Written by Luca Fracassi
Italy is certainly not the first country you think of when it comes to web technologies. This post will not argue the contrary, but it will try to explain a little bit about the Italian web scene.
That’s so six years ago
Internet usage in Italy is extremely low compared to most other developed economies. The penetration rate was only 36 percent in 2007. The Italians that use the web still see it mainly as a communication/information tool. The most visited websites include news sites and blogs.
E-commerce is rising, but still far from the average. In 2007 e-commerce represented 0.49% of retail sales, while this figure is around 6% in the UK, the top performer in Europe. Take a look at the Internet Book Shop to see a clear example of how young this market still is. IBS is the top e-commerce site in Italy with over 1.3 million uniques per month in 2007 and with €30 million turnover. The site’s graphics and layout are horrible by current standards, but there’s a simple explanation for this: the site hasn’t changed in the past 6 years! For a country known for its design and style this is outrageous, we can and should do better than this.
Computer lessons on the chalkboard
There are several reasons for the slow growth of the web in Italy, but I can certainly mention some major ones:
Slow deployment of broadband
Only 8.7 million families (37% of the total) have an ADSL connection in 2008!
I hope things have improved since I was young (I am only 30), but I doubt it. I went through five years of high school and never had a computer lesson or even saw a computer. The first computer lesson I had was at University (1998) and the teacher was explaining us how a PC worked (cpu, hard-disk, memory, etc), all on the chalkboard!
Culture & habits
Italians still spend a lot of time watching television, though the younger generations are more aligned to the European/western standards and are spending more and more time online. Generally speaking Italian society is still very much run by very “wise” people and that means there’s a huge disconnection between the new technologies and the ruling class. This can also be seen by the low investments made by companies in the web industry.
There are some exceptions
Though they’re not brilliant, the Italian web scene has some interesting cases. I will mention a few good ones.
Beppegrillo.it is probably the best known Italian blog (ranking #20 on Technorati). This comedian has understood the power of the web and is fully exploiting it. Through his blog he managed to gather 50,000 people in a square for a demonstration last year. Not bad…
A free Internet TV platform supported by advertising, Babelgum offers professionally produced programming on-demand. Babelgum is a creation of Silvio Scaglia, former founder and CEO of FASTWEB a major italian cable television-internet provider.
This is another video startup that aims at competing with the likes of Joost. A good review with screenshots can be found at WebTvWire. Not sure what they will manage to do in the long run, but seems very promising…
The Italian market is largely underdeveloped which, in my opinion, leads to a simple conclusion: huge opportunities. Sooner or later, the Italian market will catch up with the rest of the world and, given the population (60 million people), it has a big potential.
Personally, I believe that the web can bring bring a positive disruptive change to the Italian market, a market that is too often dominated by “dodgy” practices. There’s still time to enter this market, you just need to get the ingredients right. For example: get some decent graphics and you will already have a competitive advantage!
If you know some interesting Italian startups. just drop me a line. It’s time to show internationally what the Italian web scene can produce…