Do they really need websites here?

I ask myself this question, a LOT.

In Costa Rica, it’s much different than America, where most of my clients live.

This is a rural mountain community. In Perez Zeledon, the southern zone of Costa Rica where I live, you find things by asking friends. If you need to know something, ask around until you find out. (This process can take some time.)

In America, everybody finds information online.

  • On their smartphones.
  • On their laptops.
  • On their work computers.
  • On their home computers.

While driving their car, my clients can get info on a yoga studio they just passed, invite 5 friends on Facebook, and get the address synced to their GPS while sitting at a stoplight.

In Costa Rica, the cafe I am sitting in does not even have an address.

It’s made a harrowing experience to try and find my way around. This cafe has the LEGAL address of “50 meters from the bus station.” It’s the same address as every other business on this street, in both directions.

When I want to find a yoga class:

I wander past the only yoga studio in town, day after day, until I happen to pass by while someone is in there.

The teacher rises out of Savasana pose, comes to the open door, and looks at me questioningly.

I ask, in halting Spanish, for information on when I can attend a class. I don’t know the word for schedule, so I ask for a ‘paper with classes on it.‘ (Fluent me. Thankfully, yogis are not known for being judgmental.)

She reaches across the counter and – I kid you not – gets a pen and notebook. She writes down when all the weekly classes are, all ten of them.

I feel so disoriented, my mind immediately makes the determination – I HAVE to design a flyer for this yoga studio, just so I can (selfishly) have it to reference. I’ll put her schedule up online, too, to make life easier on other Gringos that are searching for yoga.

I left, and dropped off the free flyer I had designed for my favorite cafe. (100 meters from the plaza – that’s their address.) They seem overjoyed, but ask me how to turn a CD (where I stored the source files) into a flyer (which you need a printer to do). I go to the Libreria next door (address: 100 meters from the plaza) and print off fifty copies.

Local Computer Literacy Levels

There are actual internet cafes here. Places where you go and sit at a rented computer to get online. There’s actually no coffee served there, or any food or drink; the entire purpose of internet cafes (like the one with the address: Next to the Mercado) is to let people get online, because they don’t HAVE computer access, otherwise.

Do they really need websites here?

I’ve made a good business for myself, designing websites for Americans, at American prices, and I can keep doing this over any WiFi internet connection.

I’m examining the local Costa Rican market with curiosity, because there was a time when Portland, my hometown, had a burst in web design activity. Suddenly EVERY business – coffee shop, bookstore, restaurant, etc. – needed a website, since every OTHER business had one.

Whether or not a similar explosion happens here in Costa Rica remains to be seen. I’m watching, cautiously, wondering if I will also have to give every street a name in this city in order to make it searchable online.

Ben Franklin catalogued the postal roads of the American colonies, bringing lexicographical order where there was none before. I may have to do the same in Costa Rica, if I want to make any movement on the digital highway.