Orkut, Gazzag, Friendster, Myspace and a score of others! What is so attractive about social networking that we hear almost every week about a new social networking portal?
Well, there are many reasons. It would be repetitive to list all of them here. Though the most fundamental reason I can think of is that these sites are a gold mine for search portals, job portals and all such other portals that makes them so attractive for internet firms and VCs worldwide. People who otherwise fill personal information forms elsewhere with "not so correct" data seem to fill loads of "correct" data at these sites which can be mined to correctly serve targeted ADs.
Targeted ADs then translate into good revenues for firms who advertise online. This strategy is very cool for US and other nations where e-shopping is a big rage.
But what about India ? Here we do things differently. We hardly buy anything online. E-shopping is not such a huge business here. Why and how can a social networking start up target good and steady revenue in a market such as India. My solution is a little far stretched and may not be true at all. But then it never bad to listen to a new perspective.
When I see social networking portals such as Yaari and Minglebox coming, I see a clear lack of business idea. How are they going to make money in market where large internet user base doesn't translate directly into revenue. And also what different strategies are needed to tap this market. Make no mistake, user base of such portals is big and used by people who have money to spend. Every tom, dick and harry in my office and elsewhere has got an orkut account. Not only that these people log on to these portals several times a day.
First look into differences in Indian and US internet scenario. In India, despite a major telecom boom, internet speeds are slow to say the least. Most of the ISPs provide at max a 256K'b'ps connection. That is Kilo bits per second and hence at best can provide 32KBPS of net speed. (Two things this 256Kbps generally tops at around 150 Kbps and MTNL just annoucned a 2 Mbps connections...Things are bad but changing!). So what does this has to do with a social networking portal ? A lot! Bad net speed translates into a slow and heavy social networking portal into a beast which sometimes takes 1-2 mins to load a page....sometimes. This maybe a reason why people in India are still stuck with Orkut when elsewhere Myspace and other such rich social networking portals are becoming popular.
On the other hand telecom boom has made sure that almost everybody now has got a phone and people spend a lot of time and money on these little gadgets.
So the million dollar question which still remains unanswered is who does one go about making a Indian social networking portal? Here is what I suggest
1. Make it simple, keep the total loading time on a 128 Kbps connection less than 10 secs...preferably 3-5 secs. Thats a big task. 128-256Kbps would generally be around 80-170 Kbps. Thats 10-20KBps. That means pages should not be larger than 50-100KB (at max 200KBs). You need to let go a lot of images that you put into those menu bars, buttons etc. A text only page with 8-12 , 5-7 KB highly compressed images seems to fit the bill. Keep that CSS file as small and custom made as possible.
2. Server side need to be very quick. Java is a complete no -no. Php would invite wrath of hackers(though it would be fast) and would be difficult to maintain (coding wise). RoR is good and fast too...with less security issues and a carefully tweaked Apache server with a fast database (I am careful not to mention which one) would be good. Lisp is also a solution. Static pages is not a bad idea it seems(if security aspects are taken care off). What I mean is that user profile pages and home pages need to be a static html file. No database connection (or very less of it). Would definitely be faster that database driven dynamic pages.
3. Ajax is the key. A lot of users in India like Gmail. Just because it's swift and prompt. A lot of ajax coding would also make dynamic pages a lot faster than they usually are.
4. Link with major Indian ISPs in such a way that there are server which serves the user has a internet back bone of that particular ISP. This is rather doubtful starter but whats the harm in trying.
Business side of it
in the next post