COMMENT:Social media Web 2.0—Aliya Anjum - Tuesday, July 27, 2010

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Social media is a game of innovation and creativity requiring fecundity of the mind. It has no place for me-too products, which the Pakistani corporate sector thrives on

The internet is perhaps the only equitable tool of globalisation. Only in a virtual world are people truly the citizens of the world with no borders. Global migration barely represents two percent of the world population, essentially an alarming brain drain. Globalisation has a heavy tilt towards the global North (popularly called ‘the West’). In a world where globalisation is synonymous with McDonaldisation, social media, or Web 2.0, is perhaps the only arm of globalisation where the playing field is level. The juggernaut of technology can be our true friend if Pakistanis have the prudence to ride on this wave as it hits us with full force.

The spread of the internet is astounding. The international Telecommunication Union statistics published by Nielson Online state that, as of December 2009, there were 1.8 billion global internet users, which translates into 26 percent of the global population. It took only 15 years since 1994 to enlist five-year-olds and 75-year-olds alike. This is unprecedented in history. In Pakistan, the World Bank’s World Development Indicators estimated 18.5 million users in 2008.

The next generation of the web is sites such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Wikipedia, etc. These sites have created enormous social networking opportunities. Pakistanis in the US thrive in Silicon Valley, yet Pakistanis in Pakistan fail to make any waves in the world of social media. The biggest issue facing the use of the internet and social media in Pakistan is the language barrier. The Centre for Research in Urdu Language Processing (CRULP), based at National University of Computer and Emerging Sciences, has developed solutions for content and interface localisation not only in Urdu but also in other regional languages. Students of the Institute of Information and Communication Technology (IICT), University of Sindh, introduced a Sindhi version of Google. This work can be extended to the social media.

The use of the internet in Pakistan is limited to search engine usage and email communication in addition to chatting. Pakistanis, both on a professional and personal level, need to catch up with the times and employ social media for maximum outreach.

Twitter is a unique medium to create a social following via SMS alerts giving status updates. As yet, no meaningful tweeting is done from Pakistan. Given the geometric progression of tele-density in Pakistan through cellular phones, this medium can be employed by the public sector to send out public service messages. The ministry of health can tweet immunisation campaign schedules and warn about viral infections. Energy and water conservation tips can be tweeted. City nazims can coordinate cleanliness campaigns around Eid-ul-Azha by tweeting to the citizenry. The opportunities offered are immense. Citizens’ action committees and media watch groups can manage letter, phone or email-based activism through tweets.

The social networking site Facebook was an instant success reaching out to 500 million users in barely five years. It offers opportunities to connect with friends and family in a one-stop shop where users can have a glimpse into the lives of their connections through picture albums, status updates, chatting, emailing and much more. Facebook also offers extremely economical marketing opportunities aimed at specific sub-segments on unprecedented levels using algorithms. Pakistanis have joined the Facebook bandwagon quite successfully for personal and professional use. There has even been a copycat model created by a Pakistan-based Muslim social networking site, although that could not attract many members for obvious reasons. Social media is a game of innovation and creativity requiring fecundity of the mind. It has no place for me-too products, which the Pakistani corporate sector thrives on. One recent initiative of two friends in Karachi on caring for animals in the form of the Pakistan Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) has already gained momentum through Facebook alone. Pakistanis, disillusioned and tired of hearing of doom and gloom political scenarios predicted ad nauseam on TV, were quick to rally behind a worthy cause. Thus, those who can take the lead may soon find a pied piper following.

Community engagement and generating goodwill are other avenues for social media. Social activism through online communities, called social entrepreneurship, has gained momentum in the US. In Karachi, two such ventures are and, both of which actively lobby for issues related to urban planning. Their activism built public opinion that halted the Karachi Elevated Expressway project on social, economic and aesthetic grounds. However, they do not employ social media through blogging, tweeting or Facebook to gain an audience for their cause. If they were to engage the public through these available means, the citizens would be empowered and the cause would gain momentum.

Blogging is a very convenient medium to reach out to people. Blogs generate discussions. Bloggers can share personal experiences or indulge in geeky discussions about Google’s new android phone ‘Nexus’. Travel junkies around the world unite in blogs to share tips on sightseeing, hotels, commuting and money saving. There are hardly any popular blogs from Pakistan that generate a constructive dialogue. The Muslim psyche remains greatly misunderstood after 9/11 and Pakistan bears the brunt of this unfortunate development. Yet, voices of moderation reaching out from Pakistan are few and far between. Blogging is one avenue to dispel myths, create dialogue and pave the way for a peaceful coexistence. Blogs by Pakistani men and women can go a long way in correcting stereotypical images of Pakistan. University students should be encouraged to write blogs to make the Pakistani voice heard internationally. It may be noted that one of the world’s most popular blogs,, began as an MBA course project.

Doctors in the US have created an online community at reaching out to peers covering 68 specialties in medicine. Pakistani professionals, especially researchers and academics, can build upon the idea to create synergies in their respective professions.

Collaborative, open source information sharing sites such as Wikipedia allow quick and easy access for reference purposes. Students, professionals and teachers find Wikipedia convenient for a quick reference as it is quite reliable despite the fact that it is open for public addition and deletion. An Urdu version of Wikipedia would go a long way towards expanding the knowledge base of students in Pakistan.

The writer is an academic and can be reached at

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