5 Jul 2014

Which tech company is dominant in a globalised world?

Have you updated your Facebook status? Topped up your tweets? Well done: now what about your Vkontakte account? And your Sina Weibo feed?


Never heard of them? Russia’s version of Facebook claims 250 million users. China’s Twitter equivalent handles 100 million messages a day. Yet many in Europe and the US are ignorant of their existence, blithely assuming that tech giants of the west must be popular worldwide.

The fact that there’s still such regional differences raises big and interesting questions about tech, globalisation and culture.

Atomico are one of the companies at the sharp end of this: they specialise in advising tech companies on how they can become global success stories (disclaimer – they’re not the only company doing this and I’ve no idea how good they are at it, comparatively). When I met their team last week we batted about the question of whether there’s any one company that’s dominating the vast majority of countries.

We struggled: Facebook is huge in many regions, but all but absent in China, Russia and Iran. Google’s many products do well in many territories, but none seem to be dominant everywhere and it vies with Bing and Yahoo for search engine prowess in a surprising number of countries.

There’s two things I find interesting about this: firstly, we’re often told that the web has created a global society unhindered by national boundaries. Yet perhaps we’re just falling into wider, deeper silos. With so little Russian input on Facebook, for example, can we truly hope to hear the real breadth of opinion on Ukraine?

Secondly, can we ever reach a point where one company takes the whole cake? Mastering the language barriers is one thing (which puts Google’s work on translation into an interesting light). But at a more fundamental level, does humanity have enough common ground to support truly global tech companies? Are there countries where Angry Birds just simply wouldn’t fly?

The answers won’t come around any time soon – and while we wait, it’s the corporate giants’ marketers and consultants who’llĀ  make a pretty penny.

Follow @geoffwhite247 on Twitter