The evolution of the Internet has been full of surprises – surprises that have sometimes resulted in radical changes in the commercial landscape, such as the arrival of Amazon, eBay Inc. (Nasdaq: EBAY), Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), YouTube Inc. , and Skype Ltd.
Could one of the next big surprises turn out to be linked to developing countries?
At first glance, the idea seems implausible (laughable, even) because of the low penetration of PCs and Internet infrastructure in developing countries. And what would people in desperately poor conditions do with the Internet anyway?
Africa's Top 10 Internet Using Companies
Data courtesy of Internet World Stats
However, the picture is changing fast. The key is to look at the rollout of mobile telephone infrastructure which is already widespread and growing rapidly in developing countries. "For the developing world, the Internet experience is going to be a wireless experience," says Susan Schorr, the head of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) 's Regulatory and Market Environment Division, noting that 61 percent of the world's 2.7 billion mobile phone users are in developing countries, compared to 10 percent of the world’s 1 billion Internet users.
It's worth understanding how costs have been driven down to affordable levels for people on very low incomes in India (see Sidebar 1). It's also worth looking at how online markets are emerging in Africa, albeit with people using low-cost cellphones rather than PCs as "user appliances" (see Sidebar 2).
There’s also another perspective to consider – how the Internet is changing fundraising at home for projects in developing countries. It's "personalizing" giving, by appearing to link donors directly to individuals looking for help, and it's harnessing social networking developments to reach out to many more potential givers.
The Internet is also spawning Websites that analyze charities – something that's sorely needed, bearing in mind that Americans gave away nearly $300 billion last year, according to The Giving USA Foundation. Getting a better idea of how effectively that money was spent promises to encourage more giving and also spur charities to do a better job (see Sidebar 3).
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