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Look to India, China for Next Internet Innovation

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The United States invented the internet and has driven the majority of its development and innovation over the past 20 years, but India and China are likely candidates to drive the next generation of innovation given their rising internet user base.

World’s Most Popular Web Sites

The world’s most popular internet sites have a decidedly American slant to them – sites like Google, Yahoo, YouTube, Facebook and Wikipedia all began in the States. These sites appeal to an American audience, with English text, and nuances that thrive on American culture. But as countries like China and India increase their online population the world’s most popular sites will quickly become ones based in the Eastern hemisphere, appealing to Eastern audiences, that may or may not appeal to Western audiences.

As of 2008, China has the world’s largest online population with 298 million internet users. India has the fourth largest online population with 52 million internet users and is predicted to have the third highest population by 2013 according to Forrester Research. When you combine both countries’ online populations they currently have 60% more internet users than the United States.

Can Google Compete with Baidu?

Baidu.com, a China-based site, is the 9th most popular web site in the world and is China’s most popular search engine. It competes with Google and Yahoo but more importantly it provides the best search results for Asian specific sites.  Baidu is considered an internet portal similar to Yahoo and provides many different applications and solutions (57 different tools in all), but Baidu actually began as a music file search engine providing links to MP3 files of mainly Chinese music. As its popularity expanded, companies such as Google have copied its functionality (specifically the MP3 search feature) in order to compete in the China marketplace. Google has struggled though in China largely because it misses cultural nuances specific to the Chinese population that companies like Baidu are better positioned to understand. In 2009, Baidu has garnered more site visitors than Yahoo – impressive considering Baidu only caters to Chinese audiences versus Yahoo’s worldwide audience.

The worldwide popularity of Chinese-based websites is due in large part to their enormous population. Capture the attention of China’s internet users and you are almost guaranteed a spot in the top twenty of the world’s most popular web sites. In fact, three of the world’s top twenty sites are based in China (Baidu.com, QQ.com, Sina.com) according to Alexa.org, appealing specifically to Chinese internet users. By 2010, China will have an online population larger than the actual population of the United States.

India’s Internet User Base

India, with a population of 1.1 billion, shares similarities with China with a large population base and fast growing online population. Though only one of the top twenty sites worldwide is Indian based (sort of… Google India) sites appealing specifically to India’s population are certain to emerge.

American Innovation versus Chinese Innovation

Given the tremendous population base and online users in China and India “the next big thing” quite possibly may come from the Eastern hemisphere. American-based companies should carefully monitor fast growing web sites in China and India to assess their functionality and audience. The most popular sites in these countries have so far focused on search and Web 2.0 functionality (social-networking sites, video-sharing sites, wikis, blogs, mashups, etc), but evidence already exists that innovators from the East will develop solutions beyond what the world currently knows from the most popular sites. Perhaps Web 2.0 sites such as Facebook or Twitter can be further tweaked to appeal to cultural or technological differences in these countries. Or perhaps innovation from the East will be in the form of features and functionality not yet envisioned by the West. Only time will tell, but one thing for certain is that American internet innovators will be wise to keep an eye on our friends to the East for inspiration.

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