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World Wide Web, Not Wealthy Western Web (Part 1)

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” said Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in the famous scene in which Hamlet teaches Horatio to be a web designer.

Horatio, as every schoolchild knows, is a designer from Berlin (or sometimes London or Silicon Valley) who has a top-of-the-line MacBook, the latest iPhone and an unlimited data plan over the fastest, most reliable network. But, as Hamlet points out to him, this is not the experience of most of the world’s web visitors.

The World Bank reports1 that 1.1 billion people across the world have access to high-speed Internet; 3.2 billion people have some kind of access to the web; 5.2 billion own a mobile phone; and 7 billion live within coverage of a mobile network.

Unsurprisingly, many of those currently unconnected are in India, China, Indonesia — these being the biggest countries in the world. But being unconnected (for whatever reason) isn’t only a reality in developing economies; 51 million people in the US are not connected.

2

Where are the world’s unconnected? (Figures from World Bank) (View large version3)

When I speak at conferences in rich Western countries, I often ask people, “Where will your next customers come from?” You don’t know. In our truly worldwide web, you can’t know.

Take Ignighter, a dating website set up by three Jewish guys in the US, with a culturally targeted model: Instead of a boy and girl going out on a date, 10 guys and 10 girls would go out together on organized group dates.

Ignighter got 50,000 registrations4, but it wasn’t enough to reach critical mass, and the founders considered abandoning their business. Then, they noticed they were getting as many sign-ups a week from India as they did in a year in the USA.

Perhaps the group-dating model that they anticipated for Jewish families really resonated with conservative Muslim, Hindu and Sikh families in India, Singapore and Malaysia, so they rebranded as Stepout, relocated to Mumbai and became India’s biggest dating website.

I’d bet that if you had asked them when they set up Ignighter, “What’s your India strategy?,” they would have said something like, “We don’t have one. We don’t care. We are focusing on middle-class New York Jewish people.” It’s also worth noting that if Ignighter had been an iOS app, they would not have been able to pivot their business, because iOS use in subcontinental Asia is very low. The product was discovered by their new customers precisely because they were on the web, accessible to everybody, regardless of device, operating system or network conditions.

You can’t predict the unpredictable, but, like, whatever, now I’m making a prediction: Many of your next customers will come from the area circled below, if only because there are more human beings alive in this circle5 than in the world outside the circle.

6

There are more human beings alive in this circle than in the world outside it. (View large version7)

Asia has 4 billion people right now (out of 7.2 billion globally). The United Nations predicts8 that, by 2050, the population of Asia will reach 5 billion. By 2050, the population of Africa is set to double to 2 billion, and by 2100 (which is a bit late for me and perhaps for you), the population of Africa alone will reach 5 billion.

By 2100, the population of the planet will stabilize at 11 billion, and 50% of the world will live in just these 10 countries highlighted below, only one of which is in what we now consider the developed West.

9
By 2100, 50% of humanity will live in these 10 countries. (View large version10)

Over the same period, the population of the West will actually drop, due to declining birthrates. So, it makes sense to target people as your next customers in countries where the population is growing.

But it’s not only a question of head counts. Many of the developing economies are growing extraordinarily fast, with a rapidly expanding middle class that has increasing disposable income. Let’s examine some of those countries now, concentrating for the moment on Asia.

China

China has 1.4 billion people. Its economy saw 6.6% growth11 in gross domestic product (GDP). I don’t know the GDP growth of your country, but I’d imagine that your politicians would love to have 6.6% GDP growth.

So much money changes hands in China. For comparison, in 2014, on Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined, $2.9 billion changed hands in the US. In the same year in China, on Singles’ Day (November 11th), $9.2 billion changed hands. It is predicted that, by 2019, e-commerce will be worth $1 trillion a year12 in China.

Indonesia

Indonesia has 258 million people and GDP growth of 4.9%. 75% of mobile phone subscribers are on 2G or EDGE networks, and half of all smartphone users say they experience network problems daily13. This is very much tied to geography: Indonesia consists of thousands of islands. In 2015, GBD Indonesia wrote14:

Indonesia is still predominantly a 2G market, and leapfrogging from there to 4G is a huge task that will require substantial investment in towers and equipment.

Nevertheless, for the Indonesian website BliBli, more than one third of its 2.5 million customers live in rural areas15, and Indonesia is the social media capital of the world16, being third most talkative on Twitter and fourth most on Facebook.

Southeast Asia is the fastest-growing Internet market in the world, and Indonesia is the fastest-growing country. The Internet economy in Southeast Asia will reach $200 billion by 2025 — 6.5 times what it is now, as estimated by Google and Temasec17 in 2016.

Myanmar

Myanmar has 57 million people and 8.1% GDP growth, largely fuelled by the government’s democratic reforms (or, perhaps more accurately, reforms designed to appear democratic). One of the reasons for this growth is that five years ago a SIM card cost $200018 in Myanmar; last August it went down to $1.50, which, of course, is fuelling growth in mobile phones.

India

As I write this, I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Kochi, Kerala State, India. The country has a population of 1.3 billion people, with a GDP growth of 7.6%. Boston Consulting Group estimates19 that the number of Internet users will double from 190 to 400 million by 2018 and that the web will contribute $200 billion to India’s GDP by 2020. Indian (and Indonesian) smartphone users are particularly sensitive about data consumption; 36% of Asia-Pacific20 smartphone users block advertisements, whereas two thirds do in India and Indonesia.

What Do These Nations Have In Common?

Apart from China (because of its now-abandoned policy of one child per family), the populations of these nations are young. Of course, young people are always on their smartphones, looking for Pokemons, taking selfies, Instagraming their coffee: A young population is an Internet-savvy population.

56% of people in emerging economies see themselves first and foremost as global citizens, rather than national citizens, the BBC reported21 last year. This is particularly pronounced in Nigeria, China, Peru and India.

And, of course, the people coming to the web are coming on smartphones. According to MIT22, of the 690 million Internet users in China, 620 million go online with a mobile device.

There is a more profound commonality as well. Below are the top-10 domains that Opera Mini users in the US visited in September 2016. (These figures are from Opera’s internal reporting tools; I was Deputy CTO of Opera until November 2016. Now I have no relationship with Opera.)

  1. google.co.m
  2. facebook.com
  3. youtube.com
  4. wikipedia.org
  5. yahoo.com
  6. twitter.com
  7. wellhello.com
  8. addthis.com
  9. wordpress.com
  10. apple.com

The top-10 handsets used to view those websites were:

  1. Apple iPhone
  2. Apple iPad
  3. Samsung Galaxy S Duos 2
  4. Samsung Galaxy S3
  5. Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime
  6. Samsung Galaxy Grand Neo Plus
  7. Samsung Galaxy grand Neo GT
  8. Nokia Asha 201
  9. Samsung Galaxy Note III
  10. TracFone LG 306G

The top-10 domains visited in Indonesia during the same period were:

  1. facebook.com
  2. google.com
  3. google.co.id
  4. wordpress.com
  5. youtube.com
  6. blogspot.co.id
  7. wikipedia.org
  8. indosat.com
  9. liputan6.com
  10. xl.co.id

Note the commonalities — keeping in touch with friends and family; search; video; uncensored news and information (Wikipedia) — as well as the local variations.

The top-10 handsets in Indonesia are lower-end than those used in the US:

  1. Nokia X2­01
  2. Nokia Asha 210
  3. Nokia C3-00
  4. Generic WAP
  5. Nokia Asha 205.1
  6. Samsung Galaxy V SM-G313HZ
  7. Nokia 215
  8. Nokia X2-02
  9. Samsung GTS5260 Star 2
  10. Nokia 5130 XpressMusic

In Nigeria last month, almost the same kinds of websites were viewed — again, with local variations; Nigeria is football-crazy, hence goal.com.

  1. google.com.ng
  2. facebook.com
  3. google.com
  4. naij.com
  5. youtube.com
  6. bbc.com
  7. opera.com
  8. wikipedia.org
  9. goal.com
  10. waptrick.com

But the top-10 handsets in Nigeria are lower-end than in Indonesia.

  1. Nokia Asha 200
  2. Nokia Asha 210
  3. Nokia X2-01
  4. Nokia C3-00
  5. TECNO P5
  6. Nokia Asha 205
  7. Nokia Asha 201
  8. TECNO M3
  9. Infinix Hot Note X551
  10. Infinix Hot 2 X510

This suggests that across the world, regardless of disposable income, regardless of hardware or network speed, people want to consume the same kinds of goods and services. And if your websites are made for the whole world, not just the wealthy Western world, then the next 4 billion people might consume the stuff that your organization makes.

Better Standards, Better Browsers

In Browserland and Web Standards World (not theme parks — yet — but wouldn’t they be great ones?), we are trying to make better standards and better browsers to make using the web a better experience for the next 4 billion people.

Let’s take a quick tour of some of the stuff we’ve been working on. My goal isn’t to give you a tutorial on these technologies (plenty of those are available elsewhere), but to explain why we’ve developed these standards, and to show that the use cases they address are not just nice-to-haves for Horatio and his Western colleagues, but that they address important needs for the rest of the world, too.

Progressive Web Apps

We know that end users love to install apps to the home screen, each app with its own icon that they can tickle to life with a digit. But native apps work only on single platforms; they are generally only available from a walled-garden app store (with a 30% fee going to the gatekeeper); and they’re often heavy downloads. Facebook found23 that a typical 20 MB Android application package (APK) takes more than 30 minutes to download over a 2G connection, and that download often fails because of flaky networks.

Most installed apps are not used. According to Google24, the average smartphone user has 36 apps on their device. One in four are used daily, and one in four are never used. But we know that people in emerging markets use cheaper phones, and cheaper phones have less storage. Even now, 25% of all new Android shipments go out with only 512 MB of RAM and maybe only 8 GB of storage.

The World Bank asked people across 30 nations in Africa what they use their phone for.

25

What African phone users do with their device. (World Bank) (View large version26)

Unsurprisingly, phone calls and text messages were the primary use case, followed by missed calls. Across Africa and Asia, businesses encourage potential customers to send them a “missed call” — that is, to dial their number and then hang up. The business then phones the customer back, so that the cost of the contact is borne by the business, not the customer.

Here’s an example I photographed today in Kochi, India:

27

Advertisement in India with ‘missed call’ number. Photo by author. (View large version28)

The next most popular uses of mobile phones in Africa are games, music and transferring airtime. (In many countries, carrying cash can be a little risky, and many people don’t have access to banks, so people pay for goods and services by transferring airtime from their phone to the vendor’s phone.)

Then you have photos and videos, etc. Like everybody else, they are unlikely to delete video of their family or their favourite MP3s to make room for your e-commerce app. Birdly29, in a blog post explaining why you shouldn’t bother creating a mobile app, said, “We didn’t stand a chance as we were fighting with both our competitors and other apps for a few more MB of room inside people’s phone.”

Wouldn’t it be super and gorgeous if we could offer the user experience of native apps with the reach of the web? Well, dear reader, now we can!

Progressive web apps (PWAs) allow users to “install” your app to their home screen (on supporting devices and browsers). Your PWA can launch in full-screen, portrait or landscape mode, just like a native app. But, crucially, your app lives on the web — it’s fully part of the web, and like the web, it’s based on the principles of progressive enhancement.

Recently, my ex-Opera colleague Andreas Bovens and I interviewed a Nigerian and a Kenyan developer who made some of the earliest progressive web apps. Constance Okoghenun said30:

Nigerians are extremely data sensitive. People side-load apps and other content from third parties [or via] Xender. With PWAs […], without the download overhead of native apps […] developers in Nigeria can now give a great and up-to-date experience to their users.

Kenyan developer Eugene Mutai said:

[PWAs] may solve problems that make the daily usage of native mobile applications in Africa a challenge; for example, the size of apps and the requirement of new downloads every time they are updated, among many others.

We are seeing the best PWAs come out of India, Nigeria, Kenya and Indonesia. Let’s look briefly at why PWAs are particularly well suited to emerging economies.

With a PWA, all the user downloads is a manifest file, which is a small text file with JSON information. You link to the manifest file from the head element in your HTML document, and browsers that don’t understand it just ignore it and show a normal website. This is because HTML is fault-tolerant. The vital point here is that everybody gets something, and nobody gets a worse experience.

(Making a manifest file is easy, and a lot of the information required is probably already in your head elements in proprietary meta tags. So, Stuart Langridge and I wrote a manifest generator31: Give it a URL, and it will spider your website and write a manifest file for you to download or copy and paste.)

The manifest just gives the browser the information it needs to install the PWA (an icon for the home screen, the name of the app and the URL to go to when it launches) and is, therefore, very small. The actual app lives on your server. This means there is no lag with distributing updates. Usually, users receive notifications saying that new versions of their native apps have been released, but weeks might go by before they go to a coffee shop with free Wi-Fi to install the updates, or they might never download the updates at all — disastrous if one of the updates corrects a security flaw. But because PWAs are web apps, when you make an update, the next time the user starts the app on their device, they will automatically get the newest version.

Crucially, a PWA is just a normal website on Safari, Windows phones and Opera Mini. Nobody is locked out — that’s why they are called progressive web apps; they are progressively enhanced websites.

Flipkart Lite

Flipkart is a major e-commerce website in India (competing with Amazon). A couple of years ago, they decided to abandon their mobile website and redirect users to the app stores to download native apps. Only 4%32 of people who actually took the trouble to type the website’s URL (and, therefore, presumably were actively shopping) ever downloaded the app. With 96% of users failing to download the apps, Flipkart reversed its policy and replaced its website with a progressive web app, called Flipkart Lite. Since its launch, Flipkart reports 40% returning visitors week over week, 63% increased conversions from home-screen visits, and a tripling of the time that visitors browse the website.

Flipkart’s commitment to PWAs was expressed by Amar Nagaram, of Flipkart engineering, at its PWA summit in Bangalore, where I spoke:

We want Flipkart Lite available on every phone over every flaky network in India.

One great thing about a PWA is that, like any other secure website, it works offline, using the magic of service workers33. This further closes the gap between native and web apps; an offline experience for the web is (I hate to use the phrase) a “paradigm shift.” Until now, when your web browser is disconnected from the Internet, you get a boring browser-derived “Sorry” message. Now, with service workers sitting between a page and the network, you can give visitors a meaningful offline experience. For example, when the user goes to your website for the first time, you can download images of the 10 most popular products to the cache, and upon subsequent offline visits, you could say, “I’m sorry. You are offline, but you can browse our top products and press ‘Buy,’ and we will background sync later.” The offline experience you provide will obviously depend on what your app does, but service workers give you all the flexibility you need.

Additionally, service workers give you:

  • push notifications
    Please don’t spam and pollute the ecosystem for everyone by making consumers sick of notifications!
  • background sync
    This could allow the user to press a button to buy, and when they go back online, the buying process just automatically syncs up.

Currently, PWAs are supported on Chrome for Android, Microsoft Edge and Opera for Android. (Opera may have a small market share where you are, but it’s long been a significant player in the developing world.) Mozilla has signalled that it’s implementing PWAs on Firefox for Android. Safari for iOS has a non-standard mechanism for adding websites to the home screen but as of yet doesn’t support service workers.

To recap, the advantages of a PWA are these:

  • With no app store or gatekeeper, the browser can offer to add a web app to the home screen when the user visits your website.
  • It is searchable, indexable and linkable.
  • It works offline.
  • Visitors without supporting browsers get a normal website; no one is left behind.

If you want to see some real PWAs, check out the community-curated website (itself a PWA) PWA.Rocks34

Responsive Images

Around 2011, at any conference I went to, everybody would tell me about the responsive images problem: How can we send “Retina-quality” images (much bigger in file size) to devices that can display them properly and send smaller images to non-Retina devices? At the time, we couldn’t; the venerable img element can point to only one source image, and that’s the only one that could be sent to all devices.

But solving this problem is vital if we want to save bandwidth for consumers whose devices aren’t Retina, and also to save battery life; sending unnecessarily large images and asking the browser to resize them with the conventional img {max-width:100%} trick requires a lot of CPU cycles, which causes delays and drains the battery. As Tim Kadlec wrote35:

On the test page with 6x images (not unusual at the moment on many responsive sites), the combination of resizes and decodes added an additional 278ms in Chrome and 95.17ms in IE (perhaps more …) to the time it took to display those 10 images.

In many parts of the world, battery life is a considerable problem. If you have a two-hour commute across Lagos or Nairobi to get to work, and a two-hour commute back, you wouldn’t be able to recharge your device, which you’d need to do if you wanted to make phone calls.

For instance, power is in short supply in India. According to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry36, in 2012 (the last reliable figures I could find):

A third of Indian citizens, especially in the rural parts of the country, remain without power, as do 6% of the urban population. During peak hours, the shortage was 9.8%.

Battery life is so important that in India it has become a secondary industry unto itself. Alok Gupta, managing director and chief executive of The Mobile Store, India’s largest mobile phone retailer, recalls in October 201537:

Nearly 30 per cent of our annual smartphone unit sales have power banks bundled in. Two years ago, less than 1 per cent of our annual smartphone sales had power banks bundled in.

So (spurred on by a slight post-conference-season hangover), in December 2011, I wrote a blog post38 with a straw man suggestion for a new HTML picture element to solve the problem. My idea wasn’t fully thought out and wouldn’t have worked properly in its initial incarnation (damn hangovers), but cleverer people than me — Yoav Weiss (now at Akamai), Mat Marquis of Bocoup, Tab Atkins of Google, Marcos Cáceres of Mozilla, Simon Pieters of Opera — saw the utility in it and worked to make a proper specification. It was implemented, and now it is in every modern browser — even Safari.

This isn’t the place to talk about the nuts and bolts of HTML responsive images39, but if you use them, you’ll get significant savings on your images.

I did a talk about responsive images in Bristol last June, and the next day a developer in the audience named Mike Babb used the techniques and reduced his web page down by 70%40. This is important because the average web page (page, not full app or website) is 2.3 MB, of which 1.6 MB are images41. If you can save data, your website will be faster.

Mike saved 70%, and that 70% matters, because not everybody is like us and has a big data plan. In Germany, buying an entry-level mobile data plan of 500 MB per month takes one hour of work at minimum wage. In the US, it takes six hours, and in Brazil, it takes 34 hours of work42 .

43

Hours of work to afford entry-level mobile data package. (View large version44)

If your bloated images are eating up people’s data plan, then you are literally making them work more hours — and that it is hugely discourteous. As well as being rude, it’s bad business: They simply won’t go back to your website. (If you’d like to know more about the cost of accessing your website, check Tim Kadlec’s utility What Does My Site Cost?45)

More Next Time!

In this article, we’ve explored where the next 4 billion connected people will come from, as well as some of the innovations that the standards community has made to better serve them. In the next part of this article46, we’ll look at some of the demand-side problems that prevent people from accessing the web easily and what can be done to overcome them.


The population projections in this article are originally from the United Nations, but I got them from the excellent, humane documentary named Don’t Panic: The Facts About Population47 by Hans Rosling, a hero of mine who died while I was writing this article. Thanks to Clara at Damcho Studio48 for helping to prepare this article.

(vf, al, il)

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 http://www.worldbank.org/en/publication/wdr2016
  2. 2 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/www-img1-lawson-opt.png
  3. 3 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/www-img1-lawson-opt.png
  4. 4 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/20/business/20ignite.html
  5. 5 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2013/05/07/map-more-than-half-of-humanity-lives-within-this-circle/
  6. 6 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/www-img2-lawson-large-opt.png
  7. 7 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/www-img2-lawson-large-opt.png
  8. 8 https://www.gapminder.org/videos/dont-panic-the-facts-about-population/
  9. 9 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/www-img3-lawson-large-opt.png
  10. 10 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/www-img3-lawson-large-opt.png
  11. 11 https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/
  12. 12 https://www.forrester.com/China+Online+Retail+Forecast+2014+To+2019/fulltext/-/E-res118544
  13. 13 https://www.ericsson.com/res/docs/whitepapers/wp-measuring-and-approving-improving-network-performance.pdf
  14. 14 http://www.gbgindonesia.com/en/services/article/2015/indonesian_telecommunications_an_increasingly_mobile_market_11108.php
  15. 15 https://techcrunch.com/2016/07/29/indonesia-will-be-asias-next-biggest-e-commerce-market/
  16. 16 https://ondeviceresearch.com/blog/indonesia-social-media-capital-world
  17. 17 https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1Bp4KT-W8RF4ZorPUthts8X-B7QHBhsEnY1T5G7XifU0/edit#slide=id.p
  18. 18 https://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2014-09-29/myanmar-opens-its-mobile-phone-market-cuing-carrier-frenzy
  19. 19 https://www.bcgperspectives.com/content/articles/center-consumer-customer-insight-marketing-changing-connected-consumer-india/
  20. 20 https://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/05/31/business/international/smartphone-ad-blocking-software-mobile.html
  21. 21 https://www.bbc.com/news/world-36139904
  22. 22 https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601498/the-best-and-worst-internet-experience-in-the-world/
  23. 23 https://code.facebook.com/posts/1365439333482197/how-we-built-facebook-lite-for-every-android-phone-and-network
  24. 24 https://think.storage.googleapis.com/docs/mobile-app-marketing-insights.pdf
  25. 25 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/www-img4-lawson-large-opt.png
  26. 26 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/www-img4-lawson-large-opt.png
  27. 27 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/www-img4a-lawson-large-opt.jpeg
  28. 28 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/www-img4a-lawson-large-opt.jpeg
  29. 29 https://medium.com/inside-birdly/why-you-shouldn-t-bother-creating-a-mobile-app-328af62fe0e5#.ufoave1x4
  30. 30 https://dev.opera.com/articles/pwa-nigeria-kenya-interview/
  31. 31 http://brucelawson.github.io/manifest/
  32. 32 http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/Flipkart-drops-its-plan-to-go-app-only/articleshow/49751060.cms
  33. 33 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2016/02/making-a-service-worker/
  34. 34 https://pwa.rocks
  35. 35 https://timkadlec.com/2013/11/why-we-need-responsive-images-part-deux/
  36. 36 http://ficci.in/sedocument/20218/power-report2013.pdf
  37. 37 https://www.businessinsider.in/Battery-life-crisis-of-smartphones-prompted-an-entire-industry-to-emerge-to-solve-it/articleshow/49301930.cms
  38. 38 http://www.brucelawson.co.uk/2011/notes-on-adaptive-images-yet-again/
  39. 39 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2014/05/responsive-images-done-right-guide-picture-srcset/
  40. 40 https://mikebabb.com/responsive-images-smaller-page-sizes-with-the-picture-element-and-webp/
  41. 41 http://httparchive.org/interesting.php#bytesperpage
  42. 42 http://360.here.com/2015/06/03/offline-navigation-really-matters-500mb-data-costs-week-wages/
  43. 43 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/www-img5-lawson-large-opt.png
  44. 44 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/www-img5-lawson-large-opt.png
  45. 45 https://whatdoesmysitecost.com/
  46. 46 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2017/03/world-wide-web-not-wealthy-western-web-part-2/
  47. 47 http://www.gapminder.org/videos/dont-panic-the-facts-about-population/
  48. 48 http://www.damcho.com

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Bruce has been working on accessibility, web standards and browsers since 2001. That's why he looks that bad. You can follow him at @brucel, or read his ramblings at www.brucelawson.co.uk.

  1. 1

    Lovely article Bruce.

    6
  2. 3

    Prachi Sharma

    March 6, 2017 12:47 pm

    Great article!!! It’s a very informative and knowledgeable article, thank you.

    4
  3. 5

    Blistina anderson

    March 6, 2017 2:21 pm

    Usually I never comment on blogs but your article is so convincing that I never stop myself to say something about it. You’re doing a great job ,Keep it up.

    4
  4. 6

    As CEO of a Toronto based mobile app platform company (www.sethio.com), I have to say that this is one of the best articles Ever, offering practical insights rather than just sharing data without any real insights. I wish more entrepreneurs will read this article rather than a bunch of crap going around as advise. I’ve been suggesting many of our clients, for last several years, to actively get involved in really emerging markets but there is something about North American mindset that refuses to change. Hopefully this article is read by many and followed by at least some. Thanks.

    15
    • 7
    • 8

      A great article indeed. Added: the underlying premise is to not only think of commerce from emerging markets, but to also set the foundation for them to find you in the 1st place. That means creating web products accessible to their day to day conditions: untrustworthy networks, pricey data, low powered phones. That takes discipline from any firm building web products.
      With that said, if you’re in Toronto – feel free to join our Toronto Web Performance Group (meetup) – where we discuss these issues, where Bruce – if he’s ever in Toronto, will also be very welcomed to speak. ;)

      0
  5. 9

    Excellent article ;)
    the dating site story is one of my favourite examples to refer to — thanks, Bruce :*

    2
  6. 10

    Some really eye-opening stats/predictions for population growth – and a fascinating picture of how our work fits into a global context. Very nice work!

    2
  7. 11

    Haven’t read something as good as this in a while. Though i wanted to mention one often ignored browser – UC and UC mini.

    I don’t have the stats but it has more usage than chrome in India.

    In speed mode it strips of almost all css and js from the page. The mini version is 1.67 MB in size.

    5
  8. 13

    Is there any PWAs starter kits that you would recommend? Great article BTW!

    1
  9. 15

    Miemo Penttinen

    March 6, 2017 7:00 pm

    Fantastic to see such a detailed report of internet outside the western tech bubble on a mainstream web publication! Looking forward to the next bit…

    3
  10. 16

    Steven Lambert

    March 6, 2017 8:53 pm

    Thanks for writing this Bruce! I look forward to the next part of the article.

    2
  11. 17

    If only lazy first-world web developers read this article, they would not make such bloated hipster websites with huge unoptimized images and full-screen background videos.
    There should be a TL;DR for them: save users’ bandwidth, use PWAs and AMP, optimize images, make them responsive, minify and compress assets, cache as much as you can.

    3
  12. 18

    Andrew Betts

    March 7, 2017 4:04 am

    In the majority of cases, the advice in this article is spot on. Too many companies, in considering developed-world users as their primary market (which is not in itself a problem), make technology decisions that needlessly exclude developing-world users (which IS a problem).

    Security standards seem to me a more thorny area, where progressive enhancement cannot be used. TLS < 1.2 is generally considered unsafe, PCI requirements will shortly mandate 1.2 as a minimum for commerce. Clients that don't support 1.2, connecting to a network that mandates it will presumably see an ugly browser networking error and fail hard. Should we expect an increasing number of devices in developing nations to experience this problem as the speed at which we evolve security protocols increases? Maybe this will have the effect of depressing the secondary market value of used handsets?

    This will become especially problematic when CDNs like Akamai, Fastly or Cloudflare roll out TLS deprecation across all their customers simultaneously – one can imagine large swathes of the web suddenly going dark for users of insecure devices.

    Another angle is IoT. If the manufacturer of a cheap 'smart TV' can't justify the expense of shipping updates to the browser for an obsolete system architecture (or maybe they literally can't because they don't own the drivers for the chips), that device will lag in support for the standards needed to effectively use the web.

    So… good that there are lots of progressive technologies that can be used to support low power devices and expensive data connections, but… bad that there is a growing class of devices that get left behind when technologies that cannot be made progressive meet devices that cannot be upgraded?

    9
    • 19

      IMHO I hope folks might wake up in a bit, when they finally grok the fact, that just by adding SSL to their sites, issues like MITM attacks and website break-ins won’t go away. It’s like saying: Install this program – and all will be safe ever after. But then reality strolls by, asking about updates and other nasties.

      When talking about CDNs: Let’s just look at identity (theft) and script claims – if someone makes a mistake, letting the wrong one in = updates from a different person than the developer(s), you suddenly get malware with your lovely CDNish JS. Whats next:
      MITM? Done.
      Hacking into your site? Done.

      The current edition of the Web Development Reading List also features two items related to that issue.

      SSL is nice, if ALL parts of the chain are properly secured – and encrypted as well. But not the ultra-killer feature it is hyped up.

      cu, w0lf.

      0
      • 20

        Which is another reason I haven’t added it (much) to client sites. This false promise of safety – and then the issue with device blocking – is a sure no-go.

        cu, w0lf.

        -1
  13. 21

    Loved your talk about this at last years Fronteers :)

    0
  14. 22

    Michał Sadowski

    March 7, 2017 10:15 am

    Hey, thanks for your article, it was a great read eve if not applicable to me personally – and probably a lot of us already have some very local niche where they are comfortable.
    The only thing I could add – I highly doubt the forecast of Africa reaching 5 bln people and world’s population 11. Fertility rates all across the globe are falling faster than expected, especially in the developing countries. I think it’s relatively safe to assume a trend closer to the low fertility projection made by UN that won’t even reach 9 bln before starting to fall down again.

    2
    • 23

      @ Michal population is growing in Africa especially in Nigeria with population of over 170 million and counting I have lived in different parts of Nigeria and west Africa over more than 40 yes now. If in doubt ask any European, American or Asian currently living or working in Africa.

      2
      • 24

        This is one area ppl are not thinking of. I was at a conf just 2 weeks passed, where some African demo stats were revealed, and I was blown away.
        Stats that put the emerging African demo at par if not nudging ahead of India.

        0
  15. 25

    Jeppe Schaumburg Jensen

    March 7, 2017 12:57 pm

    I was lucky to hear Bruce speak about this subject at the ColdFront conference in Copenhagen last year in the beginning of September. It was really interesting to me, so it’s nice to get this remember here on Smashing Magazine.

    0
  16. 26

    Venkat Subra

    March 7, 2017 4:32 pm

    thanks for the share.

    0
  17. 27

    Ujitha Perera

    March 7, 2017 5:04 pm

    Great article. Thank you very much for writing this. You have nicely expressed your findings in acceptable manner.

    0
  18. 28

    The dilemma we face is whether the earth can sustain 11 billion. The race is on!

    -1
  19. 29

    Hi Bruce, I had watched this in video a couple of month ago https://www.paris-web.fr/2016/conferences/www-world-wide-web-not-wealthy-westerners-web.php

    It’s mind blowing. Too few developers are aware of the web’s state outside of Europe/US and that’s why we (as designers and developers) are building websites for ourselves. Thanks to you, that might evolve.

    2
  20. 30

    Excellent article. As an avid traveller, here are some insights I’d like to contribute:

    Asia does not equate blanket bad speeds across the board. The online experience varies wildly:

    – Myanmar has the worst online experience out of 17 countries I’ve visited in the past four years. The speeds are extremely slow and even less stable. Consider that electricity shuts off periodically and high-speed internet access still does cost more than $1000 USD a month. This is right now.
    – Thailand (next door) has extremely well-developed internet infrastructure with speeds faster and more accessible than US and Canada. Additionally, this is a country that uses Facebook more than any other nation on the planet (last time I’ve checked).
    – South Korea and Hong Kong have the fasted internet access lines in the world.
    – Vietnam has speeds on average slower and less persistent than that of in US but access is very cheap and generally people spend considerable amount of time online (nothing like Thailand or South Korea, of course).
    – Filipines have pretty slow internet connections as far as I know.
    – Cambodia is capable of having fast internet access but it’s out of reach of general population. Generally it’s reserved for well-off tourists or locals. Same for LAO.
    – Sri Lanka has very decent connection lines.
    – Singapore has excellent network. Malaysia is pretty good too, but the latter is perhaps slightly less accessible for the most people (in terms of hi-speed).
    – China could have fast internet available to its citizens, but the issue isn’t speed. The issue is CDNs and Google & Facebook services which are either throttled or plainly denied. This means that you’d be better off hosting all of your libraries on your server, instead of relying on Google CDNs. Also, China and Japan are two countries where English is spoken very, very rarely. So there really is no point to promote your app there unless it’s translated. Similar experience in Thailand. In contrast, Myanmar, India and Sri-Lanka would have many well-spoken individuals browsing English sites.

    Hope this helps. Keep in mind that culture of internet habits is a required knowledge, more so than just the total population stats. Speeds and access also CAN NOT be assumed to be blanket-“slow” – this is simply not true.

    One final note. If you plan to collect payments, do understand that more than a few countries (i.e. China and Thailand) do not generally practice any transactions online at all. It’s all COD.

    6
    • 31

      …Also, consider that there’s a lot more Internet Explorer users in Asia. I see this in Thailand every day. One of the things I will never be able to explain or understand.

      0
    • 32

      Indeed; space didn’t allow me to go into all the nuances, but you’re absolutely right. And you’ve reminded me that i need to finish the blog post about payments in Thailand that I started writing over a year ago… !

      1
  21. 33

    Great article Bruce! Thanks. I look forward to the next part of the article.

    0
  22. 34

    Erik Briones

    March 8, 2017 12:55 pm

    Excellent read! I only heard about PWA now. Thanks for sharing

    0
  23. 35

    Good article and good knowledge for my future plans. and i am very much exited that you wrote this article from my home town

    0
  24. 36

    Great article guys, graphic coors can me much better, like here is my fav one: http://www.schemecolor.com :)

    0
  25. 37

    Thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks

    BTW you should have mentioned Pakistan as it also a booming market.

    1
    • 38

      yes, Pakistan is a booming market that I’ve long wanted to visit. (Was 200 kms from the border last week, but previous attempt to visit was unsuccessful)

      0
  26. 39

    oh god don’t spread marxist garbage please

    -24
  27. 42

    Very informative article.
    Several months ago, I was been on trip in China and I had a very strange experience. I had there a very good Wifi connection, every websites seemed work great (at least national [Chinese] and big brands from outside (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft).
    When i tried small websites from small companies, it was a different story. It was so slow and sometimes some websites were not reachable.
    I tried one of our company’s websites located in Europe (http://calendar.live which is very lightful except the background image which did not exist at that time). It was so slow (1 or 2 minutes to download nearly 250kb with sometimes timeouts). I understood that the foreign websites are filtered by Chinese security policy. Its one of the reasons we don’t do a translation of any of our websites in Chinese (if you want to do so, unless you are a very big company with a lot of means you have to go at the place in China :p ).

    What I try to tell you, it depends not only to the flexibility of ours websites, that depends on the infrastructures/filters/firewalls ruled by the countries’ policies.

    0
  28. 43

    This is an excellent article with data, insights and references. I really enjoyed the article with business perspective.

    0
  29. 44

    Nice article.
    The map labelled “By 2100, 50% of humanity will live in these 10 countries” is wrong though, as it highlights Niger along with Nigeria.
    Two separate countries and I very much doubt Niger will grow that much in the next 80 years or so (it currently has less than 18 million inhabitants)

    0
  30. 45

    Mathias Van Impe

    March 30, 2017 3:28 pm

    Great report, thanks for sharing!

    1

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