Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Social Networking the (Ask a) Mexican Way

I was present at the birth of Facebook. It was actually developed by Zuckerberg in my dorm (Kirkland House, what). I watched as it, still using its definite article form Thefacebook, tore through Harvard. The killer app was that you could add your classes and find out who all those weirdos who talked in lecture were. We were the vanguard of the facebookstalk.

Back then, when it was one school, it was easier to tell what Facebook was doing. It was merely revealing our real-world social networks (classes, dorms, colleges, clubs, activities), not really creating new ones. You could make an argument that MySpace did the same for the kinds of flakey, loose social networks that musicians build. Each site has tools that appeal to those early audiences.

It seems to me that most of the 2.0 companies have taken their eyes off this prize, or at least are finding it really difficult to spot and target large, offline networks.

Tierra Natal is an excellent example of how to capture the value of a real-life network. It allows Mexicans and Mexican-Americans (Chicanos, if you must) to connect not just via their current place of residence, but where they come from. The Techcrunch gloss misses that this is of pretty vital importance for many in the Mexican communities.

Take this example from Gustavo Arellano’s incredible book, Ask A Mexican, in which he describes the identification process in his OC:

“Since there are so many damn Mexicans in Orange County, for instance, we more commonly identify ourselves by state—I, for instance, am from the central state of Zacatecas, Mexico. But since there are so many damn Zacatecans in Orange County, we usually branch off by municipio—the rough equivalent of a county. I’m from the municipio of Jerez, Zacatecas, but since there are so many damn jerezanos in Orange County, we divide ourselves by ranchos (villages)—I hail from El Cargadero, Jerez, Zacatecas, Mexico. But since there are so many damn cargaderenses in Orange County…you get the picture.”

Right here on this page of Tierra Natal, a dude like Gustavo can go through exactly that process online. (And who can argue with the sole picture from El Cargadero on the site, which you see up top. Check that dude’s eyebrows! ¿Què chingado?)

The developers seem sensitive to the way recent waves of Mexican immigrants have built their roots into their identities. That (real or perceived) understanding could strike a chord with real Mexicans or half-Mexicans like me who really wish their parents had taught them Spanish. As Tierra Natal staffer, Chuck Longanecker, put it in a Techcrunch comment:

“We hope to distinguish ourselves by placing the online community focus specifically on people’s connection and relationship to their hometowns and not just individual members. We believe that the collective of members will give personality to the individual town profiles and allow people to stay connected with local news, people and happenings.”

You could argue that any social network could have a group of people from El Cargadero who could find each other. They would just enter that into their hometown in Facebook, say. But structuring the input of the data around a social network that we already know people value is a much better idea than hoping they find that value themselves. It worked for Facebook with colleges and it could work for Tierra Natal with ranchos. We'll be keeping a close eye on the town sites, especially that minor village Mehico D.f., where my dad and me were both born.

There are a slew of "Hispanic" or Latino social networks but most just seem like attempts to grab some Spanish-speaking money without meaningfully connecting with the cultural specifics that might lead one to a ethnicized site in the first place.

My one beef is that the site is incredibly slow. We’ll cut them some slack though considering that they have just soft launched and probably don’t have all the kinks worked out yet.

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At August 22, 2007 at 6:28 PM , Anonymous Chuck Longanecker said...


Thanks for the post. You have definitely mastered the concept and hopefully (along with others) connect with the purpose of the site.

We are well aware of the performance of the website. Thanks for taking it easy on us. We have a large load of pageviews due to the immense amount of regions on the site. We are in the process of transferring the media to a more scalable solution.

Please keep the feedback coming.



At August 22, 2007 at 7:59 PM , Blogger SIPAPA said...

thanks for the terrific post. You absolutely get it. By the way, that chingon and the chica guapisma are my parents. And yes, mami is from Zacatecas via Juanchorrey and El Cargadero.

At August 23, 2007 at 3:59 PM , Blogger sarahcarr84 said...

Hi Alexis,

Thanks for the great review of TierraNatal. We always appreciate feedback - and yours was excellent.

Check our shout out to you on the digital-telepathy blog! Enjoy and thanks again.

TierraNatal Making News Across the Web


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