By Bilal Zuberi
What is common to My Space, Facebook, Friendster, Del.icio.us or Six Apart?
These are all one form or the other of a new internet phenomena: Social Networking. These websites have managed to attract millions of people daily, and have made hundreds of millions of dollars for their 20+ years old founders, the geek elite of the Silicon Valley. Social networking, like blogging, is a relatively new phenomenon in the internet space, yet it has blossomed like nobodyÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s business. But where is the Pakistani presence in this e-community? Well…while I am somewhat familiar with the above-mentioned websites, no other website has been recommended on more occasions by personal friends and acquaintances than Naseeb.com ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ the Pakistani and Pakistani-American hangout place on the internet.
So what is Naseeb.com?
Simply put, Naseeb.com is an online community of Muslims, many of whom happen to be of Pakistani descent. It is a brainchild of Monis Rehman, a serial Silicon Valley entrepreneur who also founded Eid Mubarak.com. The website provides the following information about its goals:
Naseeb.com is an online community that connects young, educated, professional Muslims through networks of friends. The site provides a safe, discreet, and trusted environment for meeting other people with similar backgrounds.
Naseeb.com is for people who are single, people who are married, and anyone who wants to make new friends or help their friends meet new people. The site can be used for personal, social, and business networking.
Through Naseeb, members can find out about local events, get great values at member-owned businesses, resonate their identity through our vibrant e-zine, and proactively gain the attention of the kind of people they would like to meet.
The website has gained immense popularity in the youth, especially the young men and women, as a place to make new friends and to — err yes — find their potential soul-mates. I learnt about this ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‹Å“MuslimÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ social networking site a few years ago via chain e-mails, and have since then observed several friends become rabid fans and committed members. Not only do many vouch for their ability to find new friends and people to hang out with on Naseeb (online or in person), one friend (letÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s call him Rana) also found his bride on a Naseeb Village. He likes to say his Naseeb, or destiny, took him to this website (and to his future bride, who was in Canada at the time).
Naseeb is a small player in the social networking space, but it has captured a niche that I find particularly interesting and unusual. When I was still in graduate school I used to hear often from friends how difficult it was for them to find new friends when they relocated for study or work (especially in the US). Naseeb helpd make it a little easier for Pakistanis to find other Pakistanis in their neighborhood. This is not to obscure the fact that Naseeb also fulfils a role that is otherwise lacking in communities where young men and women are living away from their immediate families, i.e. providing a place for young men and women to meet to find their soul-mates. As controversial as it may be, some have even called it the Halal equivalent of MySpace. Naseeb.com seems to have provided just the forum for people to meet others individually or in groups with shared interests and/or backgrounds. I have surfed around the website long enough to see exactly how it could provide such a gathering ground for young people. A member can maintain Journals, use it for e-mail, read or write gossip columns, or even maintain his/her own villages (i.e. communities of interest).
So what’s so muslim about it? Aside from membership demographics, Naseeb has also carefully used muslim iconography to create an environment familiar and comfortable for muslims to chat and learn about each other. If you are hesitant to put your picture up, you can use an icon of a Pakistani-looking guy with a moustache or a muslim girl with a Hijab. You can send “Salaams” instead of just smily faces, and the administrator retains the rights to censor posts for language and pictures. As Ramo Feenah of EGO magazine writes “Beyond that, the community determines itself. As is so typical, people band together according to their tastes. You can join discussions of a Surah, ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œSex and the City,ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚? or just how to interpret the prohibition on charging interest.” My own profile on Naseeb tells me that even though I have only 2 friends, I am connected to 880 other people. wow!
Naseeb is an interesting online experiment and it would be useful to see any data that the web administrators may have gathered over the years. Websites are no longer a place just for information gathering and sharing. They are fast developing into virtual worlds in which personas of real people live and mingle. How are websites like Naseeb affecting the way Pakistanis meet other Pakistanis? Is geography still a barrier? and how are we sharing our experiences with each other? and of course finding our life-partners?
Dr. Bilal Zuberi is Vice President of Product Development at GEO2 Technologies in Boston (MA) USA. See more at Bilal’s blog: BZNotes!