May 19, 2008

NICHE COMMUNITIES

By Yuszela Yusoff, Manager, Content & Community

Each month I scan the myGamma universe, looking for interesting content to feature and share. What I find – as you'll see below – often surprises me, but one trend is becoming clear: NICHE COMMUNITIES, groups of mobile consumers who discuss about common interests, are growing and thriving.

Over the past two years, the number of user groups has more than doubled from 40,000 in 2006 to nearly 86,000 now. The number of moblogs has tripled during the same period to 238,000.

Some of these groups are international; others are more local in nature. Take for example “NEP Agenda,” a community of individuals from northeast Kenya who discuss local politics and their region's drive for greater autonomy from Nairobi. The group was started by “Ugas,” a 24-year old man who writes in the group's introduction: “Is NEP part of kenya? May b geographically only!” Scroll through the NEP Agenda discussion and the frustration felt by the youth of the region is all too clear:

“We r 2 blame our selves by bringing poor leadeship on da grounds of tribe,” says 35-year old Mokorow. “giv civic education 2 our litrate bro's&sistas”

Twenty-year old “L years” adds that he “wil not go blindly 4 a past regime (KANU) which had negative impact on da entire province.” (KANU is the political party that has ruled Kenya since independence.)

Another group of Kenyans has a decidedly less political agenda. “Shoez-a-holic!” was started by a 21-year old woman from Nairobi who writes “This group iz all abt shoez...chiquittas n dawgz who hav a soft spot 4 shoes...lyk me, this iz wher u oughta b!” In a later entry, she writes “Peeptoes are hott! The 70s fashion is slwly creepn in.”

These mobile groups and blogs are founded on a common premise – that a community of people with similar interests or life situations want to connect, share information and interact. In some cases, the user groups also provide information to people who can not access it elsewhere (for example because their internet access is limited). There are several myGamma groups and blogs for example about food, where members share tips and recipes.

38-year old Lee (*u*), from Tennessee in the USA, writes about southern cooking like Jack Daniels sweet ribeye steaks, catfish and split pea soup. “Chef Chubby Hubby”, a 30-year old male from Malaysian Borneo, posts recipes for desserts, seafood dishes like fish stew and prawns that his grandmother adores. “Te aMo”, a woman from Sarawak (another Malaysian state on Borneo), says “Chef, this bl0g of urs has bcome my favorite. ples keeep it up.”

I have to admit, the photos of Chef's dishes are making me hungry!!

And on “Guy's Kitchen,” which has 123 members mainly from Nigeria, the group took on a political tone recently when a 20-year old man commented on the rising price of food, “Rice! Rice! Rice!!! Rice is now imported for Millionaires . . . "

Other group topics meanwhile that have caught my attention recently include discussions of the occult, anime and even a GPRS help group.

One of the biggest groups is “Wonderful S. Afrika” which has over 10,000 members and 28 group photo albums (see the picture at the top of this column for an example). Much of the discussion is in local language, so it's a bit hard for me to tell you what are the hot topics, but i saw some posts about the recent xenophobic violence and others that look like users are interacting to make new friends. Groups of this size present an opportunity for advertisers. Smaller niche communities do as well, because the users' interests are so well-defined.

The bottom line is that Niche Communities represent a transition in how consumers are using the mobile internet. Members of the myGamma community are moving beyond just getting to know someone and playing games. They are connecting, sharing passions and life experiences. Mobile Niche Communities are providing users a sense of connection to the world, as they meet and interact with other people with common interests, some from close to home and others from farther afield.