SQUAR, Burma’s first social networking site, was released late last month. Since the government has only recently relaxed censorship policies, the potential of a growing digital user base is substantial:
While only 10 percent of the population is wired, international telecom companies are expected to soon be providing nationwide internet and connections. The Burmese government has said it will issue licenses to two international corporations to provide nationwide wireless coverage. The target is to provide 80 percent coverage by 2015. … Growth in mobile penetration has already soared in the last two years from 10 to 80 percent, and the coming wireless coverage will open up 60 million consumers, who thanks to half a century of isolation, have remained untapped.
SQUAR’s cofounder Rita Nguyen sees a market:
Currently, Burmese people are hungry for consumer stuff. Big brands are entering but the only platform is Facebook. There’s nothing really helping consumers day to day, and digital closes those gaps. I mean, print publishers just got granted licenses to print.
Nguyen explains further:
I came to visit Myanmar early this year after hearing the news that Yangon had the largest BarCamp in the world. After spending a week here, I could see that there was something very special happening. … I knew that the access to Internet connectivity would correct itself with the new foreign carriers coming to the market, but even if Burmese were online, there was really no destination that belonged to them, built for and by them. …
[W]e really took a leap of faith to release [SQUAR] as early as we did. It’s very common in Silicon Valley to develop technology like this. Something very light, called a minimum viable product. The idea is that you have something that is functional so that your customers can use it, feed back and help you refine and build your product. What I wasn’t sure about is if the Burmese youth would be very forgiving with such a light product since they would not have had a lot of exposure to products built in this manner. We didn’t have photos, profiles and barely even had notifications in. There was a very good chance that people would download it, try it and then abandon it. However, the positive response we have had has been overwhelming! The people of Myanmar have rallied around this, providing hundreds of ideas in thousands of posts in just over a week.
(Hat tip: Global Voices)