Cybercafes, also called Internet cafes, are places where people can pay by the minute to access the Internet. By combining two modern essentials, coffee and the Internet, cybercafes have merged the need for public computer access with the age-old practice of meeting socially in cafes. At a cybercafe, people can meet to chat with friends in the room or sip beverages at a terminal while chatting with friends long-distance over the Internet.
Cyberia, one of the oldest Internet cafe's in existence, is located in London. It was one of the first to coin the term "cybercafe." In the early 1990s fewer than 100 cybercafes existed, but that number quickly grew to an estimated 1,500 worldwide by 1997. By 2001 there were an estimated 3,400 cybercafes in 160 countries. They have proved popular with a wide range of patrons, including vacationers accessing e-mail, travelers using online banking services, students creating class assignments, and researchers browsing international databases.
Types of cybercafes vary, but—according to the International Association for Cybercafes—the only requirement is that the establishment offers public access to computers. Some cybercafes provide a sparse selection of snacks and vending machine drinks, while others are renowned coffeehouses, bistros, or bars that offer a full menu as well as access to computers. Most cybercafes prefer a relaxed atmosphere to draw customers. Almost all cybercafes host a web page where anyone can learn more about the services provided by the cafe they are visiting.
Cybercafes collect payment in a variety of ways. At some, customers are timed by the minute and then asked to bring their tab to a cashier when they are done. At others, users pay in advance for a certain amount of time, using the computer until the screen goes blank. Popular in the United States are coin-operated terminals that add a certain number of minutes with each coin inserted. Many cybercafes are connected through a network to other cybercafes around the world and offer their customers e-mail addresses from their domain. Most also provide a selection of desktop computer brands with a choice of keyboard layouts to support a variety of popular international languages. Others feature telephone connections for laptop computers as well as printers, scanners, web cameras, microphones, and other peripheral devices.
Because cafes are popular in Europe, the largest number of cybercafes can be found throughout that continent. Cybercafes are extremely useful in countries where domestic Internet service is commonly slow and expensive. In many parts of the world, the average person goes to a cyber-cafe to use a computer instead of buying and installing one in the home, although the precise reason for frequenting the establishment varies from place to place.
- In the United Kingdom, cybercafes take the form of Internet-equipped pubs that allow patrons to enjoy a pint while using a computer.
- In Bosnia-Herzegovina, many customers are drawn to cybercafes for the arcade-like atmosphere provided through computer gaming.
- In France, many students go to cybercafes to type and print school papers. However, most French students do not to use cybercafe computers to explore the Internet, preferring instead to use their Minitel console at home for those tasks. Minitel is a countrywide network that preceded the Internet, electronically connecting most French homes, businesses, cultural organizations, and government offices.
- In Malaysia, one political party set up a cybercafe in each of its 100 territorial divisions to encourage party members to master the new technology. In the capital of Kuala Lumpur, a cybercafe was set up in a police training center to help officers and their families learn to use the Internet and multimedia applications.
- In Japan, where computers are widely available and inexpensive to own, cybercafes are frequented primarily by out-of-town tourists or visitors away from home.
- In Mexico, where international telephone calls can be very expensive, cybercafes offer Mexicans and visitors a cheap way to communicate long-distance.
- In Colorado, one cybercafe even promotes jazz concerts and gourmet dishes while offering Internet access as an added convenience.
Cybercafes also appeal to businesses marketing new products. They are especially valuable for software developers because customers can familiarize themselves with new software before choosing to buy it. Most cyber-cafes that are promoting a software program will also have a resident expert on hand for quick answers. For this reason, many companies offer promotional deals to cybercafes in the hope of attracting a wider consumer audience. Many cybercafe owners also take advantage of their computer expertise by offering classes or seminars in computer or software use.
The cybercafe is evolving from a meeting place to a learning center, where members of many communities can use new technologies as they expand their horizons.
see also Embedded Technology (Ubiquitous Computing); Home Entertainment; Home System Software; Integrated Software; World Wide Web.
Genevieve McHoes and Ann McIver McHoes
"Cybercafes Offer Both Types of Java." Database 20, no. 6 (1997): 38 (1).
Cyber Cafe Guide version 13.0. <http://www.cyberiacafe.net/cyberia/guide/ccafe.htm>
The International Association of Cybercafes. <http://www.theiac.org/>