Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Trip report: Google and YouTube in Pakistan 2010

Earlier this month, a squad from Google and YouTube went to Pakistan to explore business and content opportunities, following up on Google’s Clinton Global proposal commitment to Pakistan and to sponsor and contribute in Pakistan’s first International Youth Conference and Festival. It’s hard to envisage a country more at the nexus of geo-politics today than Pakistan, and our team educated a lot about the state of the Pakistani technology, media and non-profit sectors.

Internet connectivity in Pakistan is quite low—estimates put diffusion at around 10%—but opportunities for growth are evident. For one thing, broadband costs are quite cheap compared to other parts of the world—around $13/month. Smartphone usage is also on the rise, and there are a rising number of Pakistani developers who are creating mobile applications for sale both in Pakistan and overseas. Around 60% of Pakistanis have a mobile phone, and their standard bill is around $3/month. Not surprisingly, SMS is one of the main means of communication in Pakistan.

One of the keys to bringing more Pakistanis online is the quantity of local Pakistani content obtainable on the Internet. There are some enormous examples so far: for instance, Coke Studio, a “fusion” music project sponsored by Coke that features well-liked Pakistani musicians, grew so popular on YouTube last summer that it was the 11th-most viewed channel on the site. Dozens of news organizations have begun to use YouTube as a global allocation platform as well, reaching not only Pakistanis online but the diaspora abroad. The Pakistani media is young and greedy—it was just eight years ago that the government opened up the airwaves to permit non-state media channels to exist, and in that short time the media has full-grown to become an important player in the public conversation in Pakistan, despite infrequent crackdowns from authorities. Citizen media has also played an ever more big role in Pakistan: for example many Pakistanis used cellphone cameras to document the destruction wrought by the floods in Pakistan last summer.

Google.org granted $1 million to Pakistani flood release in September, contained crisis response tools, and launched a flood relief landing page. On our trip we met with quite a few non-profits who are doing incredible work to help the exaggerated citizens get back on their feet. Our products, in particular Google MapMaker, proved to be of use to flood relief agencies for tracking expansion in the wake of the tragedy. Over innumerable cups of hot chai and mixed grilled barbecues, we heard stories of normal Pakistanis using Google technology to article the flood and attach with one another during the crisis.

Pakistan’s future no doubt lies with its youth—an unbelievable 62% of Pakistanis are under the age of 25. Perhaps the highlight of our trip was the International Youth Conference we participated in, which was run by an association called Khudi. Khudi was founded by the dynamic Maajid Nawaz, a former extremist who distorted his views towards moderate Islam and has since devoted his life to educating young people on freedom of appearance and anti-extremism (Nawaz also beam at Google Zeitgeist this year). It was inspirational to meet leaders like Nawaz who are committed to emboldening Pakistan’s younger generations to use the web to transport Pakistan to the rest of the world, and to give the rest of the world a more absolute picture of Pakistan. In this way we saw an chance for technology to not only foster economic development, but also to break down borders in the region. We asked a few of the Pakistani leaders we met with to converse about Pakistan’s future, and here’s what they had to say.

This was the largest allocation of Googlers ever to visit Pakistan, and we’re looking forward to continued engagement in the region.

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