Web 2.0? “Hey, wait for us!”

Photograph of Bell Aviation Rocket Pack, 1964

Statistics on how businesses use the Internet demonstrate how the Web 2.0 digerati are rocketing so far ahead of reality into their self-obsessed digital fantasy-land that they might as well be on Mars.

ABS figures show that fewer than a third of Australian businesses have a “web presence”.

This week the redoubtable Laurel Papworth complained about that:

Well, that sucks… Not much hope for Web 2.0 if 70% of us can’t get our heads around Web 1.0, is there?

Stephen Collins, who I’ve read for a while and chatted with recently, agrees.

I am disappointed. It indicates just how far behind the 8-ball most business in Australia is…

Laurel associates this lack of penetration with the widespread lack of understanding of the power of the Web, and specifically Web 2.0 technologies, amongst Australian business. I’d have to say I agree.

Really? Disappointed? I see steady growth in those “web presence” figures. I’ll show you in a moment. First, though, I need to tell you why I reckon you’re wrong.

“Disappointment” shows a misunderstanding of what constitutes “business”, even in the 21st Century. And there’s still a lot of work to help businesses lay the digital foundations before we start building so many crystal castles.

Most of us have the wrong idea about business. In part that’s because TV news is lazy, and shows us stock images of office buildings, factories, coal mines… yet there are 3 million active registered businesses in Australia, and fully 72 percent don’t have any employees. And in part it’s because it’s sometimes useful politically to make “business” sound like some Big Scary “Them”.

The median “Australian business” is a single man or woman — probably a sole trader because sole traders are the most common form of businesses (39%).

Now here are those “disappointing” numbers:

% businesses with… 2002-03 2003-04 2004-05 2005-06
computer use 83.0 85.2 88.6 88.5
internet use 71.4 74.2 76.8 81.3
web presence 23.0 25.1 26.7 29.8
% businesses who have…
placed orders via internet 27.8 31.3 32.7 37.3
received orders via internet 13.3 12.0 12.2 20.9

The “web presence” figure went up 3.1 percentage points between the last two surveys. In just one year, 93,000 Australian businesses created a new web presence. That’s one hell of a lot of websites: more than 350 every working day!

That’s even more impressive when you consider that it’s only been 12 or 13 years that most of these businesses could even connect to the Internet.

And consider the profile of businesses…

On a brief stroll yesterday I saw a late-night pharmacy, a barber, a locksmith, a carpenter whose van was parked outside a building site, a laundromat, a $2 shop, 2 x cafés, a local pub, a greengrocer, a watchmaker, a local medical centre, a masseur and a corner shop. Most of them will still be getting used to using email in their business, if at all. Only one had a website that I know of — can you guess which one?

I think we should be very, very happy.

[Photo: Bell Aviation’s Rocket Pack, demonstrated at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, from the book Exit to Tomorrow: World’s Fair Architecture, Design, Fashion 1933-2005. Hat-tip to Paleo-Future.]

11 Replies to “Web 2.0? “Hey, wait for us!””

  1. Crapola Hon. Then you don’t get web 2.0/3.0. 😛 This isn’t about a ‘business’ on the web — it’s about ‘people’ doing business. Nearly 90% of those “un webpaged” businesses USE the ‘net and all that that entails. Why aren’t they connecting synapses to deciding to have their own webpage? Instead of bemoaning large competitors like Woolies and globalisation and shutting down business in the first four years?

    Your arguments would be valid five years ago when web 2.0 was stabilising worldwide. But the wide eyed “oh gosh, it’s taken us 13 years and only 70% still haven’t got a webpage” doesn’t place Australia in the context of the rest of the world. Which is in it’s third year of web 3.0 btw.

    You are so OLD media 😛 — we buy tvs and papers but we don’t advertise in them? That’s not the ‘net hon. Little known fact: I used to do public speaking in local communities about the value of having a webpage back in 1995. De je vu for 13years. No it’s not changing fast enough.

    Here’s a thought – let’s do a map mashup of all the laundromats in the Sydney area to make it easy for people to find and use ’em. Oh wait, we can’t — they aren’t on the ‘net. Catch up already, Australia!
    — signed, Devil’s Advocate’s Advocate

    PS is there a laundry mashup?

  2. I’m not sure how the claims in the 1st paragraph in Laurel’s comment contradict what Stil is saying. Hence I don’t understand the opening statement or the connection to the closing questions of that same paragraph. I might go read Laurel’s post. 🙂

  3. I did.

    Stil and Laurel: Two different foci, two different analyses, two different basic conclusions. No conflict so far. But to get from there to Stil’s opening (i.e. outrageous troll) paragraph and Laurel’s concluding remark is a pretty long stretch.

    So forget about that. 🙂

    What interests me most is whether Laurel is saying Web 1.0 is a predictor or precondition on Web 2.0…. not that I’m all that sure I know what 1.0 and 2.0 mean.

    I deploy and manage ecommerce, erm, crm systems and am seeing nothing to suggest it. B2b drives growth in sophistication of business IT strategy in my experience. I’m not talking big companies. I’m talking 1-5 person operations.

    There are some islands of sophistication: In the auto engineering (car repair) game the sole trader mechanic since 2000 has been able to research, order & track parts, bid for and sub-contract out work, browse catalogs, participate in trade forums etc., but at the same time not many have put up their own website.

    Does that make those mechanics part of the “pre Web 1.0”? Or are they Web 1.0? What about the fact that those are the guys who are already ahead of the game in the social internet? Sounds like leapfrogging to me.

  4. As an owner of a small business, I have seen no reason to have a web presence.

    That is not because I am a Luddite — far from it. Every employee in my business uses computers, and all of the lawyers use a solution in synchronised PDAs that is the envy of other firms. We use email, internet for research and ordering supplies.

    So why no “web presence?” The reality is that for most of my clients, it would mean nothing. A large proportion cannot read, some of those who can read cannot read English, none of those in gaol are able to even email me, and many have no knowledge of computers above and beyond what a stolen laptop can be sold for.

    That is different from being able to be “found” using the internet, to follow on from the laundromat example — take a site like http://www.webmenu.com.au — many of the restaurants have no “web presence” but I can still find them and look at their menus.

    The law prevents me selling my services interstate or overseas, so I am not trying to reach distant markets.

    The bottom line is that I am in business. If I am to spend money on a web presence, that needs to be a business decision — and no-one has been able to set out a business case for that expenditure. As soon as they do, I’ll be ready to commit.

    Laurel’s original post seems to overlook the ABS figures broken down by size of company: 59.8% of 20-199 employee companies have a web presence, and 94.1% of 200+ employee companies have one.

    In addition, looking at the figures broken down by industry, it would seem that businesses are considering their need for a web presence, and in those areas where there is a tangible benefit, the percentage is higher. That’s not rocket (pack) science.

    Too many people want to sell internet technology for the sake of it. Oh, wait… I see Laurel will sell me a seminar on how Web 2.0 can help my business — what a coincidence!

  5. After my last post, I happened to be thumbing through the SA Caravan and Camping Guide that arrived in the mail this week.

    The directory lists 103 businesses, 93 of which list a website.

    That’s a pretty good ratio, and again I think it is indicative of businesses assessing their needs, and making decisions accordingly.

  6. Hi All, I was making some basic assumptions. Mainly that businesses that have “no web presence” have NONE. Not even a Facebook Fanpage or a listing in Naturaltherapies.com.au. Secondly, I’m talking about ppl connecting with each other (2.0) not using the web as a brochure (web 1.0). e.g. Web 2.0 is using Meetup.org to organise reseller events or whatever. Buying and selling parts online is b2b and perfectly acceptable for b2b businesses. Its the guy that uses the part B2C , that isn’t maximising his marketing budget, if he doesn’t have a web presence. We need the figures for people who type in “car parts, toyota, north sydney” into Google as opposed to sorting through yellow pages.

    Yes I think they should and will skip Web 1.0 to 2.0 — but only if they understand the need for it. And unfortunately, if you haven’t been through web 1.0, you won’t understand web 2.0. *shrugs* third world countries bypassed old PCs and have gone straight to ‘net on the mobile, maybe we’ll see something similar with small business.

    I don’t wanna hear one more “poor little watch shop” or “poor little butcher” who shut down to a bigger company because the bigger company sold watches direct online or home delivered the weekly meat and groceries. People will go with what is convenient, and ordering online with home delivery IS convenient. Relying on foot traffic and the way things have always worked, won’t work any more.

    But I am happy to hear you took a brief stroll around and looked in the windows of shops, Stilgherrian — how many of us do that any more, as a matter of daily course? 🙂

  7. @Laurel Papworth: Right. Well, as a great Australian philosopher once said, “Game on, moll!” 😉

    If being “old media” means “capable of assembling a whole paragraph with grammar and punctuation and stuff into a coherent argument” then Old Media I am — and proud of it.

    Yeah it’s a crying shame that Australia was the world’s 3rd most-wired nation in 1995 (after the US and Finland), but by 2007 all Senator Helen Coonan could do was quibble about whether we’d dropped to 17th place or “only” to 13th. Only last March the Clueless Raccoonan reckoned that a couple of years ago no-one had even heard about broadband. So maybe we need to compare “web presence” figures with Japan, Korea, Europe, Chindia… and maybe that won’t be pretty either.

    But we fix that by SMSing people when the clothes dryer’s available? That’s the Web version of telling us the PC will revolutionise kitchens by storing our favourite recipes. Darlin’, if your life’s so messed up that you can’t even sort your washing, I’ve got some knickers I can lend you.

    Your colour too.

    I’ll Twitter them to you, shall I? 🙂

    Let’s look at one vital point in that ABS release:

    Cultural and recreational services had the highest proportion of businesses with a web presence (54%) at the end of June 2006, followed by Electricity, gas and water supply (51%). The lowest occurrence of web presence was within the Construction industry (reported by 13% of businesses).

    Oh, I can hear the paroxysms all the way from your exclusive Potts Point eyrie! “Get with the pace!” Just pop another valium, luv, and look at your own words.

    People will go with what is convenient.

    Exactly. In the building and construction industry, this technology is nowhere near being convenient.

    The typical business in the construction industry is a bloke with a ute full of wood and tools, with a dog to guard the toolbox. He works outdoors, in a muddy environment. A laptop’s gonna be crushed like an egg. A fancy phone is a liability. Both require too much training and maintenance. “Convenient?” Bah! Pick up a reliable old brick-mobile. A Nokia 5110 is perfect. “Brian? Send over another dozen floorboards. And get Jim to bring the sander.”

    Look, I understand the role of the scout, out there seeing what’s new and enthusing about the Big New Digital Wonderland. But screaming at the builders and telling them to hurry up won’t help them. And neither will baffling them with wank-words like Web 2.0 and Web 3.0. Especially when we’ll declare those terms passé in a week and tell anyone using them they’re out of touch.

    Builders, and everyone else who doesn’t “get it” yet, will get it — just as soon as we create useful, convenient tools which make sense to them and to others in their industry. Tools which look like they’ll be around long enough to make it worth investing the time and energy to re-arrange their entire worldview — because that’s what we’re asking them to do.

    And you say:

    I am happy to hear you took a brief stroll around and looked in the windows of shops, Stilgherrian — how many of us do that any more, as a matter of daily course?

    Pretty much daily for me. The sense of “village” is important. And one of the Very Cool aspects of these emerging technologies is that they may well enable a return to a more localised life. More on that another time.

    @Mat F: “Outrageous troll”? Moi? And you’re using words like “predictor” and “precondition”? Mate, this is a scrag-fight! Behave appropriately!

    That said, you say:

    Sounds like leapfrogging to me.

    It certainly is! Mark Pesce tells the story of the fisherman of Kerala which is a fine example of how a community has skipped over the industrial-age distribution models. He tells the story well.

    @Simon Slade: Yes, the point really is that the tools have to be appropriate to the job. Thanks very much for your comments as it’s saved me having to write them — leaving me free to engage in a bitch-fight with Laurel.

  8. *bitch slap*
    I happen to know that the construction industry is working very hard – thankyou gov grants – to build an online community for networking. So if they ‘get’ they have to network, support, discuss, do business with each other online, why the heck can’t they get that their customer is looking for similar ?

    *slap again*
    Famous last words – MD of eBay “people will never buy cars online”. To me personally, from a major realestate dude: ‘we’ll never need websites for selling/renting houses, people prefer to come in and talk about them than look at a webpage’ Ditto travel.

    You don’t know of a house to rent, on the waters edge, in a nice village do you? I don’t mind how far it is from Sydney. Lemme know if you hear of one willya SillyStilly?

  9. @Laurel Papworth: The construction company which is a client of mine hasn’t heard about that networking project (yet). There’s something I can help them with, ta!

    The real estate industry is one which has never really considered the needs of its customers — and the Sydney RE industry is one of the most arrogant around, grown fat and lazy on fixed-percentage commissions as housing prices have skyrocketed ahead of inflation. I mean, do they really think renters enjoy schlepping around to yet another inaccurately-described house, hoping to make it through traffic for the 15 whole minutes it’s open for inspection, only to reject it on some basic fact (electric stove, not gas) which would have been trivial to record online? We’re in furious agreement on that one!

    A house on the water’s edge? Sounds lovely. Can’t you find one on eBay? [winks]

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