Let's Lose the �Rest of World' Anachronism

Don Tennant

You've probably noticed that a lot of U.S. technology companies report revenue and other corporate statistics in a geographic breakdown that includes a region called 'Rest of World,' or RoW. Traditionally, a typical breakdown might be something like United States, Europe, Asia/Pacific and RoW. With the increasing dominance of Web-centric companies, however, the breakdown is becoming a lot more black-and-white. It's the U.S. and RoW.

There is, to be sure, a comical element to the new breakdown. Uncyclopedia, a satirical knock-off of Wikipedia, defines RoW as 'a vast wasteland lying directly to the North, South, East and West of the United States of America,' and elaborates:

The Rest of the world is a term that refers to all land on the planet Earth which is not within the physical boundaries of the United States of America. Many Americans consider what goes on in this distant place to be irrelevant. Little is actually known about this mysterious region known as "the rest of the world." Two areas bordering the United States which are said to be included in the rest of the world are Canada and Mexico, though some view Canada as the northern extension of America, except for that weird French part.

But there's a serious dimension, as well. In a blog post titled, 'Does Rest of World Matter More than the U.S.?' Fred Wilson, a venture capitalist in New York, cited some interesting 'U.S. vs. Rest of World' traffic stats for February from Comscore:

  • Google: 84 percent of visitors from outside the U.S.
  • Facebook: 78 percent of visitors from outside U.S.
  • Twitter: 72 percent of visitors from outside U.S.

Wilson explained the significance of those figures this way:

I suspect Facebook and Twitter will both end up north of 80% once their internationalization efforts are fully realized. Facebook is a lot farther along that path than Twitter but it seems like Twitter is growing like a weed outside the U.S. right now.

The conventional wisdom is that international usage cannot be monetized as well as U.S. traffic and that is certainly true. But with >80% of your potential users outside of the U.S., I think the web sector needs to start working harder on international monetization. Even if international traffic could only be monetized 25% as well as U.S. traffic, when your international traffic is 80% of your total traffic, you would make as much money internationally as domestically.


Yet as informative as this analysis was, equally educational was this comment from one of Wilson's readers:

Step One to winning international customers: Don't refer to them as "rest of world."

He's right. And I would add that Step Two might involve some reflection on this statement, also taken from Wilson's analysis:

Emerging markets like the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) should be big opportunities for monetization this decade.

Our continued reference to China as an 'emerging market,' which is at least as anachronistic as the RoW label, probably stems from our inclination to over-emphasize per-capita income. There's a good argument to be made that China has already emerged: According to the U.S. Treasury Department, China holds $889 billion in U.S. debt, and according to the CIA World Factbook, the only two countries on the planet with a higher GDP are the United States and Japan.

It might be the case, moreover, that we shouldn't be thinking of any of the BRIC countries as 'emerging markets.' Consider that Brazil holds $169.1 billion in U.S. debt, and is No. 8 on the list of countries with the highest GDP. Russia holds $124.2 billion in U.S. debt, and is No. 11 on the GDP list.

And then there's India, the nation that some readers of my blog scornfully label a 'third-world' country. India holds $32.7 billion in U.S. debt, and is No. 12 on the GDP list. That means its GDP is higher� than that of either Australia or South Korea, and higher than those of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland and New Zealand-combined.

It's time we Americans lost our anachronistic views of what lies outside our borders. Until we recognize that, in response to Wilson's question, the rest of the world does indeed matter more than the United States, too many of the opportunities we desperately need to repair and sustain our economy will elude us.



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