Assessing the growing influence of Asia’s internet

Social Media New Zealand has an excellent guest post from Simon Grigg looking at the rise of Asia online, and how the continent’s growth is likely to see it influence the western world, which has until now been the influencer-in-chief.

Overall, I agree with Simon’s take on things – Asia is gaining greater significance, no doubt – but I do have a few points to add.

While it is clear that Asia today is less dependent on western innovation – or ideas out of Silicon Valley – global brands like Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter still have significant influence. However, Asian tech brands and services are gaining influence and traction in their local and regional markets – Asia is at last beginning to lead itself.

However, the extent to which this will allow it to influence the western web and tech industries remains unclear.

It will be interesting to see how Asian giants like Chinese microblog Sina Weibo – which is attracting western celebs and brands in large numbers – and mobile gaming network Mobbage – which recently launched in the US – fare on the wider global stage.

One key difference in Asia is the significance of mobile devices.

The continent has played ‘leapfrog’, with mobile devices the key platform for the internet experience for so many across the continent, either for financial (versus a PC) or fashion (your mobile is your identity in Asia) reasons.

Back to the original article. I recommend reading the post in full here but have include a few excerpts that I find particularly of interest below (all emphasis is mine).

Social networks here [in Asia] are a fetish, an obsession, and have not even begun to reach their potential. What is an increasing mature market in the West is just teetering on emerging levels here. And almost none of it is in English. Vast amounts of it are not even Roman script. The overwhelming majority of the people connected to the internet in Asia speak little or no English, a percentage that will shrink even more as the Internet rapidly penetrates deeper into the non-urban populations of these countries. There’s a boom in R&D spending in Asia, with China now having five times the numbers of science graduates each year as the United States and trouncing that nation in global reading, maths and science educational standards last year.

It is reasonable to assume, given the market and depth of investment, that next crucial web user-app – the next Facebook or Twitter – may well come from a non-English speaking or non-Western source. Further, it’s reasonable to also assume that one of those two million annual Sino science graduates will perhaps have an idea that makes the iPad look prehistoric in a few years. It’s perhaps more of stretch to assume that they won’t.

In other words, the internet and all that implies is moving towards Asia, and at an extraordinary speed. The fulcrum of the planet is shifting as it does every few centuries. Not only is the conversation changing but also the way it is conducted is quickly mutating into something that may well be unrecognisable to the much of the original internet demographic. The ramifications of this are potentially game changing too. Western cultural icons – the pop stars, the movies and the faces – will no longer dominate. Watching the First World flurry about Charlie Sheen and Rebecca Black from Asia was bemusing – they meant nothing over here.

Side note: Interesting non-tech example of East-meets-West, Nanfang reports that US basketball stars are wearing t-shirts picked up from Chinese college students during a recent off-season tour to the country.

With western stars increasingly tuning into China, might their endorsement be the way for tech/internet firms from Asia to built a foothold into the US and beyond? Sina Weibo could move along these lines, given the way celebrity endorsement first pushed Sina and Tencent’s microblogs to attention in China.