g|Malaysia hits town, with mission to 'lift the ecosystem'

  • First g|Malaysia conference with expanded focus on developers, marketers and business owners
  • 'Data can liven things up, as opposed to being a burden'

g|Malaysia hits town, with mission to 'lift the ecosystem'EVER wondered when exactly, during the year, would the most people do online searches on weight loss? Google Malaysia’s country head Sajith Sivananthan (pic) did.
So he jumped to his laptop and used Google Trends, the company’s tool which shows how often a particular search-term is entered relative to the total search-volume across various regions of the world, to find out.
His findings formed part of his keynote speech at the Oct 3 opening of g|Malaysia, Google’s inaugural two-day technology conference, hosted at Berjaya Times Square in Kuala Lumpur.
Pointing to his Trends chart on the screen, Sajith told conference attendees that searches for weight loss consistently peaked every year – during the first week of January.
“Must be due to that initial willpower to stick to all those New Year’s resolutions,” he quipped to an appreciative audience.
For regular users, such titbits of information sourced from search data offer a window into the psyche of their fellow human beings. For businesses, it offers a point of reference when planning marketing campaigns, to reach out to a target audience of active seekers.
The Google approach is one that is focused on “transformation”, with a mission “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
But it is an ambitious mission that would never be fulfilled due to the sheer volume of data available, and its continuous and exponential growth, Sajith admitted.
According to Google, there are 2.3 billion people online today and over five billion mobile phones in the world.
Sajith pointed out that for most of the current generation of youths, the first introduction to the Internet is via mobile phones or tablets.
“For many of us, the first experience with the Internet was via a traditional desktop PC. The implications of this shift for businesses, countries and the Internet itself are immense. Everything gets accelerated,” he said.
“The Internet is now at the heart of daily life. It beats having to queue up to pay your bills; it boils down to the simple things,” he added.
If there is one thing Google loves doing, it is sharing statistics, and Sajith had plenty on hand to share during his keynote speech.
The number of Malaysians with access with to the Internet now stands at 18.5 million, with 4.3 million users who are active daily on the Internet. According to a Nielsen report, Malaysians spend 20 hours a day online – that is as much time as they spend on all other media, such as radio and television, combined.
“Behaviors are changing and because people now carry access to the Internet in their pocket at all times, it means businesses cannot afford to stop,” said Sajith.
Lifting the eco-system
Speaking exclusively to Digital News Asia after his keynote speech, Sajith was quick to clarify that his Trends Chart about weight loss searches wasn’t an example borne out of personal experience. It was driven purely by innocent curiosity and a need to test out a hypothesis.
g|Malaysia hits town, with mission to 'lift the ecosystem'“It’s one thing to feel or instinctively know that something is a trend but having access to the data points that backs it up, it becomes an epiphany,” he said. “It’s about showing how data can liven things up, as opposed to it being a burden.”
Sajith explained that in the past, Google has only hosted the Google Developer Group (GDG) DevFest in Malaysia, a community-organised event that connects local developers to Google developer advocates and engineers.
“It used to be focused on developers, and they remain very integral to the eco-system, but you also need people who are content creators, who are driving the business, who would go reach out and provide consumers with services,” said Sajith.
Hence the model for this year, with DevFest folded into g|Malaysia, a two-day conference featuring an expanded focus which addresses marketers and business owners that is reflective of the company’s desire to play a role in “lifting the eco-system.”
One such project is Google’s ongoing Get Malaysian Business Online (GMBO) initiative, in partnership with the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), My Domain Registry and iTrain, which was launched during the tail end of 2011. The GMBO mission is to help at least 50,000 Malaysian businesses set up websites and be active online.
Sajith said that Google is making “good progress” in that area with about 25,000 businesses now registered and undergoing the program.
“We of course evaluate each business very carefully to ensure it is valid and legitimate. But it’s not so much about how many we get, but about the transformative effect for ones that have done it seriously and the impact it has had on their business,” he added.
Tricky situation
The Nielsen report Sajith cited during his speech confirms the continual shift of eyeballs to online media, away from traditional platforms. But that is a shift many traditional media companies are still not entirely comfortable with and there have been clashes with Google in the past.
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch famously pulled News Corporation’s content from Google in 2010 and at the same time, launched a strategy to charge readers for online access to its newspapers.
News Corporation now plans to reverse an earlier decision to stop articles from its quality papers, such as The Times and The Sunday Times, from featuring in Google’s listings. The effort to stop users from accessing content for free will be watered down, with Google featuring stories in search rankings from next month.
According to a report by UK-based newspaper The Telegraph, the move comes amid fears that the newspapers’ exclusion is limiting their influence and driving down advertising revenues.
Google wears many hats, one of them being an expansive online advertising platform, and Sajith was careful with his reply to the question of whether tensions or clashes with traditional media platforms would increase.
“Yes, Google is a performance-driven advertising platform. As for traditional media, you are already seeing them exploring ways to reach out to their audiences across different mediums,” he said.
In Sajith’s view it’s simple. Consumers get what they want, where they want, when they want; and businesses need to follow where the consumers are going.
“There is a place for all these mediums but I do feel that the weight and amount of time being spent, that’s going to shift.  It’s just that how consumers use it is more important and that’s something media companies are dealing with at the moment,” he added.
Sajith also added that Google is open to playing a role with media companies in navigating that transition.
“It’s not a zero-sum game and it is very consumer-focused. If everybody is focused on that, and doing the right thing for consumers, then I don’t see no reason why we wouldn’t play a part,” he said. 

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