There are 7,659,785,014 of humans beings on earth at the time I am writing these lines. More than 5 billon of them own a mobile phone connection (GSMA data). That is more than 67% of the entire population of the globe, and the number continues to grow. By the end of the decade, according to GSMA, we will reach 5.7 billion of connected users!
Talking about the internet access, more than 4 billons of people have an internet connection.
If the question was: does the digital transformation impact everybody?
Then the answer can be obtained by simply looking at the figures mentioned in the introduction.
Are we all using the internet in the same way?
But if we take the social demographics rules into account, the answer changes.
Does the digital transformation affect a 70-year-old woman in Ethiopia the same way it affects a 9-year-old boy in France?
The entire world population can be divided by social demographics rules, and that is what I am interested in.
Regarding the differences between the countries, it seems that some countries are more connected than others, and they are not using internet the same way.
The main example is WeChat in China. This app reached 1 billion users in 2018 according to an article from Rayna Hollander for Business Insider. WeChat is mainly used in China, and it is a real Swiss knife for the Chinese. They use it to pay, to transfer money to friends, to order a cab, and also to do e-commerce and to set up their own business. WeChat is the example, but the Chinese are definitely one step ahead in terms of digitalization and they use it for everything.
While Chinese are using it for daily basis needs, countries like Philippines or Brazil use the internet mainly for social media.
A wifi sign in the China Countryside
Western countries don’t rank very high when it comes to spending time on the internet. According to reports by “Hootsuite” and “We are social”, the first western country that appears on the ranking is Portugal in the 19th place.
It seems that the digitalization impacts everybody, but that its use worldwide is different.
One common point : communication
There is still one common major feature between the 4 billion who have an internet connection. It is the ability of using the internet to communicate with each other. Across the globe. Because it is finally what it is all about.
Alex Clarks, in his article for the Guardian, gave few interesting examples. He mentions in his article the way mobile phone changed the distribution of music in Mali, where the entire album “music from Saharan cellphones” has been shared via Bluetooth.
As Alex Clarks explained, this allows him to listen, from his flat in London, this kind of music.
To wrap it up, let me give you the reason behind my questioning
I am writing these lines from Laos, and I can’t explain how I surprised I am to see, in one of the poorest countries in the world,the sheer amount of smartphone with internet connection.
I took a picture with one of the locals. About a minute later, he airdropped me the photo. We were both happy.
Here is the common point.
Interacting with people is the backbone of digitalization, but what we do with it seems to depend on the cultural and social rules of where we are.
Activists, just like anybody else, take advantage of new opportunities brought by the Internet. But is this new form of expression really efficient?
WHEN SOCIAL MEDIA EMPOWER PEOPLE
Social media brings confidence to many people who are not scared anymore to say what they really think. A study by the Pew Research Center demonstratesthat around half of Americans have engaged in some form of political or social-minded activity on social media in 2017. This phenomenon is particularly true when it comes to minorities: social media platforms are very important for half of black social media users in the USA, whether it is to express their political opinion or to engage in situations they feel concerned about.
What could encourage them to rely on social media? Well, let’s say… hashtags. First introduced on Twitter by Chris Messina in 2007, hashtags are now everywhere. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google +… all platforms have incorporated them, allowing users to see what the new trends are and to add importance to their posts. Because here is the true power of hashtags: it gives people the chance to feel united and strong while talking about a specific topic.
One of the most significant examples is the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag. Created in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman – a policeman who shot to death Trayvon Martin, a 17-years-old black man – this hashtag was used approximatively 30 million times on Twitter with 17,002 mentions per day on average. The reason for this success is the black community’s wish to be seen, listened and understood. It is the desire to show they are numerous even though they are considered as a minority. Behind this hashtag, there is the opportunity for them to prove that strength lies in numbers and that they can act to make things change. Behind this hashtag, there are millions of people doing activism online.
If Milano’s aim was to have a vision of the scope of this problem, gender equality supporters began to jump at the chance to voice their beliefs and make the impact even bigger. Suddenly, it was not only about denouncing but acting together to make things change. One year later, many activists feel optimistic about the future such as Rebecca Amsellem, founder of the newsletter Les Glorieuses. In an interview for Francetvinfo, she states that it is the beginning of something bigger such as the coming of a true gender equality. For others, like Aija Mayrock, a bestselling author and activist, the fight is not over, and social media are still a perfect place to talk. For the Day of the Girls, she broadcasted the following video on Youtube and Twitter:
Would these examples of activism have had the same impact without social media as a support? Certainly not. Yet, it is important to highlight that even though social media is a great tool to amplify the impact, no change can be entirely made by staying online.
Trends are only for a time
#BringBackOurGirls – photographer: Julie Compagny
Four years ago, 276 girls were kidnapped in Nigeria by Boko Haram’s armed forces. Various associations and NGOs around the world immediately reacted on the Internet and, with celebrities’ help, the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls appeared. This time, the movement consisted in taking a selfie with a piece of paper on which the hashtag was mentioned. The engagement was high but unfortunately, as trends are short-lived, it lasted only a time before moving to the next subject. Also, online activism engendered a global awareness but did not trigger a military response from other countries worldwide that was strong enough to solve the situation.
Another reality is that some countries impose strong barriers to online activism. China, for instance, punishes all forms of activism and massively regulates online activities. As mentioned by Hervé Fischer, “the Chinese government attempts to maintain control in spite of everything, and in 2000 it proclaimed three laws in quick succession to curtail expression”(1). A real obstacle for activists who cannot fight using digital assets. For those who try, the consequences are serious: people such as Gup Qinghai – a man who spread articles about democracy on the Web – are condemned to prison or even worse, to labour camps.
Today, social media and the Internet are not sufficient yet to create real changes; even though they are crucial for a worldwide movement. Without the protest marches, the intervention of experts on TV sets or during radio shows, and the intervention of other media, there are a few chances that governments finally react.
So, online activism? Yes, please! But do not forget: “Online and on-land activities augment one another; they have to in order for social change to happen” (2).
To go further, watch this TEDxTalk by Zeynep Tufekci about “How the Internet has made social change easy to organize, hard to win”:
(1) Hervé Fischer, Digital Shock: Confronting the New Reality, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal, translated in 2006 by Rhonda Mullins.
(2) Beth Kanter & Allison H. Fine, The Networked Nonprofit: Connecting with Social Media to Drive Change, John Wiley & Sons, USA, 2010.
Alexandre de Sainte Marie has been, since 2013, the e-multicultural consulting service director of Datawords, a web agency specialized in developing the digital content of international brands. His background is impressive: he was marketing director at Henkel and he is the former CEO of Hermès Tableware division. Thus, we were really pleased to enroll him for 2 hours in our Digital Business Strategy class. We discussed changes induced by digital on the traditional purchasing funnel, and then we touched on the different ways to adapt this to our globalized and multicultural environment. Eventually, I will link his insight with a broader point of view on the digital schism throughout the world.
What is the consequence of digitalization on the purchasing funnel?
He started by explaining us that the purchasing funnel is now growing increasingly complex: customers were used to going to stores to buy a product. Period. Now, the purchasing funnel is way more complicated: customers go first on the Internet to find relevant advice (this is why marketing teams have to take into account the increasing role of word-of-mouth, especially on the internet – you can read Chenchen’s article on our blog for further information).
Afterwards, they may need to talk physically about the product and to test it: this is what we call showrooming, and salespeople are no longer just vendors, but true brand ambassadors. Shops were points of sale. They now become points of experience which are part of the global customer experience: every touchpoint has to remain consistent with the brand identity, whether it is a website or social media, shops, pop-up stores…
Indeed, the new way of purchasing has put digital experience at the heart of consumers’ concern.
He also highlighted the fact that the brand identity corresponds to the poorest brand experience all over the world. What does it mean? It is tremendously interesting for luxury brands. Brands must be consistent with their high-end customer experience because luxury customers pay for this very service. Otherwise, people won’t consider your brand as a luxury one anymore. With cross-channel, an issue which occurs in a store can lead to an unfavorable digital exposure. For example, on social media, people can easily post negative comments about a brand. Social platforms allow people to make their voice heard. Consequently, luxury brands have to stick to their high-end approach to prevent any possibility to have their position be undermined.
Why do you need to adapt locally when you develop a brand internationally?
As an expert of luxury brands, Alexandre de Ste Marie emphasized that brands must pay attention to the way their brand identity is deployed. Being consistent with your brand identity is mandatory, but developing a tailor-made website for every country in which you are implemented is also key.
To him, one of the most important things is to balance the digital strategy planned by headquarter and the need to adapt your content to local consumer habits.
Local adaptation is more sensitive than what we think. Of course, it encompasses first the language adaptation or the product adaptation (as we all know that every market has its own preference). Actually, adaptation goes way beyond this. For instance, writing direction differs from one country to another, but have you ever thought that you may need to reverse the direction of the allocated picture as well? It might appear as small details, but these details are tremendously important for luxury brands. These are the details which will make the difference in the eyes of the beholders.
Feel free to click on the picture to see a 30-minute workshop (in French) driven by Datawords sales team, explaining how to adapt your international website for a local client.
There is no such thing as flat universal internet
I deem that this reasoning is nowadays totally insightful. It has led me to connect this with a broader investigation made by Frenchman Frédéric Martel (the author of well-known Mainstream) in his new book, Smart. He analyses in his book the plurality of the internets, and more particularly social media. According to him, McLuhan’s “global village” does not exist and will not exist, even less in the digital sphere. Indeed, social media make us feel like we are connected altogether within this big Internet village. But to Martel, this assumption is totally wrong: we cannot speak about the Internet, but “internets”. For instance, we remain in a conversational realm with people from our own cultural realm: French would speak with Westerners, Indian people with Indian people.
The digital era has made virtually everything accessible, but it is actually beyond understanding for the vast majority of us. Indeed, digital boundaries remain the exact same as in our physical world.
Moreover, one of the main issues is that social media were developed in the US, which raise problem in term of international regulation. Now, countries want to handle privacy and data collection in their physical territory. Consequently, some “emerging” social media platforms are developed (Vkontakte in Russia…).
Source : These 4 icons are made by Freepik from Flaticon.com and licensed under Creative Common by 3.0
I really recommend you to go further with this analysis by reading his book. Smart is for me the smartest (no kidding) insight on the existing and coming digital divide. However, we can underline that overcoming these boundaries is possible, whether we are in the real or in the digital world.
For the past few years, developers and tech companies have tried to find the right balance in their partnership strategies. From completely open and free API to closed and carefully selected partnerships, the choice is not easy. So how does one find the right solution for a win-win deal between companies and developers?
Before going further, let’s go back to the basics. An Application Program Interface (API) is a piece of code that allows two applications to communicate and exchange data. Mostly, they are used to develop new applications using existing piece of software. The most commonly used example is Google Maps API that allows developers to integrate its basic features (maps, geolocalisation, Street View…) in their applications. A handful of applications, like the famous Uber, were developed thanks to this API.
So, is there a magical way to give access to your data and code to third party partners without harming your business?This summer, the French transportation company, SNCF, announced a 5-year plan to kick off its digital transformation. Among other projects, it planned to revamp its APIs and unify its partnership program. Even though, the project was called “Open Data”, one of the major changes was to limit the access to its data by charging third party developers after a certain number of requests. What it means is that if you want to create an incremental business with SNCF’s data you need to pay your share. According to Yves Tyrode, head of digital at SNCF, this was implemented to highlight the value of their data and make sure that big comparison websites (Google, Kayak…) don’t take advantage of it.
While the French were working on a way to protect their data without killing innovation that could have economic fallout, the Google owned company, Nest was developing their brand new “Works with Nest” program. As a reminder, Nest is an IoT company that creates connected devices that help you manage your house.
What Nest released on October the 1rst, is a broader third party program that open its Weave communication protocol (used to make Nest products exchange information without Wi-Fi). This will allow the creation of a unique ecosystem with other IoT products. According to TheNextWeb, several companies are really interested in this new program, such as Phillips Hue and General Electric.
Behind these 2 different strategies, only one question lies: will my partnership program bring value to my business?
Indeed, put yourself in SNCF’s shoes, does giving big comparison websites like Kayak or Google free access to your data bring new users? Maybe not. They might as well get some money out of it. At the same time, by choosing a freemium economic model for their API, they support innovating startups by giving them a free access to the data. And these startups are the ones adding value to their services. Just like what Nest is trying to do with its API, the idea behind it, is to favor the creation of a virtuous ecosystem.
Building a healthy relationship with third party developers is essential, even for the developers themselves. The survival of their applications relies on the existence of the API. It is in their best interests that those partnership programs are favorable for both parties. TheNextWeb even gave them basic rules to ensure fruitful relationships:
“Thou shalt not freeload”
“Thou shalt not forego talking to a person”
“Thou shalt monitor everything”
Basically, if you want to use an API, be respectful and create a real relationship.
On a more serious note, completely opened APIs are going scarcer mainly because business is still business. In our data-driven world, your data is a treasure you must cherish and protect. And they tend to be more valuable than any software. Even Google is open sourcing TensorFlow, its state-of-the-art machine learning software for pictures.
We see a new trend arising from these strategies; the value is slowly shifting from software and pieces of code to the way you exploit them and the data we use to do so.
So now you know what you have to do, protect your data and open your protocols.
Last 6th of October, the ECJ (European Court of Justice) invalidated the “Safe Harbor” agreement, corner stone of the personal data transmission between European Union and United States.
But what are the consequences of such a decision for us, daily users of Google and Facebook ?
Safe Harbor’s limitations
The Safe Harbor Agreement was settled in 2000 in order to protect the private life of all European users using American companies’ online services. During this process, users had to provide personal data without any insurance that this data won’t be used to a different end than it is supposed to be. The agreement was the warranty of the data protection.
But It has shown its limitations especially in 2013 with Edward Snowden’s disclosure about the NSA mass monitoring programs and also several complaints against Facebook. European citizens data weren’t actually well protected.
These first warnings led to this judgment of the European Court of Justice. But what does it really mean? Will Facebook be really affected by this decision?
An ocean of agreements and clauses
It actually doesn’t change anything for big companies. They don’t even need to store all the European data collected in Europe. But they can’t use and hide themselves behind this agreement anymore if they meet issues the legality of data flows between Europe and United States.
But Safe Harbor isn’t the only agreement and Facebook ensures to not only use this one but also others methods recommended by the EU in order to legally transfer data. It is common for such big companies to go through other types of contracts like internal firms’ contracts or contractual clauses that, often, are more complete than Safe Harbor.
The need to revise this agreement
The potential issue of this decision is precisely the development of this kind of contracts between companies and European countries with the risk of losing the global frame inspired by Safe Harbor.
To avoid this, the agreement will be renegotiated. It actually was renegotiated even before the ECJ decision. But as every such big decision, it will take a lot of time before a definitive new agreement is approved. Especially in a world where data is circulating fast and where it is nearly impossible to ensure that it won’t be lost at some point.
It would mean a total change in the American law that is, by the way, not likely to happen. And even if it would happen; we should have to wait until the next nullification coming from the ECJ.
Who’s the main looser with this nullification?
Safe Harbor doesn’t only involve big companies but smaller companies as well (4000 companies were subjected to this agreement). These smaller firms are now in what we could call a legal vacuum until the next decision regarding this judgment. All the web players are now pressuring the European Commission and the US Government to reach a new agreement as soon as possible.
More than just a decision against big Americans firms, the agreement is a strong mean to protest and report NSA mass monitoring going totally against European law principles.
For its part, the US government was disappointed after this decision, reporting the uncertainty of transatlantic digital economy booming. It doesn’t involve firms anymore but it is a matter between governments in which Facebook does not want to take part.
The next steps are to follow with a lot of vigilance for smaller companies. On the contrary of bigger companies such as Facebook, it will be more difficult and will require investments for them to find a way to store data abroad. Facebook already plans the worst investing in data storage servers in Europe with its Irish subsidiary.
With the rise of Cloud Computing, we can wonder how this data will be regulated to fit the new protection requirements…