SA wakes up to Web 2.0
Community driven sites start to make impact
THE INTERNET is part of daily life for many people. We get our news from it, rely on it for second guessing our doctors and use it to research any number of subjects. Over the past few years, more and more services have been launched that allow the easy publication of content, taking control of the web away from the large media houses and putting it in the hands of the man in the street.
While the Internet cognoscenti in South Africa have been playing with social networking sites such as MySpace, photo sites such as Flickr and video-sharing sites such as YouTube, the new web has been slow to spark a real effect – until now.
Web 2.0, as this user-driven Internet experience is known, is all about allowing people to dictate what they see and, as Jason Elk, one of the founders of SA video and photo sharing site Zoopy (www.zoopy.com), comments: “Get out of the way and let the users take over.”
The past few weeks have seen a multitude of site launchings, from www.amatomu.com (run by Mail & Guardian Online) to www. afrigator.co.za and www.muti.co.za.
Mike Stopforth, MD of social media consultancy Cerebra, says that while the phenomenon is clearly gathering momentum in SA it’s more a light swell than the wave continuing to gather force in the international market.
“I don’t expect or see the need for SA to build applications on the scale we’re seeing in the US. However, the confidence of South African developers to build on what’s been done overseas and create new and interesting services is encouraging.”
Stopforth says that while SA is lagging the developed world, there are encouraging signs, one of which is the variety of entries in the recent SA Blog awards. “What we saw weren’t the usual suspects coming to the fore but a broad spectrum of ordinary South Africans starting to exploit the medium.”
The one site that’s felt the power of the local blogosphere (as the community of bloggers is called) is Amatomu. Matthew Buckland, one of the brains behind the service, says the site was still in its early testing phase with a select group of users when someone not in the test group leaked news about it and it was deluged with bloggers looking to use the service.
Buckland says Amatomu is what’s known as a blog aggregator: a single site where it’s possible to obtain a clear picture of what new content is available on SA blogs and what blogs are the most popular.
Vincent Maher, the other side of the Amatomu brains trust and the technical wizard behind the site, adds that the idea is to drive traffic to local blogs, an increasingly powerful community.
Amatomu restricts the sites it covers to those that are South African or are about the country, something Buckland says has caused some debate among users. He adds that they’re considering some interesting ways to ascertain the South African-ness of the blogger, including a quiz on local terms and concepts.
“What we’re seeing is the rise of the mini-media owner. Small content creators who are able to put out articles focused on their audience.”
These mini-media owners are typically experts in the fields they cover and able to build up a pool of resources that could include articles, podcasts and video podcasts, attracting a dedicated group of readers that can then be targeted by advertisers.
There’s also a much greater level of interaction in the Web 2.0 space, as almost every post to a blog is comment-enabled, allowing
The confidence of South African developers to build on
what’s been done overseas and create new and interesting services is encouraging
instant feedback and discussion on the topic at hand.
The blogging community is powerful because it’s outside the control of traditional media houses. Even those who blog within the constraints of large corporates can present a message that’s often more relevant to the reader than that coming from traditional sources.
While SA may not yet have discovered the true potential of the community driven web, it’s a phenomenon whose time has come and something companies ignore at their peril.
Bringing it together. Matthew Buckland and Vincent Maher