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These days the usual talk is about the economy. And it’s a gloomy talk.
Now, I cannot stop thinking that economy is mostly like the weather, as
both are chaotic systems that make predictions an extremely difficult
task. The main difference is that clouds don’t read the met, while we
actually do. So when the met says “a hard rain is gonna fall” us clouds
may well end up believing it… Anyway, nothing is 100% nice or bad,
not even a recession.

When working on a technology start-up under a pending recession
prediction one has to focus on reality (the market, that is) much more
than he usually would. In good times you are easily driven to think
that just having a good idea is enough, and if it takes 2billion
terabytes of file-space to make it… heck, so what? Progress will be
here soon. By the time I’m over with coding anyone will afford that
little space expansion.

Now… this is where the digital divide grows. Because good times
are good times for the west, usually. Everything else falls under the
label “areas whose government/markets are bad”. Who cares about those
nasty troglodytes? The market is west, that’s where I wanna sell.

Today’s predictable shrink in western spending capability per capita
forces people to think of start ups that can reach out for the widest
possible market. All of a sudden, troglodyte money doesn’t stink any
more. If a smaller percent of the western market can afford my product
I can reach a break even point if and only if I can reach out for the
planet.

The immediate candidate for a good recession-proof start up is
called localisation. And not just localisation, but most of all “easy
localisation”. Something that can accept a DIY way of life without
imposing any specific technological knowledge and immediately project
your product out to the wider audience. Too bad that localisation is
NOT just a matter of strings.

When you say localisation the usual geek way to interpret the
expression is “Big Mac written in Chinese ideograms”. Now… maybe the
Chinese do not rate Big Mac as their typical food, and when you just
translate that string you generate an expression that has lost
basically all of its original meaning. Meaning is the product of daily
experience: if I say Big Mac to a westerner he/she recalls a lot of
things he/she associates with fast food, but a Chinese reader may
associate a completely different picture. Simply translating is not enough.

If you have an idea and you want to deliver it intact to potential
consumers who live in another culture you have to make sure it reaches
them in a form that will generate a good sale. You want something that
people will fancy (no, you don’t care much why
they fancy it, as long as they pay, but you DO care for your wallet,
don’t you?). One of the things this crisis may end up in generating is
at least some minimal start of cross-culture marketing, which is a
totally new thing. It’s also a good career chance for you, if you have
just been fired as a marketing specialist and have cross-culture
experience.

This is not going to affect much minority languages, but if it can
break the English-only mindset monopoly and lead sellers to, at least,
think Spanish, Hindi, Chinese and Russian from their early planning
stages it will be a decent start for a new World Marketing Order.

The second important detail that is usually missing from the geek
idea of localisation is the local infrastructure. This side of the
Shengen wall we can use mobile phones much more easily than Credit
Cards. We can send money from our telephone to another, and pay a bill
like that. It’s largely used, since it means no tax-man will ever have
a clue at what’s going on.

Meanwhile, our ADSLs largely run on soviet cables, and while paying
good money for a large bandwidth we all actually get little more of
what a decent modem on a commuted line used to give me in the west,
when I still lived there. Large areas have bad or none GSM coverage and
no internet at all. Also, we mostly pay-per-traffic and our
non-national network traffic is either limited or extremely expensive,
while the recession is adding to this an ever mounting deluge of
banking commissions for just any payment we make (up to 15% in many
cases, already). Another planet, right? And this is still Europe. I
know people in Argentina who are requested to pay 50 euro as minimal
commission when they get sent… 100 euro.

Let alone the trouble with payment systems, I cannot even think of
many technologies that based intensively on bandwidth saving. Most
people approached their bandwidth needs in terms of “the future will
soon be here”. Yet probably the one and only real engine for the
expected progress in this field has been the porn industry. They are
the ones who immediately had a product that

  • almost everyone wants and will pay for (even just by staying connected to free resources),
  • has little or no localization needs (basically it all boils down to a usable interface for payment)

They are those who immediately had a massive planet-wide reach and
they are the ones who had to fight hard to squeeze zillions of
video-taped fake orgasms into rotting pre-tech phone cables. It’s THEM
who made CDs a world-wide standard and made the basis for today’s on
line TVs. Funny as it may seem, from a strictly infrastructural point
of view Linda Lovelace helped Africa getting networked much more than
Wikipedia has done and will ever do. And hundreds of porn starlets are
those who made the basic investment behind any of the current ongoing
religious video podcasts…

Partly this is because people like siliconed bodies more than they like
culture, sure. But it’s also because no matter how idealistic the
people behind them, most “respectable” applications simply do not give
a damn about foreign “poor infrastructure”. The market in the west was
fat, so why should they have cared? Alexa won’t give you points for
planet-wide accessibility, and what even charities need is fancy things
for an effective fund-raiser. Political correctness is surely a nice
thing, but in the end charities need to pay their bills just as anyone
else. Can you blame them for this? I cannot. Nothing would have ever
changed in this mechanism, if the economy had not started to sink.

Yet, now the western centric days are probably over and their end is
market driven, rather than ideology driven. Now everyone must be
interested in a wider reach and in coping with poor infrastructure,
because in the current economic trend you can hardly expect major
investments in public infrastructure to happen (especially for us
troggs). Yet all vendors now need every possible penny, and need it
badly. Which implies that they need our pennies just as well.

So bad weather is not necessarily a negative thing. The market can
well use the upcoming recession to get rid of tons of high bandwidth
users and to become less biased towards western needs and habits. If it
can produce a push towards a more sustainable networked computing it’s
something we should actually applaud.

Bèrto ‘d Sèra
Original article published on http://eng.i-iter.org

Photo: Bèrto ‘d Sèra

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