A generation of online material girls

A generation of online material girlsAs the Web 2.0 revolution continues to gather steam, potential new killer applications continue to emerge on the internet.

From humble beginnings based on ideas of the public good, commerce is now driving the expansion of the internet. Even the phenomenon of social networking sites, such as MySpace and YouTube, are sponsored and paid for by advertising.

The sites comprised of user-generated content including blogs, photo and video sharing are being gobbled up by big media companies, who are desperately looking for ways to make money out of allowing the viewers and users of these sites.

Rupert Murdoch has stitched up a highly lucrative deal with the search engine Google for MySpace, after purchasing MySpace in recent months. Google has subsequently gobbled up the MySpace competitor YouTube, which means, typically, that Google is able to have a bet each way, and will profit from both. 

As entrepreneurs and online "old hands" both search for the next big thing on the internet, a newly emerging concept is Zebo, which combines the desire to shop with a capacity to search and to join a social network. Launched only a couple of months ago, it is planned as an online shopping community. Over seven million people hae already joined the free site.

So what does this say about human society?

Like many sites, Zebo relies on user-generated content. The front page quickly provides a summary of the current cool items. Last week Zebo members were saying that they own houses, iPod players, DVDs, family and CDs—a very electronics-based set of belongings.

This week, it's computers, shoes, houses and iPods—people weren’t rated so highly.

And last week, what did they desire? Friends, iPods and phones.

The predilection towards owning and gaining A generation of online material girlsmaterial possessions is rampant. Like many teenagers, Jessica of Brisbane, Australia owns a Playstation2 and wants a Playstation Portable. Zac, aged 23 and from Las Vegas, Nevada USA is into music and computers and wants his own recording studio.

While the site clearly states that it is aimed at users over the age of 18, due to the commercial nature, it is teenage girls who appear to be overwhelmingly attracted to the opportunity to brag about what they own, dream about what they aspire to, and find out what other users think about products.

Members are encouraged to blog with a commercial focus, to keep a journal of shopping experiences and tips. There is also the opportunity to store photos and provide connections with friends online.

Zebo is directly encouraging the consumer society, and engaging with the development of material desires.

I am what I own, or what I aspire to own.

Fourteen-year-old Ana was recently featured on the front page. From Chicago, Illinois, she owns a cellphone, knowledge and a boyfriend, but what she really wants is love. Can this be bought?

Twenty-eight-year-old Adelwale of Lagos in Nigeria wants a partner who is Muslim, God-fearing, good-looking and intelligent.

In fact, among the many followers of Britney Spears and Nicole Ritchie, there are also many looking for something deeper in life.

And there are the outright liars, like 17-year-old Andre from Coimbra in Portugal who claims to own a Lamborghini Diablo, Ferrari Maranello, Porsche Carrera GT, Jeep Wrangler and Ferrari Testarossa. I guess you can't blame Andre for trying.

One of the features of the site is the ability to find out what others recommend, what other users want to purchase.

Can the user trust their judgment?

“Irish Ann”, aged 23 and working in finance as an accountant in the Philippines, describes herself as a trendy shopaholic who likes exploring boutiques and independent labels for fashions.

A generation of online material girlsThe social-networking side of Zebo does get a look-in though, in spite of the material focus of the site. While 20-year-old Awais of London, UK, wants the latest BMW car, he also lists cricket and the Arsenal football team.

In the online world, people expect instant responses. It started with email. The turnaround time for receiving a response via "snail mail" was no longer good enough on the internet. Expectations changed and instant replies were demanded. Delivery and read receipts were used to instil a sense of urgency in the communication. This in turn lead to a speeding up of many other activities that moved to the internet.

Banking could be done at the click of a few keystrokes. Purchasing became an instant decision.

The information revolution is barely ten years old in a commercial sense, but it is still difficult to have a sense of how long it will take to complete. Sites like Zebo create an intersection of commerce and social interaction that, while not seamless, is certainly far removed from what the Web started out as. Whether or not this is a good thing, only time will tell. Certainly, one could argue that the focus on commerce clouds the original ideal; that being the free trade of information, ideas and the de-commodification of knowledge.



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