[ Martin Malý. From his file]
Martin Malý is among the best known bloggers in the Czech Republic and founded Bloguje.cz, the first and most popular Czech blogging platform. He insists he is not a geek, pointing to his many diverse interests, he says the compelling evidence is told me the most compelling evidence is that he does not like Star Trek. The other side is that he was an early Czech computer user, he first got onto the Internet in 1996 and built a Geocities web site and he programs in several languages. He is also a pragmatist, hoping that the so-called social media revolution does not bring false hopes to an emerging nation where the average office worker still makes about 1000 USD a month.
Martin's overall summary is that to date, social media has not much changed life and business in the Czech Republic. But then he notes that blogs have caught n and that young people are embracing social media.
Because of Martin's fondness for detail, this interview has been condensed in a few places. Here's his story.
1. Can you tell me a little bit about the Czech Republic?
It is a small country situated in the middle of Europe, bordering on Germany, Austria, Poland and the Slovak Republic. The Czech Republic has about 10 millions inhabitants in an area area comparable in size to Panama or Ireland. Until 1993, the Czech and Slovak Republics were one federation, called Czechoslovakia and was part of the Eastern Bloc, countries held under strong Soviet control until the communist imperium failed and went away in 1989.
After 1989, the Czech and Slovak Republics opened their borders and started to integrate
into the structures of the democratic world - the Czech Republic has been a member of the NATO since 1999 and of the EU since 2004.
2. Tell me about technology. How many people use computers and cell phones? How many have Internet, broadband or wifi access? Do they have connection at home or at work? Is it expensive?
The Czech Republic has three big cell phone operators but this was not always the case. Back when we just had eurotel in 1995, a cell phone was a status symbol. In 2000, a third operator named Oskar entered the market, GSM prices immediately fell. The cell phone became just the utility. While we regard them as just a handy thing now, we love them nearly to obsession. We have 12.5 millions registered cell phones, 25% more phones than people. We buy ringtones, wallpaper and Bluetooth accessories. Men between 18-40 years want to have the most advanced phones with all the technologies producers can integrate into them.
Everyone uses SMS. Last Christmas, Czechs sent about 60 million text messages. Some people use their cell phones for accessing the Internet from GPRS to the CDMA, EDGE or 3G. It's estimated that about .5 million people, or 5% of our population uses mobile connection.
With computers it's quite different. Czech society is divided into two groups: (1) people who aren't interested in the computers or actually hate them, and (2) people using them. The division is based today on education and age, but even less-educated people buy computers for their children.
About 36% of the households have PCs. Just about 27% of households have an Internet connection. More than half of those have broadband access - it's about 15%. Penetration of the broadband has rapidly grown in recent years (from 2% in 2003 to 15% in 2006). You can find more at this site, and here but they are in the Czech language.
Is Internet expensive? It's an interesting question. The average monthly salary is about 1000 USD for office professionals like clerks. Most people, such as shop assistants and supermarket cashiers make 400-500 USD per month.
The cheapest PCs cost about 500 USD. Notebooks start at 1000 USD. A basic TV costs about 250 USD and a 2L Coke 1.5 USD. The most common Internet connection (ADSL, 2Mbit/512kbit) costs about 15 USD per month. There are cheaper WiFi providers (about 6 USD per month) or cable TV Internet providers.
Internet connection is not so expensive, but many people still think "it's useless, it's expensive, it's not interesting, it's a toy for parvenus..." - mainly the countryside inhabitants and uneducated people. But those people can sit in a pub and spend up to 5 USD for beer and cigarettes each day - it's not rare, it's maybe about 20% of the population.
Many Czechs use Internet for personal reasons at work. It's one of the Czech bad habits. Each server administrator in the Czech Republic knows that there are two peaks of the server load: in the morning (office holders "start to work" with a cup of coffee and favorite pages) and between 2pm-4pm (Czechs feel the end of the working hours is near, so they don't start any new tasks. They just pass their time net browsing, waiting for the end of the working hours. They are sometimes able to wait nearly two hours).
3. Tell me about yourself. When did you first start using social media? Why and how did you start? How has it changed your personal or professional life?
I started to use computers in 1985. My first computer was a Sinclair ZX Spectrum (although Czechoslovakia was a communist-held country, there were about 100,000 owners of small home computers like Sinclair, Commodore or Atari, and we joined in many local clubs. My first contact with the "world online" was in 1992 - with the BBS. In 1996 I tried the Internet for the very first time. There was nothing there but Yahoo!, Altavista and IRC. My first social network was the Czech Channel on the Undernet IRC. As time passed I tried maillists, discussion servers and other "proto-social media."
Yes, these things changed my perspective. I can find people with the same interests or opinions much easier than in real life. I met my wife on a dating website, which is as social as media gets, isn't it? l
In 2002 I started a blog and in 2003 I created the Czech republic's first public blog system, in part because Blogger.com had fundamental problems with accented characters.
My platform, called "Bloguje" (this word means"(s/he) is writing a blog" ) has become well-known, beating competitors by technological advances such as SMS and MMS blogging, videos and so on). I left it a short time ago, to put my time and energy into new projects.
4. Overall, how important is social media in the Czech Republic? How many people are using social media tools? What languages are being used on social media?
Social media is not dramatically important in the Czech Republic. Czechs take it like other things on Internet, more as fun than serious. There are some localized Czech social media sites. The best-known Czech language are:
- lide.cz ( "the people") One of the first Czech social networks, founded in 1998. It provides personalized home pages with photos, messages, lists of friends etc., as well as blogs, chat rooms,the user forum etc. Lide.cz has more than one million registered user profiles (10% of the population).
- seznamka.cz ("the dating office") - social network primary focused on making acquaintances.
- spoluzaci.cz ("the classmates") It's a place where people can find their classmates, talk with them, arrange alumni meetings, or share photos or documents.
- libimseti.cz ( "do you like me?") ihas 200,000 daily visits, provides similar services to Lide.cz.
- Clones, often as parts of big portals or web news servers. There is a tendency to try to offer everything on one big site. We have three big portals, each with its own e-mail, blog system, web journal, search engine, catalog, map server, multi-language dictionary, social network, ad network. Then there are three big newspaper sites, which tend to offer it all as well. Collaboration is not usual on the Czech Internet.
The language used in the Czech social media is mainly Czech. Only a few people from the Czech Republic use global services, such as Orkut, MySpace or Facebook (although there are about 5000 Czechs registered on Facebook). The biggest issue is the language barrier.
Only a minority of Czechs speak English, because English was "an imperialistic and enemy language" until 1989. Until then, Russian was the only obligatory school-taught language, English was a second language taught in high school. But the situation has rapidly improved in recent years. Many young people speak English now. It is obligatory in our basic schools. Even older Czechs learn English now because of their jobs.
But English remains a foreign language, so we're a little bit socially isolated from the rest of the world.
5. What social media tools are being used in the Czech Republic and by whom?
In short I can say that the "pure social media tools" are used mainly by young people, mainly teenagers, just for fun (sharing information about "funny cool videos", parties, music, disputating if Nokia is better than Sony Ericsson etc.) Older people, looking for serious communication and contact, use the traditional ways of introduction. They look for web pages corresponding their "taste" and use forums or mailing lists to communicate to each other.
There is no call for social media tools in the Czech Republic. Older people prefer face-to-face meetings in the real world, and younger ones use the traditional Internet tools, rather than social media. If they want to meet new people or so, they use web chat servers or public or private discussion forums.
In the last years, new communities have started to form around blogs. Bloggers communicate to each other via blogs and sometimes meet in the real world as well, in the same way communities based on profession or hobby have risen around a meaningful web/blog.
6. What about young people? Are they embracing social media faster than their parents? What do they use and who do they talk to?
Young people use the social media, but I can't understand why. I can't say what is the reason they use it. When I look at the Czech social media, I notice it's meaningless like, hmmm... like the MySpace :) It's just another thing appreciated in the teenager's world they can show and boost their own status in the society with; "to have an own profile" at a social media web is something like "to have a branded t-shirt" or "to have a really coooool ringtone in the cell phone". It has no other sense. They talk about the things important in the teenage world, you know, like
everywhere on the globe.
7. Has social media changed culture in the Czech Republic? How so?
I don't think so. Internet has no big influence in all, most people aren't interested in the Internet's things. The rest of the people, who know and use Internet, are mostly information consumers, just reading Internet magazines and newspapers or looking for some practical informations. Only a small part tends to use social media.
The only "new media" with some influence are the weblogs. Some of them are widely read, some of them have already been published, one blog has its own TV representation.
8. Can you describe to me the Czechoslovakian business landscape? What are your biggest companies? Where do most people do for a living?
Correction: There is no "Czechoslovakian" since 1993. The biggest companies are the Czech Railways (about 70.000 employees), the Czech Post, Skoda (Czech automotive manufacturer, a member of the Volkswagen group) and the Czech Energy Company (owner of the power plants). Many people work in minor plants of multinational companies (Philips, Toyota etc.), mostly on the hand-worker positions.
There are about 500.000 people employed in the (local or state) government structures.
9. Have businesses started to use social media? How so?
I don't see such a movement. Some companies try shy experiments with social media, but they are limited to deal with the "P.R. weblogs", "Pay per recension" or "advertisements in the social networks". But these attempts, and I must say "very naive and thin attempts", are often denounced very soon (mostly by bloggers) and their effect is uncertain.
10. SAP, one of the world's largest software companies has contracted me to conduct this survey. How could they use social media to help their customers in the Czech Republic?
Oh no! No more "corporate social media", please! :) Czechs are very sensitive to such tends, hating the attempts of "corporate human face." They feel the "corporate spirit" and stay awake: "Beware! Someone wants to blame us!" I really cannot imagine how SAP can use social media to help their customers.
In my humble opinion - maybe they have to focus on the courses and educational activities. I often see advertisements like "We're looking for SAP R/3 specialists" in the newspapers, but no "Course for SAP..." offers! I would be the first one being interested in suchcourses to make my wife happy with such a huge salary being offered to SAP R/3 specialists in our country! :)
10. Additional Comments?
The Czech society is very ambiguous. There are very clever people in the Czech Republic, with God-given improvisational gift, craving to the new technologies, travelling around the globe, communicating and thinking in the global context, active and well-educated, but a little bit disqualified by their origin (some people around the world say: "Czech Republic? It's a part of Russia, isn't it? There was a war at the end of the 90s, wasn't there?"). For instance - NetBeans, the well-known IDE for Java, was developed by the Czech programmer Roman Stanek (later bought by Sun).
On the other side you can meet sour and unhappy people, unwilling, unpleasant (mostly at the offices or in the shops), simple-minded, envious flunkies, hating all the things they cannot drink, eat or boast about; often happy when other people feel as bad as they feel. You can reply that such people are everywhere, but this is very intensive in the Czech Republic. This is the first thing the foreigners notice when coming to the Czech Republic. Maybe it's a relict of the communism, who knows...
But - I think Czechs are the same like the other (Western-) European people, with the same worries and pleasures. Maybe more cautious due to their terrible historical experience. They still think of Internet like of something "above the standards", something "from the higher society". Internet isn't percepted like an ordinary thing, lets say TVs, DVD players or cell phones. So this is the first reason why social media isn't so evolved in the Czech Republic.
The second reason is the language barriere. People like to communicate in their language and the abroad English-speaking services have a big disadvantage because their UI is (in the most cases) in English and their developers can't often imagine that there are languages using more than 26 characters in the world.
And last but not least - remember that the Czech Republic is a small country. Ten millions inhabitants, about million can work with the Internet, only a few thousands "active netizens"... There isn't a space for big, ambitious or innovative social media int
he Czech Republic. But I think there is a lot of space for the Czech mutations of tried English projects, which can attract theusers and "learn to use social media".