Whether they’re set up in a Phnom Penh cafe or by an IT professional charging thousands of dollars, whether they’re for a teenager to entertain his friends or a shop owner to expand her business or the government to improve how its employees communicate, Cambodian websites are growing at considerable speed, IT experts said this week.
“For corporate websites there are probably 2,000 in the country. For personal sites, it’s uncountable,” said In Mean, general director of Manich Enterprise, a web development company in Phnom Penh that sells domain names.
Cambodians are growing increasingly comfortable setting up their own sites and purchasing domains from outside Cambodia, said Mr Mean, adding that in 2007 his firm controlled around 60 percent of the market share in website development but last year only had a 30 percent hold due to new companies entering the field.
“In the last three years there have been thousands of websites created by Cambodians,” said Hy Chan Han, a software manager at GreenICT Technology, another Phnom Penh-based web development company.
“The number of sites has grown double if we compare it to 2006,” he said.
Mr Chan Han pointed to a growing trend of local websites catering to an international clientele as the impetus for government offices, private businesses and even students to create a Web presence on the Internet. Though not known for its high-tech savvy, one of the forerunners in the Web field was the government, Mr Chan Han said.
“In 2007, when the government started the e-Visa system, they paved the way for foreigners to come to Cambodia more easily than before…. Websites are vital for companies in the same way. [Business] owners should know about the advantages of the site contributing to the growth of their companies,” he said.
“If they go online, they make more profit.”
Private businesses are responsible for just one aspect of the growth in Cambodian websites, but their popularity among students has proven equally, if not more, pervasive, Mr Chan Han added.
“Currently, at least seven out of every ten college students have their own blogs and websites,” he estimated.
But estimates are the best anyone can do when it comes to assessing how large the growth has been in locally-authored website in Cambodia.
Mao Chakriya, deputy director of policy regulation at the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, said his department was working on tallying the number of registered websites but since only .kh domains names have to be registered, there’s no way to calculate the true total.
“We will not allow someone to create websites under the extension .kh without registering under the Ministry [but] we cannot control the sites with the .com or .info domain,” Mr Chakriya said.
According to the World Bank, Internet penetration in Cambodia increased more than 100-fold between 2000 and 2007–the last year of available data. But even that number amounted to just 0.48 percent of the Cambodian population having access to the Internet as of 2007, which is among the lowest levels in the region.
Phu Leewood, secretary-general of the government’s National Information Communications Technology Development Authority, believes that with an increasing number of youths establishing their own Internet presence, the figures will doubtless continue to grow.
“Khmer youths have upgraded their capacity to adapt to the information era,” Mr Leewood said, noting civil servants as another growth sector.
“Most of the government ministries and institutions now have websites for their work places, making it easier to communicate with one another. Around 5,000 government officials are using the Internet and there are about 40 websites that have been created [in the last few years] for the government sector,” he said.
Chea Veasna, a web developer at site-building company Solaris International, said that starting an online business is a lot easier compared with establishing a physical company.
“Normally, if you want to form a company, you have to register at the Ministry of Commerce. By contrast, the creation of a website doesn’t have to be registered at the Ministry. It’s easier to sell the products,” he said.
But despite the proliferation of business sites, said IIC University of Technology IT lecturer Meng Edeth, the bulk are still not used being used for selling products, as much as advertising products.
“Since 2008 the construction of websites continues to increase. Those sites are used mostly for business, [and] particularly for advertising,” Mr Edeth said.