Let’s meet… in cyberspace

Are you lonely? Do you want to build a social network just sitting in front of your computer? Do you want to use the Net to build up a business network in a short time? Or do you just want to get together in the virtual world and have fun? Whatever it is, online groups are mushrooming and connecting people all across the world like never before.

Consider the figures. A Pew Internet Survey showed that 20 million people take part in an online group in America alone. An AC Nielsen survey found that nearly 40 per cent of Americans participate in online communities for hobbies, shared personal interests and health-related issues. Today there are hundreds of social networking sites with Friendster claiming that 13 million people have joined them alone.

Virtual camaraderie

But what exactly is a virtual community? One definition could be a social group connected in any way by the Net. The origin of such groups were the Bulletin Board System, where a software allowed users to download and upload data, read news and exchange messages with other users. This was followed by the popularity of the e-mail and as bandwidth increased, it became more and more easy to connect online. Today many sites serve as online meeting ground where millions can discuss matters of importance or even triviality.

So what do they want?

Take the case of Renith Valsaraj, who’s a software professional based in Bangalore. An amateur photographer looking to make it big, he sought out amateur photographers around the world to form an online group. “You don’t want to do things alone. You need company and this is the best way to do that. It’s a serious group and it’s more knowledge transfer than anything else,” he says. He formed the Bangalore Photographers Group and has notched up a membership of more than 300 photographers. Many of them meet regularly and hold exhibitions.

How Bangalore Quiz Group happened

For Prakash Subbarao, who’s taken online quizzing to new heights, it was loneliness that led him to form an online group. He’s formed the Bangalore Quiz Group, which crossed the 500-membership mark within four months of being formed. The group has daily online quizzes and even meets offline from time to time to conduct quizzes “just for fun”.

“I have made tremendous business contacts in a very short period of time. I probably would not have been able to achieve this in such a short time span offline”, admits Prakash.

In his own words: “It happened on one cold wintry night in Bangalore. It was fairly late and I was sitting in front of my PC wondering, “What next?” On an impulse, I decided to start an online quiz group. I went over to Yahoo! and created a group called “The Bangalore Quiz Group”. It took about five minutes to set up. What next? I needed members. So I went over to Ryze.com and posted messages to the two groups where I am a member-the Bangalore Balaga and the Bangalore Business Network. The results were gratifying. Within minutes members started straggling in and in another 48 hours, the membership crossed 100. It was the 1st of September, 2004. We crossed the 500-member mark in January 2005.”

So, what’s your online group?

(This article appeared in Living Digital magazine in March 2005)

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