Social Networks Work

Author: Milena Leneva

One of the organizers describes the online activity that went on behind the Sofia demonstrations - for Milena Leneva the social network activism proved that not everyone is apathetic these days.

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Two weeks ago I did not know we could achieve this
Major protests have been organized in Bulgaria. Ecoactivists, students, mothers and agriculture workers all have their own demands on the government. Multitudes of people went to the streets and in front of the Parliament to declare their needs. These protests were interesting in many aspects, however, we will focus your attention on only one of them – the creation of the online network behind the protests.
 
How did it all start?
It was Monday and Teodor, one of the Bulgarian ecological activists, came up with the idea that it would be good to give an opportunity to people who wanted to participate in the protest but didn’t have the possibility; to express this support somehow.
 
Two creative individuals found two programmers - one of them studying and working outside of Bulgaria. A web site was developed overnight and all of the participants had to work throughout the day. Initially the idea was only to count the visitors who declared support for the protest in front the Bulgarian Parliament. We decided that it would be optimal if everybody browsing the site were able to read the exact demands of the protestors. It soon became evident that all the visitors to the site had to be able to declare not only their support, but also express opinions and give suggestions to the Bulgarian government, Parliament and directly to the protestors. So the web site didn’t end up only a counting machine of numbers of supporters, but also became a place for sharing opinions and discussing them.
 
What actually happened?
There are some extremely interesting facts about this site.
  1. Knowledge about the site was disseminated exclusively from person to person. There was no time for optimization. Less than 1 percent of the people found the site trough Google or other search engines. About 80 000 unique visitors browsed the site about 450 000 times, knowing about it only through their friends and referring sites.
  2. Perhaps the chosen site domain (www.feelfriendly.com) was not a very appropriate name for the site. However as this domain was already available for us from another project idea, we decided to use it here, pressured by the short time we had ahead of the protests. Now there are a lot of people in Bulgaria and around the world who know about this protest site, but few of them know its name.
  3. This site became more than the intended counter of supporters – it became a parallel demonstration related not only to the protest. Most visitors participated in the discussions and over 3 days there were more than 1800 comments and suggestions.
  4. Most of the people signed their names even though this was not a requirement on the site, showing that they wanted to stand behind their position.
  5. About 10% of the traffic was from abroad, demonstrating that Bulgarians abroad were able to show their support through the site.
  6. Finally, many people volunteered with diverse support throughout the whole project. We received numerous offers of volunteer help and especially with the mammoth task of classifying and analyzing the multitudes of comments on the site, many strangers helped out.
 
What are the main conclusions?
Social networks work. The distribution over less than 15 hours to about 35 000 unique visitors making about 120 000 hits the first day the site existed, is amazing when taking into account the modest number of Bulgarians all over the world. This experience demonstrates that even without any other means of communication one interesting idea can reach thousands of people in a very short period of time - even before the official media can react and follow suite.
 
 
This paper is published as a contribution to the discussion of the Trust for Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE Trust) Civil Society Forum. The opinions expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the CEE Trust or its funders. Copyright © 2008 CEE Trust. All rights reserved.

 


Comments by readers

Posted by: Toni Mickiewicz

On: Tuesday, February 03 2009 @ 07:01PM

Great article! We will link to it from our working forums for our network in CEE :)

 

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