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SA’s oldest social network folds

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South Africa’s oldest home-grown social network has succumbed to the dominance of Facebook. The co-founder of SAReunited, which she had launched several years before Facebook’s arrival, announced this week she would go traveling instead. Access to the site’s contacts database ends today, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

A nine-year track record and 800 000 members were not enough to save SAReunited, South Africa’s oldest social network.

Founded 9 years ago in 2002, SAReunited is closing down its contacts database today. Members who want to access photos and profiles have until midnight South African time (22:00 GMT) to log in and download their data.

London-based founder Amanda Tsinonis made no bones about the reason for the site’s closure in a letter to all members:

‚Facebook, wonderful as it is, has left little room for smaller social networks to be profitable. Neither do we want to spend our time blasting members with advertising to fund the site, that was not what we set out to do. So we made a tough decision. Thank you to all the loyal, early followers joining us on our journey, we truly enjoyed being the pioneers of the social networking pre-Facebook days, but it’s now time to turn to new projects.‚

Travel time: Amanda Tsinonis with daughters Tatiana, Bella and Nina.

Tsinonis announced that she would ‚start a new chapter‚ after 17 years in London, taking her children out of school and ‚preparing for an off-the-beaten track adventure of our globe (best Geography lesson ever)‚ with her husband George.

Their travel plans include a houseboat in Kerala, India, working in an elephant sanctuary in Sri Lanka, a camping safari in Botswana, paddling down the Orange River and cycling through the Kruger Park.

It has been clear for some time that SAReunited had been almost completely supplanted by Facebook as South Africans’ preferred means of getting and staying in touch. Navigating and searching the site was always difficult at a time when Facebook was continually simplifying the process. And while connecting with old school friends was possible, interconnecting ‚ linking up with people who are linked to people you know ‚ was not. As interconnecting is the lifeblood of social networking, it was clear that SAReunited was part of a previous era ‚ as revolutionary a part of that era as it may have been.

Already more than three years ago, one blogger questioned the site’s viability in a posting entitled “Is there a future for Sareunited.com?””. He described the issue succinctly back then:

‚Now as Facebook sweeps across South Africa as it has done elsewhere across the world, I have found those same people that were listed in Sareunited on Facebook. The difference being, you now have a profile to look at and you are able to interact easily.‚

The author of the blog, Eishman (follow him on Twitter at @eishman, summed up the fundamental power of Facebook with a simple analogy: ‚The problem with starting a conversation with someone you haven’t seen in 5, 10, 20 years via email, is how do you start? How much of yourself do you reveal when you write that first, ‘this is me?’ Now with Facebook that is all taken care of in the first ‘Add XYZ as friend.’ The act of requesting and confirming is like that first ‘Hi,’ handshake, or whatever greeting gesture takes you fancy. Now you are able to see what your friend has been up to and is currently doing. Without having to send mails back and forth, you are able to keep up to date with their movements, and it’s unobtrusive.‚

And, of course, this was the diametric opposite of SAReunited:

‚I went back for a browse @ Sareunited and, it must be said it suddenly feels rather archaic … web 1.0-ish. It’s rather sad, and I sincerely hope they find a way of reinventing the site‚Ķ It will be a shame if a great South African product becomes defunct. There is a massive database, active or not, of South Africans who invested their time inputting their details @ Sareunited and I can’t help but think that this resource is not being utilised creatively.‚ Eishman said he had sent Sareunited a request for comment on how they intended meeting this competition, but had no response.

‚Let’s hope that’s because they are burning the midnight oil as they work on exciting new features,‚ he suggested hopefully.

However, it turned out that the founders had other lives and other jobs. As the Facebook movie The Social Network showed quite dramatically, it takes a particular kind of obsession with an online service to enable it to thrive. You may be able to keep a day job when you’re starting out, but no site will look after itself for nine years.

¬∑ Amanda Tsinonis says SAReunited’s 9 dating sites will continue to operate. She will be blogging about her family’s travels at www.SA-People.com

– Follow Arthur on Twitter on @art2gee

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