SA wakes up to Web 2.0

Com­mu­nity driven sites start to make im­pact

Finweek English Edition - - Communication & technology - BENE­DICT KELLY

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

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