Dilemma: Growing Internet Population with Limited Local Content

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Pakistan has seen an explosive growth in internet usage over the past few years. Back in year 2000, there were 133,900 users and as of March 2011, there are 20.431 million internet users.

With this exponential growth in number of online users in the country, These 20 million people are offered with very limited options when they get connected to the internet.

Okay, facebook, youtube and email are pretty familiar web gatherings, but have you ever got bored of these primary locations? What you do then? Have you ever felt that there is nothing much to do over internet?

These 20 million plus population is starving, they need portals, news websites, videos, games, chat rooms, applications, sports and other content that is generated by Pakistanis for the Pakistanis.

It’s imperative that local content is generated to cater to the Pakistani users’ demand – or they will keep feeding themselves with the content that is under the control or influence of foreign companies.

What is local content?

Local content can be defined as an expression and communication of a community’s locally generated, owned and adapted knowledge and experience that is relevant to the community’s situation.

Simply put, its content generated by the "people" for the "people", with "people" including only Pakistanis.

Why is it needed?

Every society, every community, and every country has its own norms. Its own perception of what is wrong and what is acceptable. If local content is generated, it will reflect those values that will fulfill the demands and needs of locals.

Let’s take an example of the “Draw Muhammad P.B.U.H.” controversy on Facebook. Once the page was created, regardless of how many protests we lodged, it wasn’t removed immediately. Now had it not been Facebook, but some social networking site whose ownership was with a Pakistani, it would not have even appeared. And even if it had, it would have been taken down immediately. Because the owner knows that it’s not in line with what we believe in, and will only generate severe backlash from the people.

Most of the content available on the web is in English. But English is not a dominant language in our country. Maybe it is in the upper and upper middle class but the fact remains that for every person that reads an English newspaper, eight read Urdu newspapers.

If local content is generated, it will tap into that major demographic. For example, why not make a search engine that searches in and provides Urdu content? I know Google also provides that functionality but if a local search engine aiming high cropped up, I would take it over Google in a heartbeat, just to encourage our own people who are working on it.

Another thing is that local content encourages young entrepreneurs and benefits society as a whole. You don’t need to look far for that, just see how many online shops for everything from computers and hardware to flowers have cropped up.

Now one can browse through and select whatever they like and have it delivered to their doorstep. A healthy competition among online retailers also ensures that prices remain fair, unlike local markets where prices in one part of the city may vary from other by obscene amounts.

What are the challenges faced for local content creation?

Firstly, the lack of local content is the biggest challenge. You are not going to build on an established base, it’s a venture that may or may not take off.

Another thing is that local content will be competing with content from developed countries which is already well established in the market. Prying users away from that will take hard work.

Financial constraints also hinder local content development. However, whatever the challenges are, a lack of local talent is never the issue.

Who needs to step up and what can they produce?

Ideas for content generation are numerous. One could bring in localized games, chat rooms or even begin regular web shows. One could also start communities dedicated to a niche, like a place for all artists and writers of Pakistan to gather together.

Since telecom companies can be the most effective providers in my opinion, they can even ask their users what they want and build on that.

Other major forces can be ISP’s, PTCL already has its own web portal and it’s a good example of local content. Other ISP’s need to work on similar stuff, make it better and bring in a few innovations as well.

But no way are these the only sources, young entrepreneurs are the heart of the country. Financial constraints might deter them but with more and more funds and grants available for innovative and revolutionary ideas that risk is eliminated.

I end with a quote that appeared at TechCrunch from the CEO of TrialPay.com here,

"Online to offline commerce is a trillion dollar industry."

So the question becomes, what are you waiting for?

Talal is a Director and the Editor in Chief at ProPakistani.


  • Junaid

    i second you my friend, and especially feel strongly about the desecration of the Holy Figure P.B.U.H … And all we can do is participate in campaigns like….. abandon it for 1 day, 2 days etc……and cant just live without…. its very painful and sorrow feeling when i see some of our citizens behaving like this…

    May Allah guide them to the right path!

  • Rez`

    The main challenges, which limit the people from building user friendly websites, are lack of funding, unique ideas, lack of opportunities to monetize locla traffic. There is also a trend, which is when if one person succeeds every one follows and start building websites on same topic and with in no time there are 100s of sites copy pasting same content.

  • Ahmed Afzal

    What is the source of this “20.431 million number for internet users in Pakistan”?

    • admin

      World Bank Indicators

  • Good article.

    Agree with Raz’ over funding issue but not on unique ideas. We have seen many projects which were start brilliantly but unable to remain in business due of financial and technical problems. Let see what will happen with my Urdu site CricNama.com :)

    Even Google Adsense still not allow us to earn money from Urdu websites but by working like copy cats and posting third class content in English.

    Local content sites specially Urdu blogs are working very hard but not getting much appreciation. They make their site Urdu friendly, converting themes and plugins etc etc which is very much time taking then starting an English blog with a few clicks. In the end, English bloggers are ‘well-known’ and Urdu bloggers are ‘unknown’.

    You can learn about further problems in promoting Urdu content on internet from here: http://www.abushamil.com/urdu-lacking-the-easy-setup-of-installation/

    • Yeah I agree with this comment too, as far as earnings are concerned, Urdu blogger are very under-estimated by adsense and other ad networks. :S

  • Shahid Saleem

    I wonder if the killer app for local content will not be on a website, but a cheap Nokia or Android app.

  • pappu

    I just want to mention that when Mark made facebook, he did not know what was he making. On our side, as soon as we purchase domain name, we want it to top world charts. We dont pursue a vision. We pursue a mission (which is self-centered).

  • i launched babafooka.com for Pakistani users but i don’t think that an average site can work in Pakistan (especially when big giants like facebook and other social networks are present)