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Source: Wall St Journal

CHINA will almost certainly become the dominant cultural force influencing the look/feel of the internet, supplanting the US as the leading light of the digital world, a global study suggests.

The study by communications firm Fleishman Hillard found that the Chinese, with an average of 33 hours per week of media use, were the biggest users of the internet and email, accounting for 55 per cent of all media use.

Fleishman's global CEO, Dave Senay, told Media that even though internet penetration in China remained lower than other countries, the scale of the market was such that it was beginning to have an impact on how the web itself was developing.

Despite Google withdrawing its operations from mainland China over censorship concerns, Mr Senay said the research in seven countries representing 47 per cent of the global online population showed China's influence over more established internet markets would continue to grow.

"Online, the Chinese are more likely to engage in all online behaviours compared to other markets," he said.

"With China, in the five usage areas: research, communications, commerce, publishing and mobility, China is at the top of each and every one.

"The leaders, the UK, the US, even Germany, are laggards relative to the rest of the world." Mr Senay said India, with its huge potential mobile phone population after 3G rollout were complete, also had the potential to shape the look and feel of the internet along with China.

While the two most populous Asian markets would have a growing impact on the internet, he said the research also showed there were differences between what people trusted in the short term and how trust grew in online properties over time.

"People view the internet sort of like you should view the stockmarket," he said.

"ln the short term, when it comes to credibility the internet can get it all wrong.

"But in the long term, as more voices weigh in then over time the right direction is found, the facts are outed and the falsehoods are outed.

"The power of the crowd definitely comes into play in the long term, but so much happens in the short term and this is why I think consumers are rightly sceptical of any one opinion."

However, with companies such as Australia's Jetstar reported to be shifting 40 per cent of their marketing budget into social networking, Mr Senay said there were clear signs the internet as an influencer of opinion and behaviour was beginning to hold greater sway with consumers than traditional media such as television.

"We have seen with numbers that television viewership and internet usage are roughly equal in most of the markets we looked at, but the influence of the internet is almost double that of television as told to us by the people we interviewed," he said.

He warned that companies should not become overly focused on online strategies. "So despite the fact that I'm preaching integration on one hand, I think we are not moving quickly enough to shift money into online spaces," he said.

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