Do you have a dual personality? Before you accuse us of conducting clandestine psycho-profiling, let us clarify: by dual personality we mean your online and offline personas. More and more people cutting across all age groups are getting hooked on to a second stream of existence, the one that is played out on the internet. Social networking sites are a rage and will only become bigger and bolder. The main reason behind its surging popularity is easy to understand: just about anyone can join these sites. The networks are built on the idea of ‘six degrees of separation’ and facilitates in reviving old ties, making new connections, writing and publishing personal views and loading user-generated videos. And, India is one of the growth hubs for these sites. Eager to carve out a slice of this pie, MySpace.com launched its India-specific portal this week. It has set up a team to build a user base as well as original local content for the portal. Its community. Indiahub, targeted at Indians, has already over 90,000 members. It will grow further.
The field is crowded though: Orkut, Facebook and YouTube rule the counters. In 2007, Orkut beat Rang De Basanti and Abhishek Bachchan to win the Pepsi & MTV Youth Icon award. A recent survey of Internet users in India states that 82 per cent of netizens use these sites to keep in touch with friends, 58 per cent to reconnect with old friends, 53 per cent to make new friends and 43 per cent to professionally network. Sometimes these online meetings have led to untoward incidents, at times also getting into a security tangle. Intelligence agencies have often accused that jehadi cells have used these sites and the Indian government has asked all desi social-networking sites — such as bigadda.com, yaari.com and minglebox.com — to maintain records of all user activity in keeping with the law. But nothing has dampened our enthusiasm. And nothing will because these sites have erased the boundaries created by time and geography.
For the companies, too, it is a win-win situation. While most sites don’t have in-your-face advertisements yet, there are other ways of cashing in on the rage. MySpace, for instance, will host a number of offline events to showcase local bands and scout for raw talent. Orkut has already unveiled social applications, which allows users to add games and music to their profile page. And look who’s using the reach and popularity of the sites: Subhash Ghai took to Facebook to promote his recent movie Black & White and Yash Raj films plans to do the same with Tashan. Politicians are also using them to their benefit. US presidential hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are very much out there in cyberspace. If your target audience is the youth and you want to get heard, these sites are the place to be. Make no mistake. Looking the other way and not registering this revolution will be foolish. Technology, like education, has the power to break down social barriers and create new forces that could change the way we live and think. Let a thousand profiles bloom.