The Internet and Browsing in Indonesia: Five Findings from the Field

Bill Selman

1

Central Jakarta (on a Saturday morning without traffic)

Central Jakarta (on a Saturday morning without traffic)

There are lots of superlatives about Indonesia, the largest population in Oceania, the country with the largest Muslim population, the country where Firefox has the largest market share among all desktop browsers…

The last item is why we visited Jakarta and Bandung on Java, Indonesia’s most populous island. We interviewed eleven pairs of parcipants across a diverse socio-economic and educational range. We wanted to learn how and why Indonesians overwhelmingly use Firefox. Further, we wanted to learn if some of those motivations could be transferable to other markets in the region.

Below are five of our initial observations from the amazing experience we had in Indonesia. I’m also sharing some images from my photo diary to show some facets of daily life in the major cities.

Computer reseller in Bandung

Computer reseller in Bandung

Why Firefox in Indonesia?
As for Firefox’s merits over other browsers, there were several beliefs (both objectively true and not) that our participants expressed.
From our participants and community members we heard, Firefox is:

  • More “comfortable” because everyone is so familiar with it,
  • People started using Firefox in Internet cafes when they first starting getting access to the Internet,
  • Recommended by a trusted friend or colleague,
  • Faster as an application because it is more responsive and uses less data,
  • Easier to download videos from YouTube (because streaming is nearly impossible),
  • More efficient for online gaming,
  • More secure from viruses

For these reasons, people love Firefox. Indonesians also love the fox (never underestimate the power of cuteness).

Air Conditioning Repairman Taking a Break with his Smartphone

Air conditioning repairman taking a break with his smartphone

Leapfrogging Desktop
Over the past few years, mobile internet technology and laptops have become more affordable to Indonesians and many now live more and more of their lives online. Consequently, local, independent Internet Cafes (aka Internet Warungs or Warnets) are falling out of favor as the preferred means to access the internet. Wifi and wired connections are affordable only to the upper-middle and upper classes, so most people still need to access the internet by some other means. For most Indonesians, some form of smart phone (or increasingly, a tablet) is the primary means of accessing the internet for tasks such as email and social activities. For more work-oriented tasks, many Indonesians use a laptop or desktop, but this is only for specific tasks related to what people consider “work.”

Powerlines in a Bandung neighborhood

Powerlines in a Bandung neighborhood

Poor Internet Infrastructure (for the Moment) for Most Indonesians
Access is frustrated by poor connection speeds and unstable connections. As a North American or Western European, you likely have had the experience of using a dodgy connection in an airport terminal or at a cafe that drops constantly. It takes seemingly forever to download your email or it’s almost impossible to stream a short video. For most Indonesians, the overwhelming majority of their wifi and cellular data connections are this frustrating and more. Every person we interviewed (even the wealthier participants) listed poor internet connectivity as their primary frustration. Any technology that promises increased speed and a reduction of data to transfer is desirable.

Pirated DVD Installer

Pirated DVD installer

Downloading is not always a Means to Update Software
We know from our metrics that about half of Indonesians use some other version of Firefox other than the current version. Poor access speeds make it difficult to download updates…so most people don’t. Versions 3.6, 12, 15, and 18 are the most commonly distributed versions on pirated installer DVDs that the vast majority of computer resellers use to install software. Most users we interviewed don’t update from the version that comes installed on their computer. Running the current Firefox version was strongly related to access to a reliable, fast connection. Reliable, fast connections exist in the following situations:

  • An institutional environment such as a university or school where Firefox is widely installed,
  • An office or corporate environment where Firefox is deployed,
  • An upper-middle to upper class household that can afford a wired connection,
  • Possibly one of the remaining internet cafes

 

Coconut processing in Bandung

Coconut processing in Bandung

Ecommerce and Internet Activities are Stymied by Infrastructure and Institutional Distrust
The internet provides a means to conduct common activities but the infratstructure and a culture of corruption make it difficult. Some participants bank online, paying bills, and managing accounts (but as one participant said via SMS and not the browser). Many participants clamor to conduct their daily chores and activities online such as the ability to pay utility bills directly or purchase train tickets online. Indonesians distrust shopping online because they fear their financial information will be stolen. Further, participants told us that they cannot trust that their goods will be delivered without being stolen in transit or hijacked by a corrupt customs official demanding a bribe. Finally, receiving receiving goods and services can be challenging because of a lack of clear addresses and incomplete infrastructure.

We will be sharing more extensive information and recommendations in the coming months about Indonesia and also our experiences in Thailand. I want to thank my colleagues who came to Indonesia: Holly Habstritt, Bram Pitoyo, Margaret Schroeder, and Gavin Sharp. Their participation and insights helped to make the project hugely successful. Stay tuned.

Market in Bandung

Market in Bandung

One response

  1. Finan Akbar wrote on ::

    Great article. Indonesia is always interesting country to be explored more about Firefox and its culture.
    Appreciate for sharing this information, I like it.