Sunday, March 2, 2008

Social Networking

Wayne Janneker is a passionate twenty five year old Network Systems Engineer. His involvements range from the Pietermaritzburg Linux Enthusiasts Group to the Lincoln Meade Neighbourhood Watch. His day job includes programming and fixing peoples problems and I should know, he’s helped me on a number of occasions. We started chatting about trends in social networking, especially how the internet has redefined how people connect and find like-minded communities. Janneker has been researching this, and I went to quiz him in “real” life at his office.

When he started looking into social networking, he first asked himself how the average local Internet user had adapted to the Internet as a whole and discovered that the FUD theory is still very much alive and kicking. FUD standing for “Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt”. People are still scared to give out credit card details online. Janneker found random people he chatted to “horribly shocked” when asked if they would book a flight online. Most people had heard urban legends that they would get to the airport only to find they had been “suckered” into divulging their credit card details, that there was no booking or seat on the airoplane for them and that their details had been leaked to spam engines or even the Russian Mafia for identity theft. Read more on the truth behind urban legends at Janneker explains that one needs to be savvy and understand that sites like the online SARS, Discovery Health, Mango Airlines and banks, ranking amongst legitimate sites, may require more personal information and advises users to look out for the golden keypad on a secured website.

Controversially, Janneker says that on social networking sites such as Facebook, users often gladly reveal email addresses, telephone numbers and photos of themselves publicly and thinks that this is where stalkers could have a field day. He draws the line at handing out email addresses on social websites.

“I must state social networking, even from the begin of time, can only be as safe as what you disclose!” philosophizes Janneker.

After these so-so findings, Janneker decided to dig deeper into the aspect of social networking and came to the conclusion that social networking is a culture, not a “thing”. It existed well before the Internet, computers and even telephones and today’s technology has just opened quicker and easier avenues.

“Social networking is really you and a group of people coming together on a common ground and communicating on a mutual level that is fun and easy. The internet just makes it possible for you to communicate with others on a global level.” says Janneker.

Today’s methods of sharing these common interests include blogs (text based journal entries posted on the Internet), podcasts (audio blogs) and vlogs (video blogs).
Immediately one thinks of Facebook or MySpace, which is inherently a social networking site mainly used by the younger “folks”. Janneker discovered a strange phenomena: comparing friends he knows in the “real world” with their “cyber” persona, he noticed that their attitude and personality took on a new shape:

“I noticed, for example, shy friends I knew from school, who are now on facebook looking cool and hip. On a human level they are more timid, but on a cyber level they’ve upped their personality a good deal. They now have a “second life” online.”

“If you didn’t know me in real life, I, Wayne, could portray a new image. It’s almost like a second chance to better their image, nobody knows the true you and you can live what you are missing.”

This led Janneker to find out more on attitude change. He found a survey on which states that conventional internet dating sites used to find poor responses to posts: around about a 5% match. Then a new dating site offered a “virtual makeover” which reports a 99% success rate. What did they do? They “spruced up” members profiles to make them sound more desirable.

Janneker came away saying: “My personal view is that you have to be true about yourself online.”

These were almost alarming findings, so I asked Janneker to let me come away with something positive.

We discovered a common passion in Pietermaritzburg and its communities:

Janneker has taken his involvement in the Lincoln Meade Community watch online: is an active and up to date website reporting on issues surrounding latest arrests, incident and information boards. Janneker has linked up with other community watches in South Africa who share tips and even phone to help with issues.

Computer forums are inherently helpful and none more so than PLEG (Pietermaritzburg Linux Enthusiast Group), who have been the trading post for taking unwanted computers off a companies’ hands and redistributing them to the needy communities such as schools, using open source software.

Women in Business and the Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business use their active cyber community to network, giving it a business spin.

Using a blog to address business issues has been all but totally underestimated by South African businesses so far. Why not create a business blog such as a daily health tip aimed at South African women, or a weekly posting on financial tax tips pertaining especially to our local environment and let people add these to their RSS feeder to keep on top of their business game. This would be a lot more dynamic than a website.

If these blogs are helpful and handy, you are sure to get spin off business when readers have specific needs and hire your services.

Pietermaritzburg gets its own blog site
So during our interview, ever pro-active Janneker put on his thinking cap and went away to create a place where a network of Pietermaritzburg based interest groups could have a common blog or a link.

Not a new idea, but certainly one long overdue in our city, it is an open site to develop social networking in our city.

Surf to and set yourself up. It is aimed at common interest local communities having one place to find each other.

“Blogs have a greater response, are read by more people more quickly than traditional ways of getting heard such as standing on a street corner.”

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