Social Networking in India – Where is the missing link?

India Internet had its tryst with web2.0 social networking phenomena with the launch of products like MingleBox/Jhoom.in/Yaari etc [I have lost count of the exact nos. now].

That was July 2006 and now 7+ months later, the traffic/pageviews of all these sites are heading southwards.
If you see a sudden spike, attribute that to promos [1.5 crore, $5 million and of course free iPods!].

While most of these sites believe in CAP model [i.e. CopyAndPaste from the West, especially Orkut and Myspace], I see a missing link in the entire story.

Let me turn the table and ask “What makes Orkut so popular?, Why is MySpace such a huge craze?” And why the very idea of aping Orkut/MySpace features will not work in India [it’s not working actually!!].

Of the little that I know of wwworld, here is what I think makes Orkut so popular ::

Ease of use:
Orkut UI is probably the most simplest UI I have ever seen. Infact the UI conforms to the basic mantra of usability, i.e. Don’t Make Me Think!
At the same time. a look at MingleBox/Jhoom/Yaari will leave you a little confused and you need to figure out the feature that you were looking for [too many features, all these CAP sites want me to blog/share pics/write (s)crap/socialize/add friends/events and of course win iPods!].

But what’s the USP of these sites? There is hardly any differentiating element. Strip them of their promotional lingo/banner elements, and you can’t differentiate one over the other.

Orkut substitutes Writing Emails
What do you use Orkut most extensively for? I, like many other users use scraps feature, the most [infact that’s the only feature I use].
And why do I scrap? Because it substitutes writing an email.
Is writing an email so tough? If you are a lazy bum [like me], you know the answer. I email friends only when I have something worth talking about. I ‘don’t generally’ send emails [except to close friends;asking ‘whats up’?’]. And scrap substitutes all that.

Doesn’t matter somebody is a close friend or just an acquaintance, ice breaking is just a scrap away. The bottom line is — Orkut scrap breaks the communication barrier/ hiccups associated with sending emails to not-so-close-friends [and get away with answering qns like ‘how should I start this email/conversation?’].

Gossips
We all love gossips. Be it about celebrities [Koffee with Karan?ToI?] or about friends, we all want to be a part of that.
And Orkut is a great place to quench your thirst for gossips ! Haven’t you explored your friend’s scrap books? To see who’s writing what? Haven’t you explored your friend’s friends list?.

Simplistically put, Orkut provides a great platform to get a glimpse of friend’s life. And that’s why it’s so sticky!! [one keeps checking who visited their profile, what’s happening with their friends/crushes etc.]

The most significant difference between Orkut and Indian social net sites is that Indian sites are trying to promote gossips [qns like ‘what’s your take on SRK’s role in kank’ etc]; while I strongly believe that you cannot pump people to gossip! It’s a natural process which takes its own sweet time [you need to first find people who share the same interest].

Blocked Access:
Many IT companies in India have blocked the access to Internet email sites/Yahoo/GMail/ Hotmail etc. and that’s one of the reason why Orkut is heavily used. Infact, this is one of the most tangible reasons for Orkut to be so popular in India.
Going back to point #2, if you want to send an email to your friend, the only available alternative is to scrap your friends.

Offline presence:
There is no way Indian social nets can compete with Orkut. So, instead of fighting and dying in the red ocean, how about creating your own Blue ocean? [reference: Blue ocean strategy].
Probably, an offline presence [and I am not talking about ‘rave parties‘] that helps boost the enthusiastic users can propel these social nets to the next level.
Being a pure online player will not work anymore.

For e.g. – how about creating a lets say Bajaj Pulsar fan club [I didn’t mention Enfield club for the simple reason that Enfield guys will not flock in these sites!] and then help people organize an outing? Or a ‘All Ladies club’ etc?
There are tonnes of things that can be done, but at the same time they aren’t too obvious and they are of course, a risky venture [might backfire!].
But I am sure it’s all worth it. Look at BSB club in Flickr – shutterbugs flock to this club to derive value and are a *social network* because the group has a strong offline presence.

Serendipity Moments
I had numerous *serendipity moments* with Orkut. I was able to connect to many of my classmates whom I had lost track of! I had no idea of their whereabouts, but thanks to Orkut I am now well connected with these folks.
And these serendipity moments takes Orkut to the next level in user satisfaction.
A great product, apart from fulfilling the basic needs should also throw up “WOW” moments. And that’s what I feel when I see a scrap/add request from my school friends!.

Most of Indian social networking companies don’t care about all this. They want to build the same feature set [(s)crap/forums/tags/video scraps/audio scraps etc], but they miss the most important point – serendipity moments.
All of these sites tend to build communities around user tags [i.e. if you like ‘pink floyd‘ music, let me hook you with others who like it too], while in my opinion, people join communities which delivers value and have an underlying theme of interest.

For e.g. LinkedIn delivers value at professional level, Flickr is about hobby/passion of photography, Orkut @ personal level, while Enfield clubs’ underlying theme is the shared passion for the machine!!

Do you see MingleBox/Jhoom/Yaari/other social networking sites in this list? I don’t.
I am not even sure of what value they deliver?

This game is not about feature overload, but about building communities. And delivering value that maps to user’s hidden hierarchy of needs!. Digg?

Related: What makes an Indian Digg tick? | Indian Social Networks – what works? what doesn’t

Also: What to Indians search on the Internet?

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