I spent some time on Comscore this morning looking at US vs Rest Of World traffic for some of the largest web properties. Here are the stats for Feb 2010:
Google: 890mm worldwide visitors, 745mm non US – 84% non US
Facebook: 471mm worldwide visitors, 370mm non US – 78% non US
Twitter: 74mm worldwide users, 53mm non US – 72% non US
I suspect Facebook and Twitter will both end up north of 80% once their internationalization efforts are fully realized. Facebook is a lot farther along that path than Twitter but it seems like Twitter is growing like a weed outside the US right now. This is a Comscore chart of Twitter's non-US traffic through February 2010.
The conventional wisdom is that international usage cannot be monetized as well as US traffic and that is certainly true. But with >80% of your potential users outside of the US, I think the web sector needs to start working harder on international monetization.
Even if international traffic could only be monetized 25% as well as US traffic, when your international traffic is 80% of your total traffic, you would make as much money internationally as domestically. So that's a lot of potential out there to be tapped.
And of course, not every international market is equal when it comes to monetization. Markets like western europe and japan monetize very well today. Emerging markets like the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, China, and India) should be big opportunities for monetization this decade. Other markets may be tough for years to come.
What this means to me is that web services that are highly international today should invest in fully localizing their user experience and then start thinking about monetizing outside of the US. Start with local partners and then start putting people on the ground in your best international markets.
There's a lot of money "rest of world" and I suspect that will only be more and more true over time. So we should start building web businesses with that in mind.