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A virtual home for Internet nomads

French company Jooce is targeting Internet users from developing nations. An estimated 160 million "Internet nomads", don't own computers but can use Jooce to create a floating computer presence anywhere the Internet is available.

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A minimalist interface, big icons for maximum visibility and lively colours. That’s the streamlined workspace you’ll find on Jooce. This website, which already has more than 120,000 subscribers according to its creators, is geared toward Internet "nomads", those millions of people who depend on computers but do not own one.

A quick set-up process allows users to import their MSN or ICQ instant messaging contacts. Users cannot create documents, such as Google Docs, through the site, but Jooce does allow storage and sharing. Important documents, photos and videos are thus accessible from any computer connected to the Internet.

“We present fewer options than Google or Netvibes,” explains Stefan Surzycki, CEO and cofounder of Jooce. “Our philosophy is closer to Apple’s: create something accessible, in a pleasant environment. On the other hand, it’s impossible to fiddle with the interface.”

The program also has a second interface, called “Joocetop,” which allows users to give access to documents to other users.  “Each Jooce user has a second desktop online,” says Bryce Corbett, also a co-founder. “The first is their online private desktop, a secure place for photo, document, video and music storage. Only the user has access to his private desktop and the filed stored there.  The second desktop, Joocetop, is public. This desktop functions like a Facebook or MySpace page.”


Targeting emerging countries

The concept isn’t particularly new: Google and Netvibes, just to name the well-known, have already won over a large part of the West.

But that’s exactly where Jooce’s strategy differs in a fundamental way. Following the example of its competitors it’s specifically targeting emerging countries like India, China and African nations.

“We are raising a lot of interest in countries where regular Internet users are knows for being cyber-nomads,” says Surzycki. “These are people for whom online life has evolved far more rapidly than their purchasing means, and people who manage their lives online from several different computers, whether it’s in cybercafés, libraries, at friends’ houses or even from their mobile phone.

This vision is evident from the home page, which far from the classic trio English-Spanish-French, includes more than twenty available languages, including Malaysian, Thai and even Bulgarian.

In developing parts of the world, owning a personal computer remains an inaccessible luxury for a large majority of citizens, and Internet users rely heavily on cybercafés.

For some however, the question of reliability is a determining factor. A 27-year-old Spanish Internet user -and occasional “Joocer”- who goes by the nickname Condemned, is rather skeptical. He checked out the site after reading about it in a forum.

“The interface is simple and cool for the user,” Condemned explains. “It’s good to have an online space to store your documents, but what if the servers crash? I don’t think I would store my files on a server.”


Optimism as an economic model

The majority of users targeted by Jooce don't have the luxury of Condemned's skepticism.  Since they do not own their own computers, the choice is simple. Jooce, like its competitors, is free. Users create an account and can immediately begin to transfer their files to their personal space.

And as is usually the case on the Internet, the primary revenue source will be advertising.

The first advertisers should make their initial appearances once we exceed a million users,” says Corbett. “The platform was developed in Flash, which allows for real advertising creativity. Eventually, the ads will be part of the environment.”

Even though there aren’t concrete financial objectives, Corbett remains optimistic, “If the ads don’t bring in enough, we could see offering a premium version. With a subscription, the user would have an ad-free version of Jooce. But all that remains to be seen,” he said.

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