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The Americanization of Internet

14 November 2008 16 Comments

Ever wondered how the entire world, feeding on information from the web, is actually feeding on the American thinking (or at best ‘westernized’ thinking)?

Americanization of the Internet

Americanization of the Internet

Ever gave a thought on Why is everyone talking about Obama being an ‘Internet President’? Why is all the Asian blogosphere abuzz with this news like it was their own elections (Japs in the town of ‘Obama’ (yes that’s actually the name of a town) dancing Hawaiian belly dance to celebrate the win! WTF! Japan!) And pray- why is it that you find Western content on Asian Business blogs?

Have you been following the sudden surge of “social media marketing”? And how almost every other theory/example that you get is from the US?

Quick- name a known ‘internet’ personality: Seth Godin? Robert Scoble? Michael Arrington? Guy Kawasaki? Who else? Don’t say Avinash Kaushik – he did all that he did- guess where? Right! In the US of A.

Don’t get me wrong- I’m not saying its a scam or that something is ‘wrong’- they are all fantastic people and I’m a fan of many myself. But it is something to ponder upon for sure. Here are some thought starters:

Why is the internet so Americanized (or ‘westernized’- at best):
• Internet was developed in the US and spread from there.
• Internet is largely an English media. And still continues to be largely dominated by English- English is the business language of the world. In this part of the world, English is widely used, but largely has been the domain of the educated and the literate. Asia has many languages and many countries are pretty much self contained. Netizens in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and some South Eastern countries publish and document information in their own languages thus preventing the spread and proper dissemination of information. (Japan has the biggest blog traffic in the world- names of some famous internet personalities or marketing/thought starter/gurus or evangelists from Japan? Anyone?)
• The American obsession with documentation- It tangibalizes stuff- and increases what I call the Hype Life Cycle or Buzz Life Cycle of the Idea/Project. In this part of the world (Asia)- documentation is not really the best of virtues (or culture)
• There’s an all American cast in “WebbyWood” (the Internet world) – Microsoft, AOL, Google, Yahoo- all are American Internet superstars that are household names across the globe- and come to think of it- the social media harbingers- Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Technorati, et al are all American (I’m sure you’ll have many more examples)
• Their markets are mature and they need to be on the bleeding edge of marketing and innovation to make any decent income/profits
• The American enterprise really rocks- those guys have the ability and the spirit to spot/create a trend, hype it up and commercialize quickly
• The culture of innovation and enterprise- there is probably no other place in the world as silicon valley- where even a half decent product or ones with no proven business model stand a good chance for getting enough capital for the founders to sustain the project (and themselves)

What Asian Netizens need to do:
• Learn best practices from the Americans- innovate, document and disseminate effectively
• Develop local content- learn best practices but for fk sake give Asian Examples to say the least
• Learn storytelling- the art of conceiving an idea and selling to the audience. The plot need not be ground breaking- we all know that in the end the bad guy licks dirt and the good dude gets the pretty girl. What is important is HOW the story is told. Ask Guy Kawasaki.
• Invest in research and breed thinkers.
• Promote local innovations. Prevent Local culture and preserve vernacular languages. While still talking the language the world talks. Take the lead. Please.

I know we need better VC outlook and good funding atmosphere, government interest and a friendlier entrepreneurial environment- but we can begin somewhere on our own selves. No excuses.

So Phase next on the Internet should be called the Asian Internet. Not web 3.0. With half of the world’s population, more than a third of world’s internet population (and number of searches conducted) and obscenely huge mobile phone numbers in Asia, this is what should happen now.

Do you feel that most content on the internet has an American origin? Do you feel that there needs to be a shift in power here as well? Like the world economic shift, financial system shift and migration shift?

Source of photos: gapingvoid.com

  • http://www.vmohanty.com vimoh

    Think of it as watching a movie. When you start, you have no idea who anyone is or what they are doing. Then soon, motives are explained and dialogues are exchanged. You get a hang of the story and start relating to characters.

    Any newcomer to the web will doubtless find him/herself flooded with America. But in due course of time, local flavours (no matter the availability) win out.

    In the long run, people don’t base their choice of content on what country it is from, but what they can relate to.

    There is a lot of America on the web. But that is probably because there IS a lot of America in the world. Look around you.

    Having said that, the web is what you make it. I feel every blogger who starts blogging of his/ her own life in his/her own locality, makes it a little more Indian (or Pakistani, or German, or Australian…). Try and focus on what the web can become, rather than what it is (or was).

  • shalabh

    Hi Vijay,
    Good points.
    Best of luck for the success of twitter voting!


  • http://armchairtheorist.com Jonathan Wong

    Language is something that makes “Asia” very unique and different from our western colleagues in North/South America and Europe.

    Most online “participants” (for a lack of a better word) in the western world (not limited to just America) are at least comfortable if not proficient in using the English language as their interaction language of choice.

    Thus, ideas flow much more freely between America and the rest of the western Internet, and which makes American influence appear bigger than it is.

    In Asia, with some countries having better Internet/broadband penetration than even some parts of the US, I would imagine there is a lot more online participants. But because of the language barrier, most of us in Singapore (as well as the western Internet) do not really feel their existence.

  • Rayana Pandey

    I reckon language is a very valid point. For one I am amazed to see number of blogs written in Hindi!

    Even though most of the contents look Americanised, a closer scrutiny reveals- what is reflective of the imminent global rejig as well- Asian voices conjuring up to an idientity that cannot be over-looked!!

  • http://www.japanindians.com Madhav


    You make a good point we generally overlook in our busy daily lives. But, as part of our daily lives we eat Mc burgers, drink coke/pepsi, and get the daily dose of news at CNN, Financial Times or Google News. Hey wait a minute, what gum do you chew? What chocolate do your children eat? What shirt or footwear do your wear? (No. Not your wife’s handbag – that’s probably an Italian brand!). Not once do we bat an eyelid about all these as being American. So why think twice about the thought leadership on the internet being led by Americans?

    Come now, name all items Asian.
    Apparel Brands?

    Done? Go back to your list and write against it which are Asian. Most likely some might be from your home country, like Indian (if you are Indian)? Anything Asian about it? Probably very little.

    Ok. Now name the software tools you use. Word, Excel,Adobe, Picasa, Oracle, Sybase… all American. Name the browsers you use IE, Firefox, Safari, Opera, Google Chrome. Again all American! What OS do you use? Windows, Mac, Linux… American again? What eMail do you use? Gmail, Yahoo, AOL…? Need I say more?

    I am not saying that we should subscribe to all things American, nor am I suggesting that we accept defeat. I just think we are at least a decade away from being “there”.

    Lot of things we see and do should change. Where our ideas originate from should change. What our motivations are should change. Who butters our bread should change. And then, may be, our leaders, motivators, gurus, might change. And one fine day may be we will find some home-grown leaders whom we are proud to quote, look up to, and aspire to become like one.

  • shalabh

    @madhav- again good stuff. And yes that’s what I was hinting at- we need to have some local start out there- evangelizing, prophesizing, mentoring and innovating.

    The fact that most things generating noise are Westernized in this part of the world (most cities in the world have started to look the same anyways). On the other hand-we see Sony, Samsung, TATA, Lenovo, and stuff like basmati, curd and zillions of consumer products that are Asian- and category leaders worldwide and are case studies in themselves.

    Interesting timeline of a ‘decade’ there- but I think Asian thought leaders have an inherent advantage of being there (but not reaching out) and I think we can and should achieve this before a decade.

    @jonathan @vimoh: the prinicpals of decimals, zero, compass navigation and numerous other things are Asian origin innovations- and Asians mastered international sports better than their home countries. Despite the language barriers. Now they have the power of english and easy transaltion and transliteration. And more foreigners are now learning mandarin, cantonese and hokkein than ever before.

    A prophecy: All of the commentators to this post till now are thought leaders themselves and in the next decade will make a mark in the global internet scene. Because of one simple fact- they get intrigued by this topic so much that they took out a moment from their lives to participate. You guys will change the world.

  • shalabh

    Rayana point taken!That brings a different perspective to the discussion.

    I always wanted to write a Hindi blog practicing and spreading my dubious song writing skills. It is one of the most beautiful languages on the planet.

    Thanks for the post.

  • http://www.japanindians.com Madhav Shivpuri


    Just wanted to share the article below…though of not direct relevance to this blog, what I would like to point out is that Indian government’s strengthening of patent laws is helping get FDI. Could it be the same case for other sectors including IT?

    I understand that Indian patenting laws recognize only software patents tied with hardware unlike US which even recognize design and business method patents. I think we need to catch up soon with thinks like IP and patenting before wondering why few companies register their companies or products in India. Just something to chew on.

    Here’s the article mentioned above.

  • shalabh

    Hi Madhav, Thanks for the link.
    Yes the state of IP and even relatively simpler things like getting a trademark registered is a huge pain in some parts of Asia I hear. Might be the reason that while in the US tens of thousands of patents have been filed in the past few years, some asian countries might not even make it to the hundreds.
    The policies are there, but processes are not, and I hear it is a real ordeal sometimes.

  • http://www.postlinearity.com gregorylent

    not in china!!!! they are creative, not imitative … this is a narrow blog post

  • paul tergeist

    why should asian internet users conforms to the english/usa way of doing things ?
    internet in asia is soon going to be (or already) the biggest part of internet ( in terms of # users, content, revenues, etc..).
    I see this as 2 different LAN, except that one is taking inspiration on both side, while the other stays on his side and thinks he’s better anyway. until when ?

  • shalabh

    @paul good point and some of it is echoed in the post.
    @gregorylent this post is the preface. The real book is in the comments. And it is perpetually in the making.
    The blogzine is a thought starter and the comments are the ones that make a broad view.
    We’d be happy if you could pls share with us some examples of Chinese Internet thought leaders (at a global level) and creativity examples. We’d be happy to stand up, clap and join the bandwagon in their support.

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  • http://onlinediscprinting.com/ CD Printers

    English is the official international medium for all countries that's also one of the main reasons why Internet is so Americanized.