Even the quintessential Indian subsisting on his daily dose of ‘adda’ at the Coffee House would tell you that the way people communicate has changed.

It is not that people have stopped raising storms in teacups over scalding hot coffee at their favourite joints. But the social networking sites have proved to be popular as a wider platform for expression.

Adaptability

What had once caught the fancy of Net-savvy Indians as a forum to re-connect with friends, has today evolved into a complex web of multiple forms of networking sites, each with its unique characteristics and specialised communities.

And in this metamorphosis lies the success of the medium. For example, Twitter, the latest real-time short messaging service, has revolutionised the way people respond to events in their daily life. Be it something as trivial as their opinion on the new mall, or their disappointment at the government’s fiscal policy, every reaction finds its way to Twitter. And then the debate continues with friends following ‘Tweets’ and countering them.

“It helps to take the steam out,” says Shivkumar. “I don’t believe in social networking. But I use Twitter,” he adds.

On the other hand, Second Life, a virtual world developed by Linden Lab, has grown in a completely different way. From being a gaming platform and then a social networking site, it is now used as a launch pad for new products by business organisations, says Sundararaj Subbarayalu, Partner, Convergence, Healthcare and Technology, Anantara Solutions. Second Life counts corporate houses such as Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and others as its users.

Subbarayalu says Mercedes-Benz had launched one of its cars on Second Life before the actual launch. The Residents of Second Life gave feedback on the car. It is also used as a convergence platform where people can hold meetings through their Avatars. “Second Life provides excellent visibility to organisations and is becoming increasingly popular as an internal collaboration tool,” he adds. The company is also in talks to use Second Life to sensitise people of one faith to another religion. In Second Life one can create temples or mosques and Residents can visit these places, says Subbarayalu.

“Social networking sites provide pseudo space where people can be what they want to be. They may not have the same social skill in real life,” says Vikhar Ahmed, a journalist. Ahmed is a regular on social networking sites because some of the communities provide him with specific information on his interests. “I am part of a community where a lot of debate take place and a lot of information is available. It makes life so much easier,” he adds.

Twitter has gone beyond a mere social networking site. IIM Kolkata is using its Twitter account to deliver CAT and campus-placement updates as well as blog links, which reflect a broader use of Twitter. “We started a Twitter account as an informal channel of information on what is happening on the campus. It’s now a window to IIM Kolkata for past, present and future students,” says Paul Savio, the secretary of the external relations cell of IIM Kolkata, in The Telegraph.

Unique spaces

It would be interesting to note how Second Life and Twitter have completely different features and characteristics, and therefore people come to these sites with very different expectations. Second Life enables its users, called Residents, to explore, meet other residents, socialise, participate in activities, and create and trade virtual property and services with one another. Twitter, on the other hand is a short messaging service used to express an immediate reaction to an event.

But not all share the same enthusiasm about social networking. Some attribute the excitement around Twitter to the modern obsession with speed. “It is actually a problem of attention span,” says Srinivas. It is a malaise where people always want to stay connected, he adds.

Diptarup Chakraborti, Principal Research Analyst, Gartner, says just as e-mails caused the death of snailmails, social networking has the potential for doing the same for e-mails. He says segments of the Indian population have become Net savvy and social networking has become a pervasive common platform.