from the people. This is a real privilege, and we tend to forget it is.
The Internet has formed the basis of my living for some time now, but equally as important, I have gained a greater knowledge of our world and more importantly - of what it is to be a human. I believe The Internet as a whole, not government or individuals, will be the driving force behind mankind finally seeing past skin colour and creed to recognise "the person".