By Harryadin Mahardika

It is not surprising for Indonesian living abroad to witness their country being misunderstood by foreigners. A friend of mine, a postgrad student from Australia, genuinely believes that in Indonesia every muslim who switch religion will be rocked or mutilated by mass. She was confused when I told her that it is not difficult to find a mix religion family in Indonesia. A professor from a respected US institution whose research is about Islamic finance was surprised to find out that Islamic financial system is not the mainstream system in Indonesia. Knowing it forced him to change the draft of his working paper, which contain incorrect assumption about Indonesia. These are some cases that I personally observed. Their misperception toward Indonesia probably did not resemble the majority, but to know it came from highly educated foreigners is definitely a shocker.

Given this nature, it is not a revelation when most internet giants overlook the Indonesia’s internet market potential. Seemingly, one factor hampers their confidence toward this market: These giants are wary about Indonesian consumers. This is a market that suddenly comes up from nowhere. Information about it is very limited, even if there is any it is mostly mislead. So, these giants prefer to wait and see until someone cracks this market. Until then, they would not be bothered to commit to it. Surely, this view takes toll on Indonesia’s internet users who suffered from limited appreciation when they should deserve more.

There is an impression among Indonesian internet users that they need to prove that they are worthy as a market. This is easily indicated by looking into the numbers, where Indonesian always strives to be on the top ranks.  In many popular websites, mostly online games and social networking sites, the number of users from Indonesia grows significantly in recent years. They are very lively and seek to grab some attention. Latest report showed Indonesia ranks second on Twitter and third on Facebook just a month away after Stephen Colbert threw a joke about Indonesian banging tree to communicate each other. Interestingly, the joke was seen funny (or perhaps, relevant) for many. Again, it reinforces the impression that Indonesia’s internet market is still not worthy despite its dramatic growth.  Take eBay as an example, the online auction empire announced it partnership with in late 2010 to capture share in the growing Indonesia’s e-commerce market. However, this move was seen as not compelling enough. Potential consumers and sellers were disappointed as they long for the full present of eBay site in Indonesia. Ebay and trivial partnership undermined people expectation.

Clearly, internet giants are still reluctant to put a full commitment to this market. Their commitment is impeded by suspicion and to some extent, stigma, toward Indonesian consumers.  One analyst contends that despite Indonesia has a large internet market, it is still difficult for companies to make money out of it. Lack of secure online payment is to be blamed, he added. However, if we observe deeper, this happens entirely because credit card companies are too suspicious on Indonesia’s internet users. We agree that Indonesian carder is notorious around the world, but their presences are nothing compared to more than 15 million well behave Indonesian credit card holders. Not to mention, most of e-commerce transaction in Indonesia have been done through bank transfer, which requires a high level of trust between seller and buyer. So, what is keeping the credit card companies from giving their service to leading local e-commerce websites at an affordable cost?

Stigma also plays role in holding back the commitment toward this market. News and coverage on Indonesia by international media often only focused on the negative events. Unfortunately, it affects international perception toward Indonesian consumers, which stigmatize as poor and technology illiterate. This stigma is against the reality that internet is a part of lifestyle in Indonesia. Moreover, Indonesian loves riding trends and they also have a unique ability to sort out which the best trend to follow in the internet. It is a quality that Indonesian inherited from their ancestors. The history of nusantara shows us how this people are open to new trend and idea. Let’s go back to centuries ago, when people in nusantara left paganism for more sophisticated Hinduism. I can easily imagine how at that time, the trendy and state of the art Indian culture charmed the people of nusantara. It was like an Americanization today, only with more emphasize on philosophy and values. Hinduism became a new lifestyle, a trend that being celebrated all over nusantara. Then, the same thing happened when Buddhism was happening in nusantara. It is almost effortless to relate Buddha, a charming and charismatic leader, with any today’s great world leader who is a trendsetter such as Obama. Moving on, Islam also came to nusantara as a trend in 12th century. Science, Islam greatest achievement, fascinates the people of nusantara from scholars to sailors. A technology race was a trend at that time and Islam offers transfer of technology for many kingdoms in nusantara.  The fascination continues as Islam also offers more logical approach, which many nusantaranese craved for at the time when superstition kills creativity.

For a nation to embrace so many religions in relatively short period of time there should be some explanation. One best explanation and often quoted is based on geographical factor. Indonesia nicely located in a busy intersection of international trading route. Thousands of years of interaction with various cultures make this people are more acceptable to new ideas and new trends. This applies to the internet, a concept alien to most Indonesian a decade ago. Now, it becomes a central of Indonesian way of life. It is a celebrated lifestyle by Indonesian, going online anytime and anywhere using their ubiquitous smartphones. This market is truly a diamond in rough, there is so many reasons to commit to it, while only few reasons not to. Local companies are running fast and boldly pouring all resources they have to win this market.  And they did a good job so far. I personally prefer local companies rule Indonesia’s internet market. However still, I also contend that big international players should appreciate this market by increasing their commitment and presence. Indonesia’s consumers deserve it!