NEARLY 2 MILLION COLOMBIANS currently use the Internet, ranging from high school students to central bank number-crunchers. That's only 5% of the population, but it makes up the third largest Internet community in Latin America, behind Brazil and Mexico.
Industry figures show that most internet accounts are shared by three to five people, who typically use it for chat rooms and e-mail. "The Internet is a family product, not a personal product as in the United States," says Alberto Saldarriaga, general manager of StarMedia Network Colombia. "It's like having a television set."
Arriving in 1995, the Internet attracted the nation's economic elite. Typical users speak English, travel frequently and have enough spare cash to buy the technology.
But most people don't make enough money to buy computers. Poor telephone service continues to stunt Internet growth, as does a business culture that rejects new technology. Local credit card companies have yet to install a sophisticated system to validate card user purchases, making e-commerce difficult.
Still, StarMedia's Saldarriaga says companies have started to slowly realize the importance of websites and online advertising.
Web Designer. When Colombia's advertising job market hit the skids in 1996, Fernando Camacho found the perfect new job to match his training and talents--web designer.
After discovering that the web-design software resembled advertising software, Camacho, 40, started his own web venture. Last year, he designed nearly 20 websites, compared with three in 1996. "The Internet is booming more than any other sector here," says Camacho.
That's despite Colombia's deepest recession in decades. Unlike conventional advertising, which can be expensive and short-lived an Internet campaign involves only periodic updates and a monthly hosting fee, or rent charged for having a page posted on a server.
Local technology is causing Camacho most of his headaches. Colombian servers initially proved so unreliable that he registered space for his customers, or hosted their...