Helping a friend put together a business plan in a determined effort to salvage his struggling business, I rummaged through some boxes of old books. These things had been gathering dust for a few years and were due to be dumped or sold off somewhere, but you never know what insights you'll find in old books.
What I found was instructive, if not encouraging: an old copy of "The Australian Internet Book" from 2000. If I'd read better, instead of dismissing the discouraging tone of the writing as the author trying to sound knowledgeably disdainful, I'd have had a good insight into the realities of the Internet in Australia, and Australian culture and society.
Under the title, "What is worth buying?" are the words:
"Online shopping is easy but solitary. It is price effective but hands off. You do not get to try before you buy.
As a result, things that are difficult to find, vary greatly in price, or that are not considered fun to buy, sell well online.
The items that score top in the online shopping surveys are books, music CDs, and computer software. Likewise, travel, employment and investment services hae been building for some time."
I remember commenting on the negative tone of this book 5-6 years ago. It's probably why it sat in a box for years, too. But the authors - Geoff Ebbs and Maryanne Phillips - had a very good grasp of the society and the state of technology. I just refused to believe it because of my own intellectual stubbornness - and the forced anticipation (read: "irrational expectations") of a lucrative new market for my skills.
After all, 2000-2001 in the US was still the rising tide of the dot-com bubble. There wasn't even a hint that it would burst back then.
In order to hang onto that happy anticipation, I had to ignore the comparison of statistical realities between Australia and America:
- In America, nearly 40% of households had access to the Internet;
- and more than 35% of those households had purchased using credit cards off the Net;
- broadband of any form - cable, ISDN, or DSL - was a hot demand across the country.
- In Australia, less than 15% of the nation had access to the Internet;
- and it was stretching reality to find 15% of those who were willing to buy anything off the Net.
- Internet banking was just being introduced in Australia;
- I'd been paying my bills via the Net for nearly 5 years in my rural California town.
- Americans saw the Internet as a new medium for free speech, entertainment and commerce;
- Australians were wary of putting any personal details, especially financial, onto this frightening new means of intrusion.
Amazon and Google had only risen to prominence, - supplanting smaller, less-technical services. America was still waiting to see if these "great new ideas" were going to work. Australia didn't want any part of these untested technologies.
The phrases from that old book may seem silly now, but only to some. Even now, 7 years later, Australia is about where America was then, but with all the resistance and baggage of the dot-com collapse. Australia is still being dragged - kicking and screaming - onto the Internet by government, banking and telecomms.
A solid 20-25% of Australian households and businesses simply refuse to have Internet access because they "see no need".