By Anne Collier
Facebook’s now taking off there, but Brazil has had a vibrant, more mainstream social networking scene for some time, maybe even longer than the US has – because of Google’s Orkut. When danah boyd’s new article about class divisions in US social networking reached Pedro Augusto of Brazil’s Center for Technology & Society in Rio, he emailed her about how this works in his country; she posted his message in her blog; and I found it fascinating. Social networking started out as an exclusive, and therefore very cool, activity in Brazil because people had to be invited into Orkut (the way we had to be invited to set up a Gmail account), so it took off like wildfire, and now it’s far from exclusive: Of Brazil’s 69 million Net users, some 90% use social network sites, and 79% of that portion use Orkut. And it’s beginning to be discriminated against because it broadly represents Brazil’s diverse population, including Brazilians who access the Net in its “LAN houses” (“a sort of cybercafé that can be found especially in lower-income areas,” Augusto writes). The LAN-houses phenomenon has counterparts in many countries, our family found as we traveled around the world in 2007 and ’08. In Brazil, these cybercafés “are responsible for 45% of all Internet access and 74% of lower-income classes access,” Augusto reports, and Brazil has a lot more of them (108,000) than movie theaters (2,200) or bookstores (2,600). “In Rocinha, one of the largest shantytowns (favelas), there are more than 100 LAN Houses. They provide Internet access and other services involving technology and more. LAN Houses are places where young kids gather for social encounters, playing games, visiting social networks, and Internet messaging. They have become a public space for socializing.” Pls see boyd’s blog for more of Brazil’s story, including the Facebook part.