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The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - R.AGE - By DAVID LIAN

THE world is get­ting more and more crowded; and I’m not just talk­ing about the pop­u­la­tion, al­though the num­bers have bal­looned from around 3 bil­lion in the 1960s to about 6.5 bil­lion last year ac­cord­ing to UN es­ti­mates.

But I’m re­ally talk­ing about peo­ple be­ing sur­rounded by hun­dreds of friends, thanks to the in­ter­net.

A re­cent study on so­cial net­work­ing re­leased by the re­search com­pany TNS found that Malaysians were the most “friendly” peo­ple on so­cial me­dia, with an av­er­age of 233 friends each on­line. That’s a steep in­crease from the 30 or so odd friends I had when I was grow­ing up, and not all of them were very close friends ei­ther.

But it’s a dif­fer­ent world to­day. My Face­book pro­file tells me I have 957 friends, and at least 700 of the peo­ple I fol­low on Twit­ter are fol­low­ing me back. It’s not un­com­mon for teenagers to have a cou­ple of hun­dred “friends” ei­ther. And be­fore you start writ­ing this off as “just a num­ber”, con­sider the fact that I’ve in­ter­acted with more than 700 of these peo­ple in the past year.

Our so­cial cir­cles are look­ing very dif­fer­ent to­day. If I may, they are be­com­ing quite, crowded. I get a steady stream of up­dates on Foursquare, iden­ti­fy­ing the lo­ca­tion of my 200-plus friends. These are the re­ally close ones that I’d al­low to see where I am. On Twit­ter and Face­book, it’s not dif­fi­cult to trade con­ver­sa­tions with more than 20 dif­fer­ent peo­ple a day. An emerg­ing crowd dy­namic is at work here.

This devel­op­ment didn’t just hap­pen yes­ter­day, and I’m not the first per­son to no­tice this. In fact, many peo­ple have found it in­cred­i­bly use­ful to crowd­source ideas and in­for­ma­tion, get polls done quickly, and fig­ure out what in­ter­est­ing stuff is go­ing on around them.

Ever tweeted out “I’m bored. What’s a good movie to watch?” and get a bar­rage of replies from friends and peo­ple you only knew on­line?

Ever no­ticed how Face­book ad­ver­tise­ments eerily keep you in­formed of what your friends are “lik­ing” and sug­gest you do the same?

Ev­ery­one is now in the cen­tre of a crowd. A crowd that is a trea­sure trove for find­ing things out, get­ting in­volved in a group and get­ting ques­tions an­swered. Now, when you take that crowd up a notch, and start or­gan­is­ing it into a group or col­lec­tive, there’s one more thing be­ing part of this crowd does: it gives you more power to en­act change.

Ac­tivists have un­der­stood this se­cret for years, but there’s a new wave of col­lec­tives form­ing on the in­ter­net, in­spired by the suc­cess of a new start-up in 2009 called Groupon (hwww.groupon. com). The idea be­hind this “group” or “com­mu­nity” as you might loosely put it is to pool like-minded con­sumers to­gether – peo­ple who all want to buy one thing – and use the economies of scale to get re­tail­ers to of­fer dis­counts to the group.

Even lo­cally, this con­cept isn’t en­tirely new. Check out lowyat. net for ex­am­ple, and you’ll see many group-buy­ing threads seek­ing peo­ple to pool-in to get a bet­ter deal. It’s like tak­ing your brother to the cam­era shop and telling the owner you’d like to buy two of the same cam­era, and would like dis­count to go with it.

But as so­cial net­work­ing has changed the dy­namic of “friends” and “crowds”, com­pa­nies like Groupon are find­ing new ways to con­nect peo­ple (who may not even be friends) to­gether in far wider-reach­ing and ef­fi­cient ways to achieve big­ger economies of scale (read: big­ger dis­counts). In Malaysia, one such com­pany that’s em­u­lat­ing this model and tak­ing it fur­ther is Group­sMore (www.group­smore. com).

“We launched Group­sMore in Septem­ber 2010 to en­able peo­ple to group to­gether and ex­pe­ri­ence more out of life at a sig­nif­i­cant dis­count,” says Joel Neoh, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor at YouthAsia, which founded Group­sMore.

Some re­search YouthAsia did be­fore launch­ing Group­sMore found that 38% of Malaysians aged be­tween 15 and 35 have made on­line pur­chases be­fore, and a fur­ther 28% are keen to buy on­line.

The idea is to get a wider au­di­ence and a big­ger group, so more re­tail­ers, busi­ness own­ers and man­u­fac­tur­ers will of­fer dis­counts and spe­cials for ev­ery­one. Ex­plain­ing the busi­ness model, Joel stresses that “if not for the power of so­cial net­work­ing, group buy­ing (like this) would not work.”

Group­sMore is just the be­gin­ning though, in my own hum­ble opin­ion. Know­ing the ra­bid re­tail ap­petite of Malaysians, our soft spot for any­thing cheap and dis­counted, and the fi­nan­cial re­al­i­ties young peo­ple face, I can see how a model like Group­sMore can suc­ceed. But there are still plenty of ques­tions to be an­swered, like: “Where’s the sweet spot in be­tween giv­ing a dis­count and mak­ing money?”

One thing is for sure, how­ever: the big­ger the crowd, the bet­ter it works out for ev­ery­one. So, if you’re in the mar­ket for some dis­count deals, check Group­smore out. n David Lian is look­ing for peo­ple in­ter­ested in pur­chas­ing some vin­tage boardgames. They’ve gone out of print, and he needs like an­other 10,000 buy­ers to con­vince the man­u­fac­turer an­other print­run is fea­si­ble. Con­tact him on Twit­ter at www.twit­ter.com/ davidlian.

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