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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Future internet bubble in Qatar?

A while ago I did a post on the future of Qatar which aroused quite a bit of debate on Qatar Living here.

Ngourlay disagreed quite strongly with my prediction that one day there would be an internet bubble in Qatar. I have been meaning to reply ever since and have finally found time to get round to it.

Now Ngourlay is a brilliant programmer, and has direct experience of working during an internet boom and for dotcoms. He has far more experience of these matters than me, but I am still going to stick my neck out and disagree with him!

Let's take some of his points:

There aren't the programming skills in place, nor is there a wish on the part of the local population to become coders. Both the USA and UK had a microcomputer craze 10-15 years before the dot-com boom. There was a pool of people who understood the basics of programming who could take on development and project-management roles.

Sixty years ago, it could have been argued that there were no engineering skills to build oil rigs. There's certainly no will in the local population to become builders. A majority of Qataris want a nice cushy government position (sorry, Amnesia, I know that doesn't include you or your crowd!) Yet Qatar can and does import the skills it needs. The same can happen with the net.

The OECD said last year that the local school-leavers could barely read or write.
I think what I have noticed is a definite variation in the education of Qataris. I have met those graduating from the local schools who have obviously not had a good education.

However, it would be a mistake to think all Qataris are educated in these schools. There are a class of Qataris, who are educated either in top international schools or abroad, who have an excellent education. I have met some who could speak better English than me. I have also met (a few) who have programming skills.

But in any case, you don't have to be Qatari to start a business here. Qatcom.com, the Yellow Business Pages, was set up by a British person. Araboh.com, a site selling Arabic Books for Children, was set up by an Iraqi girl studying in Qatar. TheSmokersAngel was set up by a Brit in Qatar using the BigCommerce software.

Google certainly believes the area is going to take off. They are predicting a huge growth in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, have established offices in Dubai and are developing Arabic translation tools.

They see the current developments in social networks like QatarLiving.com, as well as other Arabic sites, as a necessary prerequisite to the development of ecommerce in the region.

While current internet advertising in Mena is still a fraction of what it is in the West, (despite strong growth over the past six months), it is predictions of an increase of over a thousand percent over the next two years that has got their mouths salivating.

I think it might be a while longer before it takes off, especially with the drying up of credit, which will probably affect Qatar more than it likes to admit.

But when the locals finally catch on to the potential of the internet there will be a bubble, and like other bubbles here it will go to extremes.

It just probably won't happen in 2009!

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