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We are definitely among the top ten in Facebook
The people of this region have an endless passion for being at top. It is always important to be THE first, at least to be among the top five or in the worst case among the top ten. I do not know the reason, but this is correct. The 'we have the seventeenth biggest economy of the world' talks also originate from this passion. We are the sixth biggest economy among European economies. We would like to present a ranking for those who like to ask "So, how do we rank?" we have to say that Turkey seems to rank very well in the popular website Facebook. We are definitely in the top ten. Today, let us think through what this means. Is it something good or bad?
First, let us provide some references for those wondering why we came to this topic. According to Turkey 2009 book published by Foreign Economic Relations Board, we rank the third in Facebook by the number of Turkey-origin users. This is of course quite good. We are talking about ranking the third in Facebook given that we are not the third in population ranking. Since the book did not give much detail, I also checked Alexa to see who uses Facebook. According to Alexa, we rank the ninth considering those visiting Facebook with Turkey-origin internet addresses. We are the fifth among European countries. The ranking is: United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany and Turkey. Non-European countries in the top nine are: United States of America, Indonesia, India and Canada. And Spain ranks the tenth.
Let us begin with Facebook issue for those who are not familiar with it. Facebook is a website that was launched in 2004 but become popular in Turkey after September 2007. We believe that Facebook is a type of virtual marketplace. When we were talking about shopping malls a few days ago, we said 'Shopping malls are the new resorts of the modern age'. Similarly, Facebook is a new version of old resorts. In fact, it is a resort in the original sense. What do you do in Facebook? You show off, meet and chat with people. You share your views about life and communicate. On the one hand, it is a coffeehouse which has more than 250 million users. Everyday around 120 million people visit Facebook; i.e. wanders about at the coffeehouse. So let us repeat the question: "Is it good or bad to rank at top in this category?"
First, these people have to have access to a computer and internet to use Facebook. So, this is definitely good. Turkey is not a total stranger to the technologic advance of the time compared to other countries. Generalizing of computer and internet usage is beneficial for Turkey in the medium term. As a study TEPAV conducted in 2007 suggested, computer usage was one of the two most important skills employers found necessary (and the other was foreign language skills). So, the situation cannot be so bad. We have the foundation. Facebook membership figures prove that people living in Turkey are not isolated from the developments in the rest of the world. This is the first point.
We wonder to what extent the popularity of Facebook among people with Turkey origin is related with the coffee shop culture of Turkey? As statistics suggest, two thirds of Facebook users do not have university degree. They are either too young, or they are not university graduates. It is reported that recently number of users over 35 has been increasing. But this is a new phenomenon. With this lens, Facebook actually resembles coffeehouses or patisseries rather than resort places. Youngsters gather at Facebook to socialize. In fact, those gathering at Facebook do not have any other thing to do. Though seems bad with this lens, the first point is still important.
Third point is necessitates to take a second look at the above results. In the list where Turkey ranks the ninth Japan ranks the thirty fifth. Another country heard from! So, does this mean that Japan ranks under Turkey in the prevalence of internet and computer literacy? Or are Japans an introverted and isolated nation? I hear you say "Come on! What are you talking about?" Of course these are not correct. There are 16 million internet users in Turkey corresponding to 21.1% of the population. In Japan, there are 94 million internet users accounting for 74 percent of the population. And while Facebook is the second most popular website in Turkey following Yahoo, it is the fifty second in Japan. Japans visit the internet more frequently than us; but they do not like Facebook as much as we do. Why? I guess it is quite simple: There are dozens of internet sites that provides local content in Japan. In Turkey, there are none. So, no one can say Japans are introverted. However, for Japan we cannot talk about shallowness in providing "local content". Maybe the reason why everyone in Turkey has a Facebook account must be tracked back to this point. We can modify the question like this: Why did the website named "Yonja" that become quite popular among youngsters in Turkey in 2004 and that targeted to fulfill the same functions with Facebook not come to forefront as a local coffeehouse? Here is an expert question for you; we will come back to this.
Fourth point is Turkey is not even among the top 47 countries in prevalence of internet. As we said, prevalence rate is around 20 percent. The rate for Malaysia for instance is 59 percent. So, it seems that the first finding we stated is not correct much. The high number of Turkey origin users in Facebook cannot hide the truth that the country is in the bad side of the digital segmentation.
Then the fifth point should be: due to wrong privatization policy, practices by Turkish Telecom that hinders competition and the inability of the Telecommunication Board to acknowledge its purpose, Turkey lags behind in digital competition in two senses. First, Turkey is by far the first among OECD countries considering internet service providing cost. Second, right because of this reason, local content design industry in Turkey is at the bottom. And this seems closely related with the fact that we somehow fail to put into effect a smart industrial policy. It is necessary to look at the Japan example with this lens.
Such country cannot make a leap in global competition. In such country, productivity increases will be limited. Such country can only lose market in export arena. Such country cannot launch online shopping.
Doing these does not incur any cost. The only thing to do is to dissolve monopolies.
There is no change in Turkey: Blindness of the administrators makes our future miserable.
This commentary was published in Referans daily on 29.08.2009