‘The next Facebook’? Not quite. Vincent Sethiwan shares his plan for a social network that will change the way university students socialize.
There are many people out there who claim they are creating ‘the next Facebook’. Most of us reply with a tired sigh or a ‘yeah, right’. Google came out with its own social network and it still hasn’t entirely caught on, so how could anyone make such a bold statement? Well, Vincent Sethiwan may be the closest to making such a statement with confidence, and here’s why.
Goopa is Vincent’s social network aimed specifically at university clubs in Japan (for now). He tells me that in Japan the concept of university club activities are very different from the US or in Thailand. ‘In Japan, they view it more as a club activity plus a fraternity type thing. So they go join these clubs not only because they like the activities they do – say photography – but because they want a tighter connection with people,’ Vincent explains. That tighter connection, as well as a myriad of online customization options and assistance to the clubs themselves, is what Vincent aims to incorporate into Goopa. It’s basically a social network for clubs to interact and communicate with its members and with other clubs.
Vincent describes the concept as a ‘group party’. Clubs (or sometimes called groups), which in Japan are referred to as ‘circles’, are essentially just that and so Vincent set out with his new social network: Group Party. But when a friend in Japan heard the name, he pointed out that it’s hard to say in Japanese. So the name was shortened so everyone could say it: Goopa. ‘It’s kind of catchy. It has that cheesy tune to it but it works.’
The term ‘circles’ may strike you as very similar to Google+’s circles, where lists of friends are organized into circles based on how much you want each circle to know and who you communicate with on any given post. But Vincent doesn’t see the two concepts as in competition. ‘They’re focusing on the social networking part. We are focusing more on the social management platform actually. Of course we are going to branch into the social networking side sooner or later – that’s something students want as well.’
Circles throw parties and social events every weekend. ‘We were wondering, “If they have a lot of these club activities, obviously they are willing to put in the time and effort into these parties and going out every weekend. People are putting in a lot of effort into doing this”.’
So, Vincent set out to put the circle process online. It would be a win-win for everyone involved. By bundling up the organizational tasks involved in joining and maintaining a circle, there are benefits for the university students and the circle leaders.
Students want a tool to help communicate, and circle leaders want a tool to help with managing member payments and attendance for their events. For big events, circle leaders and organizers will have to front the money to venues or collect fees from members as they arrive. Before events, organizers have to go around to each member to see who is and isn’t coming, but many don’t confirm until the last minute, or at all. ‘It’s tough going around to twenty, thirty, forty people asking, “Hey, pay me pay me pay me.” So what we are doing now is trying to solve this,’ explains Vincent.
With Goopa, members must pay in advance, which they can do online. The Goopa team manages these funds for the circles and they can then see who has paid and who hasn’t. But if members never paid in advance before, what benefits will they have by doing it now? The solution to this, one of the key problems in the process, is something that the team at Goopa is currently working on.
‘We’re trying to solve a lot of problems. I started off with event creation and attendance system, and now we’re solving the announcements and advertisements [for their activities].’ Another problem is the entire circle-joining process. Without an online system, circle leaders will station themselves outside of universities and pass out flyers; they don’t really have circle fairs or club activity fairs like in the US. This goes on for the first three weeks of the school year. Some universities have in excess of 500 clubs – one person from each club handing out flyers – that’s 500 to 1,000 people passing out paper! It goes without saying that it gets pretty hectic and it’s impossible for students to look through all those flyers.
Vincent explains the solution. ‘We’re taking the whole joining process online. So instead of going to these university “fairs” you can just go online and press JOIN and your application gets approved by the leader or not.’ Simple and environmentally friendly.
‘It has a fun feel to it. It’s going to be interactive, but we are limiting all the fancy functions right now because we are in the soft launch,’ Vincent points out. However, the network will be available to the public in December and anyone will be able to log on, explore circles and register and do everything independently. The official launch is planned for March/April of next year when the new school year begins so that circles will be encouraged to use the service to recruit more members.
Once Goopa has proved successful in Japan, Vincent has plans to expand the project to Taiwan and then probably Korea since the idea of university circles there is similar to that in Japan. ‘I do want to bring it to Thailand, obviously, but I still need to do more research. I don’t think the club activities are that high on their list. People are much more open when compared to Japan in terms of socializing, so there is not as big a need for it here.’
Before starting Goopa, Vincent had attempted other projects in Thailand. One was a website that helped students from Southeast Asia who wanted to study in the UK and the US. He even started a Thai Facebook a year or two before Facebook actually came out here. However, he was still in school at the time, and he blames himself for not devoting his time to it as much as he should have. ‘You have to be able to contribute regularly and put a lot of time into the project. We couldn’t get our fair share of our life into doing that,’ he admits of his attempt at the Thai social network. In the end, the project slipped through his fingers.
Vincent is not letting that story repeat itself here. He is confident that Goopa will be a success in Japan, and he is very keen on pursuing this dream. ‘Now it’s my time to chase after success. I want to have something where I can say, “I did this. I created this and I’m here now." That’s something that I’m still trying to chase after.’
25/10/2011 - 10:30