Can I make you some bucks?

how the net is transforming the way we work and earn

The friend-of-a–friend network September 28, 2008

You may recall that as part of this blog I wanted to set up an online employment agency for domestic workers in Grahamstown. And I’ve gotten as far as setting up a blog which, to my surprise, a few people found and posted comments on. None of these people were domestic workers, however. No surprises there.

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They were all people with internet access. The one is someone looking for a domestic worker – and this could be useful avenue to explore. The other a student, looking for work. And even someone in Uganda expressed interest in finding a job with the help of the blog.

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But this still hasn’t achieved much. I haven’t succeeded in creating a sustainable online social network for people who are ignored and excluded by the internet. Does this mean the internet is a space that discriminates? A space that only webworkers and those who effortlessly throw terms like 3G or GPRS into conversations can use to find employment?

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I think it certainly is an indication that the internet is a space that needs to be opened up and made to be more accessible. But that requires educating people about the internet and how it works. And if that isn’t difficult enough, in a place like South Africa there are the language barriers.

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I did phone a few of the domestic workers who had placed adverts on the notice boards at Pick ‘n Pay. They thought I was offering them a job. They couldn’t understand what I was trying to do. In fact, I even approached some community workers at a local community outreach centre to get some advice and a sense of how the community might react to my project. They too couldn’t quite grasp what I had in mind. And these are meant to be ‘technologically literate’ people.

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I’m starting to think perhaps certain types of employment are only made possible by the informal friend-of- friend network. Where you employ a certain domestic worker because your friend down the road only has good things to say about her and how she has never stolen or broken anything. Because face it, that’s how people are. No one wants to let some stranger loose in their house.

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But the nature of the internet and online social networks challenges these tried and tested friend-of-a friend networks. It opens what are localised, personal interactions which take between people who are generally friends to anyone. And for some social networks that works. But in a case like Grahamstown where it is not even a guarantee that every prospective employee will have access to the internet it is difficult to bypass this informal network.

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And maybe there is no need to. I was having tea with a friend the other day. She mentioned that she knew a really good domestic worker who was looking for work. And of course, as is customary in this network, went on to ask if I knew of someone who might consider employing her.

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I could just email the women who left a comment on my blog about needing a domestic worker. But I feel that would defeat the purpose of my online employment agency experiment. It would just be a good example of a friend-of-a-friend network. But I have to start someone.

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So, as a way forward I plan on approaching this domestic worker and trying to explain what I am doing. If she agrees I will then give her details to the women who posted a comment on the blog but will also post her details on the blog. And this is where the friend –of-a-friend network as well as the offline network comes in. I’m going to then promote the blog through my friend-of-friend networks and see where that takes me.

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If you have any thoughts or suggestions, I am all ears. In fact, I would love some suggestions.

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