Over the last 10 years we have seen the emergence of a major new market on the Internet which is social networking. In less than a decade it has created one company which is now valued in excess of $100 billion and many others which have achieved multibillion dollar status. So we thought it would be interesting to see what social networking sites are popular in different areas of the world and compare and contrast how they assist the expat community.
We will now take a look at social network sites used in Pakistan and their popularity amongst the expat community.
It will come as no surprise to learn that Facebook is by far and away the most popular social networking website in the world and indeed in Pakistan amongst expats. This is a company which was not launched until February 2004 but has so far today gained over 900 million active users around the world. It is believed there are in excess of 6.4 million registered Facebook account users in Pakistan and the expat community is probably a major element of this number. So what exactly does Facebook have to offer?
In simple terms Facebook is your very own online diary where you can link up with friends and family, ask questions of experts, show photographs and ultimately live your life online. There is some concern with regards to the amount of information some people display on their Facebook accounts but with regards to the ability to connect users around the world there is no doubt that Facebook is the leader. It is becoming a very popular tool for the expat community allowing people around the world to speak with friends and family they may have left behind in their former homelands or indeed friends and family who have moved further afield themselves.
It is this ability to leave comments, ask questions, confirm your whereabouts, etc which makes Facebook so popular as well as the ability for the company to move with the times. It is perhaps this ability to give customers exactly what they need, when they need it which has given Facebook a massive lead over the competition. Whatever the various attractions of Facebook there is no doubt it is now a very important tool for the expat community.
Google plus (37.93%)
The popularity of Google plus continues to increase around the world although it has to be said that the popularity of the service is closer to that of Facebook in Pakistan more than anywhere else. It is difficult to see why this is the case at this point in time but it certainly does confirm the fact that Google has arrived on the social network arena even if it has had to undergo a number of false dawns in the past.
It is interesting to note that Google plus was only released as a test project back in June 2011 and almost immediately it was suspended due to unprecedented demand. It was then re-released in September 2011 and has continued to go from strength to strength. In simple terms Google plus brings together an array of Google services which include Google profiles, circles, hangouts and sparks to name but a few. Those who have done their homework on the social networking arena will also be well aware that this is not Google’s first foray into the sector as a number of previous projects in this arena have flopped in the past.
In many ways Google has dominated and dictated the pace of change in many areas of the Internet but for one reason or another it is Facebook which continues to dictate the pace in this particular sector. As a consequence Google has been forced to follow as opposed to lead which has seen the company admit defeat and join the party at a relatively late date. However, when you bear in mind the company is expected to have upwards of 400 million active users signed up to Google plus by the end of 2012 it is very quickly becoming a major competitor of Facebook.
Some believe that Google has abused its position in the online search engine arena where the company has access to a phenomenal number of prospective customers.
In years gone by there have been many people stepping forward to claim that forums were dead and have been replaced by the likes of Facebook, Twitter, etc when in reality this is not the case. Forums offer a very different means of interacting with other individuals on the Internet and they are perhaps more information orientated with less chitchat. As a consequence they have also become a very popular tool for the expat community and indeed a simple search on Google will show that there are literally millions upon millions of forums now available.
Whatever niche, whatever subject and whatever question you have you can guarantee there will be a forum which will give you the information you are after. The ability to interact with other members who have perhaps been there and done it in relation to moving overseas, settling down in a new country and gaining employment is priceless in the expat arena. It is also interesting to learn that all information published on forums will be indexed by search engines and therefore it is highly likely that any questions you have may well have been asked by other members with the answers readily available today.
The ability to literally pick the brains of people who have been there and done it is worth its weight in gold and if new subjects and new matters do arise then there are likely to be hundreds if not thousands of people willing to pass on their thoughts and their comments. Those who have called the death of the forum have certainly jumped the gun because while sometimes used more for information purposes than social interaction they certainly have a place in the modern day era.
Initially the LinkedIn social networking service was aimed at professionals who were looking to speak with like-minded people and perhaps make the most of employment opportunities around the globe. Even this brief description of LinkedIn plays right into the hands of the expat community because what better way to see how the land lies before you move overseas than to speak to individuals who have been there, done it and have experience of the local employment market.
Members are able to advertise their wares and advertise their skills and experience, speak to experts in specific fields and potentially check out job opportunities around the globe. Since the launch of LinkedIn back in May 2003 there have been a number of major developments and indeed the company is now listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Services have also been expanded and while the original concept of a professional to professional social networking site has been retained it does offer a lot more today.
Unfortunately recent news suggests that social networking website have become something of a magnet for the criminal fraternity with confirmation that 6.4 million passwords were hacked by a Russian criminal gang just a few days ago. This perfectly illustrates the fact that private and personal information should not always be promoted on the Internet because you never know which companies and which websites will be targeted by the criminal gangs in the future. There is no danger in using the concept of the LinkedIn website, the professional to professional connection, but whether or not it is ultimately safe in the longer term to provide specific private and personal information is debatable.
We also have to say that LinkedIn is not the only social networking website which has been targeted by the criminal gangs around the globe but it is just unfortunate about the timing as we review the most popular expat social networking sites.
Those who are aware of Twitter and use Twitter may well be very surprised to learn that it received zero votes from expats living and working in Pakistan. However, those who follow the situation in Pakistan will also be well aware that the authorities have banned the Twitter service on a number of occasions under the auspices of national security.
Twitter more than any other social networking website has been cited as one of the reasons why the so-called “Arab Spring” was so successful and indeed why we saw so many demonstrations against governments around the globe. It is the ability to transmit short sharp messages to a number of followers in a split second which allowed many demonstrators to organise very impressive gatherings of support. While there is no doubt that social networking sites such as Twitter can and have been abused by some people in the past there is concern that they may well be targeted more and more in the future if used to criticise governments and particular institutions.
In many ways the temporary or permanent banning of Twitter by the Pakistan authorities shows that we are entering a new age for the Internet. Social networking sites have had a relatively easy time of late although slowly but surely we have seen authorities and governments around the world looking at ways to control the exchange of information. The UK government for example has announced that investment in Internet monitoring will be greatly increased and any suspicious material could lead to a visit by the law enforcement agencies. On one hand the authorities need to protect their own integrity but on the other hand we have demands for free speech.
MSN live (0%)
Despite a number of false dawns there is no doubt that Microsoft has been very much behind the curve with regards to the development of a social networking service. There have been limited successes along the way including the Windows live and Hotmail service but these have been rebranded time and time again to try and bring them into the modern day. In the eyes of many people this ongoing investment in social networking operations has been a complete waste of time for Microsoft with the limited return on investment.
The likes of Facebook, Twitter, etc have emerged as major leaders in the social networking arena despite the fact that Microsoft has been around for many years. Indeed if you compare Microsoft, which was at one point as powerful as Google, to the ever-growing emergence of Google plus it is perhaps the most one-sided contrast you will ever see. Google plus is on target for 400 million accounts by the end of 2012 while MSN live will be lucky to obtain but a fraction of that. There are some who believe that Microsoft should ditch its social networking aspirations and use the funds available to invest in other services but will the company bite the bullet?
It is disappointing to see such a major player in the Internet arena as Microsoft miss the opportunity to become a major player in the social networking sector. It would take an investment way beyond the likes of Microsoft to make any worthwhile dent in the popularity of Facebook for example and because of this it seems highly unlikely that the company will ever become a major player in the future.
Sometimes it is easy to forget that aside from the likes of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MSN live, Google plus and forums there are other ways to interact on the Internet. Indeed if we look back just a few years we will see the emergence of MySpace and Bebo as multimillion dollar players in the social network arena only to have their reputation and their popularity collapse overnight. So while many believe that Facebook has been the “face” of the social networking arena for many years this is most certainly not the case.
It also seems highly unlikely that we will see the emergence of any major new players in the future because there are major barriers to entry with companies such as Facebook able to invest billions of dollars to take out the competition. That is not to say it is impossible for a new social networking operation to emerge and take the world by storm but as each year progresses it will be ever more unlikely. We can probably compare Facebook, and its position in the marketplace, to that of Google which many believe will never be overtaken in the search engine arena.
The ability to interact with millions upon millions of people around the world has brought about a number of issues which social networking fans need to be aware of. Unfortunately over the last few months we have seen a number of abuses of the system and indeed the law enforcement agencies are now more aware of potential illegal activity online, within the social networking arena, than ever before. Some of the major issues which we need to consider now and in the future are: –
The number of people who give away personal and private information over the Internet via their Facebook accounts, for example, continues to astound those in the law enforcement agencies. We are literally seeing people living their lives online, telling criminals when they will be home and when they will be away and ultimately welcoming them to ransack their homes. This may seem a little bit over the top but if you take a look at some of the more popular Facebook accounts you may well see evidence of this. There is no point living your life online, by all means contact friends and family, by all means leave comments but be very wary of the information you make public.
One of the most scary phenomenons of late is been the emergence of ID theft as a real problem for those using the Internet and those using off-line services. It has never been easier for criminal gangs to obtain private and personal information about an array of people around the world and then use this to apply for credit cards, bank loans, etc to the detriment of the individuals. Again, this may seem over the top but the fact is that the more information you make available to the public via your social networking accounts the more likely you will become a victim of ID theft.
It is nigh on impossible to ensure that those setting up new social networking accounts are who they say they are and the emergence of fake profiles continues to grow. These can be used for an array of different activities many of which are criminal and to the detriment of individuals. So, if you are speaking to anybody online you need to be sure that you know who you are talking to, and also be careful about the type of information that you make available to them. Loose lips sink ships!
There is no doubt that the emergence of the social networking arena has had a major impact upon the expat community allowing individuals to keep contact with friends and family who may be thousands of miles away. However, there is growing concern about the level of information made available to the public, via social networking accounts, and whether indeed some individuals are putting themselves at risk of criminal gangs and ID theft for example.
However, putting aside any potential criminal activity there is no doubt that social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, etc are worth their weight in gold to expats. Indeed Google has recently given up the ghost and decided to follow Facebook rather than dictate the pace and direction of this particular sector as the company has done in many other areas of the Internet. Social networking is here to stay but you need to be aware of the potential pros and cons.