Asia connects virtual communities for e-commerce

Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Hong Kong last week began a project to integrate online services and communities in the five countries into a single virtual network called Community Connection.

Community Connection will be an important launch pad for electronic commerce, according to the Online Technologies Consortium (OTC), which is co-ordinating the project.

By integrating these separate national markets, OTC hopes to create a critical mass of users, which it said is an important factor for e-commerce to take off. By next year, Community Connection will have one million users, OTC said.

There are currently 13 virtual communities, dealing with business, job seeking, education, auctions and youth development issues. The HuaZong Wang community, created by the National Chinese Internet Program, offers a collection of Internet resources -- content, application and services -- in the Chinese language, OTC said.

To help users to get started, Community Connection offers a number of basic services, including Allomail, an e-mail service which protects users against junk mail and has multilingual capabilities, and Page U -- an integrated Asia-wide wireless Internet message service for cellular phone and pager users.

Michael Yap, chief executive officer of Singapore's National Computer Board (NCB), said that Asia will be better positioned to compete in the global industry by pooling its resources in online projects like Community Connection.

Even in Singapore's relatively developed environment, only 4 per cent of 62,000 active companies are currently e-commerce-ready, Yap said. The aim is to have 20 per cent of Singapore companies adopting e-commerce in the next two years and 50 per cent by 2003, using ready-made infrastructure such as Community Connection and the Commerce Exchange application and service package, he said.

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