The Un-menshn-ables!

Louise Mensch – Tory MP, chick lit author and wife of Peter Mensch, the manager of Metallica, Jimmy Page and the Red Hot Chili Peppers – has joined forces with former Labour technology expert Luke Bozier to set up a new social networking site to rival Twitter. 

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The site called Menshn.com was launched last week in the US to capitalise on the presidential election and is designed to curate the conversation around set topics. Upon its US launch, Menshn offered three discussions, one for the Obama campaign, one for the Romney campaign, and a third generic one covering the US Election in general, but has now been expanded to cover a wider range of topics. At present the site looks rather bland compared to its rival Twitter, with some interesting topics of conversation on what is essentially three glorified chat rooms, including which presidential candidate has watched the most pornography!

By having only set discussion topics Mensch and Bozier hope this will limit the mundane and random updates people post on Twitter (that’s what happens when you have over 60,000 followers) and generate actual debate and conversation. Essentially menshn.com is a more topic-based Twitter comprised of chat rooms, designed to enable people to have conversations rather then simply broadcasting their thoughts. The other difference is users are gives 180 characters to play with rather than just 140 and instantly gain 100 followers upon joining. Similarly to Twitter the site revolves around following people but it does not include retweets or, ironically, mentions.

It has since been launched in the UK sooner than expected, responding to UK interest and to capitalise on England’s EURO2012 match against Italy over the weekend. The UK launch was originally planned just before the Olympics.

So far the reaction on Twitter, blogging sites and even menshn.com itself has been negative, describing it as a vanity project, criticising lax security and questioning what exactly it can offer that Twitter already doesn’t, considering Twitter can be tailored through sites and applications such as Tweetdeck to follow certain conversations or topics. Other commentators have responded favouring how subjects on Twitter can morph, allowing people to engage in what-ever-you-want chitchat.

Not to be outdone Mensch and Bozier aren’t the only politicos in the process of setting up their own social networking site. The Kremlin has also announced it is creating its own Facebook-style social networking site, following failed attempts to limit online Opposition activism after the recent street demonstrations. The popularity of the internet in Russia, which has recently overtaken Germany as the European country with the most internet users, means any Chinese-style attempt to assert control from above would be doomed. Whether a government-created social networking site will succeed remains to be seen, but while other platforms free of government censorship and control remain free to use this looks unlikely.

I remain sceptical when it comes to new social media sites and having looked at Menshn it still has a fair few creases which need ironing out. In an already saturated market, any new social media launch needs to offer something different, alternative and most importantly easy and worth using. The most recent successful example is Pinterest, now one of the fastest-growing social media sites, but one based purely on image sharing. Users of established sites such as Facebook and Twitter are reluctant to leave, or switch to new sites. Google has been trying to break into the market since 2003 and has only had limited success to date so any new sites are likely to struggle to gain traction, but I wish these new sites the best of luck and look forward to following their progress. 

 

Keith Millar

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