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Why Facebook matters to Filipinos, and Philippine business

Twenty-one million. That’s how many Filipinos are on Facebook, according to Jim Ayson’s must read piece on The Philippines as a Facebook Nation.

The Philippines ranks (at the time of this writing) fifth in the world, in terms of Facebook population.

Both are huge numbers.

To put it in proper perspective, Facebook’s Filipino population is almost twice that of Metro Manila’s. It can almost be a province of the Republic.

Huge.

Let’s reframe our understanding.

For a lot of people, Facebook is the Internet.” —Jim Ayson

Facebook is the number one place where people from the Philippines go to on the Internet. It is bigger than Yahoo. It is bigger than Google. It is bigger than YouTube. Facebook consumes everything.

Twenty-four percent of Pro Pinoy’s traffic comes from Facebook, for example, and most sites from the Philippines probably registered something similar, if not more. It is invaluable.

In all the talk about the rise of blogging’s influence in the country, and how the Telcos want to squeeze out Filipino’s use of the Internet, it is important to note how little this online world really is.  How little traffic originates from Philippine businesses really is. Just look at the top 100 sites on Alexa for Philippines. How many of those are from local companies, or media entities, and how many are global?  Ok, that sounded a little bit more nationalistic, and insular, which is really not what I meant.  Indulge me for a bit?

How little in the sense that most Filipinos use work places and Internet cafes to browse the Internet, and how much of it is spent on Facebook, and little else simply because they don’t have access to it everywhere in their lives.

One way of looking at that is to see it splashes cold water on how influential bloggers, and Filipino net entrepreneurs really are.   But personally, I prefer looking at it from the perspective of how huge this market is, and how great the potential is, and how much more we can take it.

The rise of Mobile Internet in the country will be a game changer as big as GSM and text messaging was to Filipinos. Already we are seeing more and more people tied to their Blackberries. How much more is this going to grow once a nation explodes on mobile space?

It is cheaper to deploy wireless technologies now, and in an island nation such as the Philippines, it is the only way to go. It is why I do not understand why telecommunication companies are simply considering this as a value added service when in fact they should be directing their attention into investing, on bringing the technology to the general public. Making it so affordable that even the lowly janitor can afford it, and can pay meals with it.

It is time to exchange the SMS market, with a market driven by mobile internet. In a country that values PrePaid, one would argue that turning a mobile phone into a wallet would be big business too. Smart and Globe are already doing this, with their respective offerings but it isn’t quite enough is it?

Of course this is a matter of speculation. As a matter of disclosure: I own no stock in any local telecommunications provider, and I am not privy to their internal numbers.

The Telecommunications providers seem to think that they are protecting shareholder value, and have a free market going. Protecting shareholder value is also about creating new businesses rather than milking old business models that are clearly up. As a consumer, from my perspective, I think telecommunication providers simply lack balls.

I have argued that Facebook is done.  There is something fundamentally flawed with Facebook, and revenue generation. Yes, It made over a billion dollars in new financing, nearly a billion revenue and yes, in SecondMarket, Facebook is valued over US$70 billion dollars. As a business, it looks and feels like the end of Web 2.0, and that the next version of the Web would easily eclipse it.

I see it as a market waiting to grow up.  There is huge potential.

This is why Facebook matters to Filipinos, and Philippine business.

What the Philippine ranking of Facebook; what alexa ranking tells us is not about the quality of Filipino users on the Internet, nor the level of the discourse we engage in.  The average CPC doesn’t tell us how little the market is worth.  They all tell us less about what Filipinos value more, but more about the opportunities that exist right now, not just for media, but also of communication, commerce and how much more we can gain by unleashing the Internet on Filipinos. Do you see it?


Photo credit: Facebook logo is in the public domain.