Defining the Educated Urban of Bangladesh

A webanalytics firm in Bangladesh has sprung up called “WebAble”. They collect publicly accessible data from the Internet about a topic and try to come up with the best e-marketing strategy, it is an innovative use of data. Looks like the birth of an industry, in Bangladesh, that is centred around publicly accessible big data.

The source of inspiration is an album about Bangladeshis on Facebook, What Bangladeshis Really Talk About in Facebook! by WebAble. A series of banners showing what Bangladeshis are like online, actually what Bangladeshis on Facebook are like online. The total population sample is around 8.2-8.5 million. Taking the upper bound of the estimate, that still is a mere 5% of the country’s estimated 160 million population.  There could be a number of factors:

  • Vast majority of the web is in English, a language most people have difficulty with (our medium of instruction in the language is horrible, to say it very nicely). So people are put off from using the web right there.
  • A virtual projection of your identity requires a certain understanding of how the virtual world works, that is again directly dependent on not only the education level but also the education route, type, etc. Around 5% (8.5 million) of the country’s total population for 33.43 million Internet users makes for around 26% of the online population using Facebook for creating an online identity.

The core demographic of Facebook users in Bangladesh consists of those Bangladeshis who are educated (large percentage to the tertiary level) and have been exposed to the world (to varying degrees) and are hence able to create an online identity and not just an online presence.

My comprehension of the data presented here is based on a TED talk I saw recently, as well my own take of what “stated vs. revealed preferences” of one person say about that person.

First up, is that 33% of Bangladeshis talk about Bollywood, we do love our movie and music. However, when contrasted with all the other stats presented, this is by far the highest. That means a larger section of the Bangladeshi people on Facebook like or have been exposed to Bollywood movies and/or music. A far larger portion of the people than those who talk about jewellery, 16%. The disparity can be understood by noting that wealth disparity among the online Bangladeshi community is quite stark. Bollywood movies and music are more economically accessible to the different classes of people (and even more, thanks to piracy) than are jewellery (lesser people given the surge in gold prices). Most people, at the end of the day, do not wish to talk about the lack of something that will cause them grief (jewellery), and if it looks like it’s unlikely to come, why talk about it now? But it is much easier to see a movie or download a song and discuss that; as more people have it, and the question of a lacking and the associated longing does not arise there.

The really interesting factoid is this one, 7% of Bangladeshis on Facebook are interested in tea. Surprising fact…the national drink has only 7% fans! Stopping at being surprised is too mainstream so I wondered why for a while and could come up with two scenarios that made this possible –

  1. Many people drink tea in such a mechanical fashion they don’t think about it. It has become such an integral part of life they barely notice it is there but do notice if it is not there. Hence, “liking” tea does not cross the mind.
  2. A lot of the online Facebook population who can create an “online identity” actually prefer coffee to tea. Stats about coffee are missing here, but considering most of the Facebook users come from the middle class and upper middle class it’s not really surprising. I have encountered many coffee drinkers of this social class who maintain that habit quite stringently and will choose coffee over tea, and a sizable portion do more than have an online presence, they maintain an online identity.

Maintaining an online identity means that the online projection of the person reflects the choices the person makes in real life or would prefer to make in real life. Between the two explanations above, I can see why there is “only 7%” of people who like tea.

Why is this interesting? It is a glimpse into the social changes that Bangladesh is witnessing and also into the class differences that are existing.

[I could be off by miles in my call here, but this is the reality I have witnessed.]

Disclosure: The author does not have any tea or coffee company affiliations but if a reader wants to offer tea or coffee, the offer will be happily accepted, with a catch, homemade tea or an instant coffee out of home.

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