Zoznam director Debnár says 200,000 Slovaks are on-line.
photo: Courtesy Zoznam
When the changes come, Zoznam, Slovakia's Yahoo, and its Director General Ivan Debnár are set to reap the benefits. The Slovak Spectator sat down with Debnár on April 12 to discuss his firm and the future of IT in Slovakia.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): What were the circumstances behind the launching of Zoznam? When and why was it started?
Ivan Debnár (ID): We started in 1996 as a web-designing and web-providing company. From the outset we worked in co-operation with the Czech company Seznam [Seznam is the Czech word for Zoznam. Both words can be translated as 'list' - ed note]. Ivo Lukačovič [Seznam's director] contacted us and we decided we wanted to provide a Slovak version of his service and we got started about three months after the original agreement. Zoznam was officially launched in March 1997.
TSS: What does Zoznam offer Slovaks that other search engines don't in comparison to, for example, Yahoo?
ID: Zoznam offers Slovak content for Slovak users. Apart from it being in Slovak, which is important for Slovaks, it offers an overview of the Slovak Internet and Slovak information that is updated from Slovakia. We provide Slovak information handled by Slovak editors. If you are interested in [the specifically] Slovak Internet, the best way to access it is by using Slovak services.
TSS: Were there many difficulties in starting an Internet business in Slovakia?
ID: We started with some information from Seznam, so we didn't start from scratch. It was difficult to find the right people. In the beginning it was also difficult to find enough money to do it right. Everybody thought that they could set-up a search engine in Slovakia.
TSS: What is Zoznam Dnes? When and why was it started?
ID: Zoznam Dnes has been working for about a year and a half. It is a daily monitoring and information update service.
TSS: Are services like Zoznam Dnes the future of search engines?
ID: I see the future of search engines as finding and providing direct access to as much information as possible and allowing users to choose what they are interested in and to get the information they really need... to personalise information. For example, you probably don't need the weather report from Košice if you live in Bratislava, or it's better for us to provide stock quotes to a person just on the stocks he or she owns. That's where we see the future.
TSS: How far does Internet availability and access in Slovakia lag behind the rest of Europe?
ID: In fact, taking an overall economic view of Slovakia, I have been pretty surprised at the number of people that have the Internet. With its high unemployment levels and [low] gross domestic product, in fact, many people actually spend [too much] money on the Internet. If you are living in Bratislava everything looks fine, but further to the East people sometimes have problems getting by from month to month, but they have the Internet.
TSS: So Internet access and availability is not a problem in Slovakia?
ID: I think Internet availability is very good in Slovakia.
TSS: The last comprehensive survey of Internet use in Slovakia was in 1998. At that time there were 510,000 users of the Internet in Slovakia.
ID: I would say that number was not correct. Recently, in December, Taylor Nelson Sofres Factum did a survey and came up with the same number of people that have access to the Internet, around 500,000...not necessarily using the Internet, but having access to it. From my point of view, as a service provider, 200,000 is definitely about the right number of people who are regularly using the Internet in Slovakia. Half a million people is probably right for the number of people who could have access to the Internet if they wanted to but don't use it.
TSS: When do you think E-commerce and E-business will get to Slovakia?
ID: In the near future our company will be doing everything we can to promote this. It is our job to change the minds of the Slovak people to realise the opportunities available with the Internet. We are doing everything to this end and we will change the [prevailing] mentality towards [the Internet and business]. We have prepared some new products, new services, new information, and we are starting a campaign to let people know about this.
TSS: Do you see a time in the near future when people in Slovakia will be exchanging goods and services on the Internet?
ID: Generally, people need to have money to buy things. Then there need to be services that don't just offer things, but are also able to deliver. Everyone that wants to survive will need to be able to do this. By the end of this year we expect that it will be possible to pay by credit card using the Internet in Slovakia. Currently it is not very easy to do that here, which is slowing down E-commerce.
TSS: Will the "new economy" also come here then? Will the Internet, the media, and telecommunications merge in Slovakia?
ID: Definitely. In Slovakia I'd say it'll happen in about three to four years. I don't believe that the Internet will become more important, for example, than paper newspapers, or that people will use the Internet more than television. Each one of these media will remain in some form, but will be much more interconnected. What will be important will be the service provided.