Friday, June 17, 2005

Europe's getting ready to create global businesses

from NMA at 10 - Web Veterans

Social communications have always been the biggest driver of the Internet. We now live in a world where emails, photo and music sharing, instant messaging, online dating and increasingly Weblogging are becoming mainstream. Only ten years into the Internet's commercial evolution, there are 1bn people online worldwide and over 40% of their time is spent communicating with friends, family and even people they've never met before.

While once this was an American phenomenon, there are now over 100m people online in China and over 20m people in each of Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the UK. There's no longer any doubt that the Internet has arrived socially and commercially.

Even though Yahoo!, Google and Ebay have all managed to build global brands and create businesses with market capitalisations of over $50bn since 1995, some of the most interesting applications of the Web are almost certainly yet to come, as people learn to leverage the social side of the network.

Ebay is the classic example of this social enterprise, where the business plays the role of facilitating relationships among more than 50m buyers and sellers in a marketplace that could never have existed on such scale without the Web. This model of shared infrastructures coupled to communal participation has helped to create landscape-changing services like DMOZ and Wikipedia, as well as successful software developments like Linux and MySQL.

Some of the most progressive and fastest growing social applications are now emerging from Europe and Asia. In Shanghai, Shanda Interactive's multiplayer online games have helped to create the first multi-billion-dollar Internet business outside of the US. And in Europe we've seen the emergence not just of Kazaa, but also the wildly successful Betfair, Midasplayer, Sulake's Habbo Hotel, Skype and, more recently, early-stage applications that leverage the social networks we build online, like Pleasurecards and Zopa.

While many of these businesses capitalise on people's leisure time, Skype and Zopa have the opportunity to completely restructure the way people go about personal communications and banking. Skype's 40m callers have already spent nearly 10bn minutes talking online, and everyday another 200,000 people join in. Typically, over 3m people are talking to each other online at any one time.

Zopa is at a much earlier stage, but by cutting out the middleman and letting normal people lend and borrow from each other at much better rates than banks, it's tapping into one of the oldest uses of social networks.

Even if none of these businesses ends up being the next Ebay, the great thing about where we are today compared to where we were in 1995 is that we now have companies being born in Europe with the vision, access to experienced early-stage investors and management, but most importantly a large enough global marketplace to become world-beaters.

9 Comments:

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