Last week, Webdev opened its social network to the public. The name Social has been discarded in favour of a shorter and simpler sha.co.zw. SHA is short for the ‘Shamwari’, the Shona word for ‘friend’. There’s already some activity on the site, and I have received a few friend requests from some familiar faces.
The site looks pretty much what it was in closed beta; warm colors and the familiar social network design with a wall (they don’t call it that though), photos section, a friend finder, groups, events and private messages. In addition to that you also get a blogging section, a Q & A, news, downloads and a link to Webdev’s flagship web property, classifieds.co.zw.
Besides tag-lining it “Zimbabwe’s Social Network”, Webdev is not actively showing why a visitor should sign up or what they will get here that they’re not already getting on Facebook or Google Plus. Maybe the local factor alone is enough. I just expected something that says “here’s the new angle/level we’re binging to your online social interactions!” Something that makes the user feel they’re on a different social platform that’s not just a Facebook clone.
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SHA has the opportunity to define its unique identity from the onset and set itself apart with an experience users of the service can only associate with and get on the platform. I’m not feeling that identity yet. Maybe the strategy is to not box people up and just let the experience build naturally. I don’t see that working.
But Webdev is not just sitting back and hoping you’ll sign up and start posting updates. No. They’re offering cash for it.
“SHA is giving away a total of $150 every week” says the banner at the top of the site, “$20 for the most interesting/best filled in profile, $20 for the most friends added, $20 for the most amount of personal photos uploaded…” a total of 8 categories!
I think this is a bad idea. Is it even sustainable as an incentive? How much cash do you budget for such an exercise? How long do you run it? I know I definitely won’t get into active posting mode just for the cash. And even if I did, I’d probably stop when the promotion ends, and go back to Facebook where everyone is. A unique experience on the hand, will keep me coming back for more.
Cash incentives aside, the one thing that’s noticeably unlike other social networks is chat. The absence of it. It’s a cardinal sin to not have chat on a social network and for what it’s worth, we hope the team is working on it. The platform also doesn’t have something that’s fast becoming a necessary component of the social media experience; games. The addictive time wasting type that people love. Again we’ll assume it’s coming in the future.
There’s always the question of privacy and the security of data posted on social networks. By default SHA is an open network. That means your profile and all your posts on the network are visible to anyone (including people that are not signed into the network) by default. You have the option to turn this off of course in the privacy settings and have your information viewed only by the people you befriend on the SHA.
It’s only been a week and we imagine some features will be changed and more (chat, games) will be introduced. In the meantime, it’s still a warm place to be and one I’ll personally make a point to visit often in the coming weeks. Who knows, I might win me some Obamas. See you all Shaz there!