The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Voice of Monsanto

Further to my recent post on Malloch Brown, I would like to explore the likely effects of widespread telecommunications on the developing world. It is clear that this increased knowledge will strengthen the individual, and thus will be opposed by despotic governments. However, this obvious idea has several ramifications.

First, the dominance of English will be increased throughout the developing world. Assuming that most speakers of non-European languages (besides Chinese and Hindi) will find little of interest in their own language, English is the obvious choice. This will tend to increase America's soft power.

Second, the organization of the internet (such as it is) is optimized for wealthy, first-world consumers. Consider the Google search for "build a crop irrigation system" (not quoted in the search -- the quoted version yields no results). The results are widely disparate, but they are not what I expect a third-world farmer would need. The search for "irrigate crops" is still less useful. [Admittedly, this is not a complete survey; other problems, such as obtaining machine parts or evaluating vaccines, are harder to model but unlikely to differ much.] This shows a need for a new type of portal and content aggregator; but, due to the limited disposable income of the target audience, the existing portal model is unlikely to prove attractive. Instead, the most feasible business model seems to be a portal operated by, and giving priveleges to, some company with sales prospects in the region. Given the internet's dual role as commerce tool and news distributor, this will lead companies into a powerful but unfamiliar role.

Now we should consider the tension between the portal operator and the government. The former will seek to attract an audience by maximizing its news and entertainment value, while seeking profits by minimizing the visibility of competitors' products. The government, of course, will desire exactly the opposite.