Rendezvous353, the Irish social network which aims to link Irish people around the globe, celebrates its first year in operation this month. The site was dubbed “The Irish Facebook” on its introduction, and its format was not dissimilar aside from the uniquely irish dimension. However, with Ireland experiencing the highest net outward emigration since the late 1980’s, Rendezvous353 has taken on an increased significance, beyond that of social networking.
One of the founders of the site, Richard O’Donnell, sees comparisons with Facebook as, “nice and complimentary,” but sees Rendezvous353 (the 353 refers to the international dialling code for Ireland) as being, “more of a six out of ten Linkedin and a four out of ten Facebook, if you like.”
These comparisons are convenient as Richard explains, “If you can give a picture as to what you do in five seconds instead of fifteen seconds or even fifteen minutes, that’s a good thing.”
Richard has seen that, with Ireland experiencing severe recession, networking has become more important, especially for those leaving to seek opportunities abroad.
“These days, because of economic circumstances, people are out there trying to do business and looking for opportunities. I suppose it’s not rocket science, is it? You could probably predict it. The jobs side of things is very popular because of the amount of people who are emigrating or looking for work.”
“It’s that Irish thing we’ve been doing since the famine — which is when you turn up in New York and you’ve got a fag packet with ten names on the back you wander around ringing those people. Eventually someone says, ‘you know what, talk to this guy, he might have some work.’ We’ve automated that process.”
Where Rendezvous353 differ from being an Irish Facebook or an Irish Linkedin is in their activity in grassroots community development.
Adopting, “The Wikipedia model, where they’ve got lots of volunteers that are helping with the site,” Rendezvous353 has placed ambassadors or “champions” in three key hub destinations for Irish emigrants; London, New York, and the Gulf States.
“What we found was, as people signed up, we could spot the ones that were doing most and were getting most from the site. So we approached three different people, one in the United kingdom, one in the Gulf states in Oman, and one in New York, and we said, ‘look, you’re enjoying the site, would you like to become champions?’ and they have. It allows us to have people on the ground to help those who might be emigrating to those areas.”
Richard has borne in mind his own experience of leaving Ireland. “I emigrated in the eighties to the U.K. and I got everything wrong, it took me three months to get everything right again, but it would have been nice if I could have called up Conor who lived in Hampstead and said ‘How’s it going Conor? I see you’re on Rendezvous353, I’m going to be in London in two weeks time, is there any chance I could buy you a pint and pick your brains?’”
It is activity like this Richard says, which give Rendezvous353 “a bit more depth than other social networking sites out there. We’re not a charity, Rendezvous353 is definitely not a charity. We hope to make money, but there’s more of a benevolence than perhaps other social networks. It’s a try and help if we can model.”
Rendezvous353 is still a social network however, “There’s craic involved as well. There was a case before Christmas, where a woman in Singapore came onto Rendezvous353 and said, ‘I’m a bit lonely, I’ve been out here two years, I’ve got three kids, I’d love to meet some people’. So we put her in touch with a few people on the site and now I believe they meet in some coffee shop every Friday, and six of them get together and have a bit of craic. So that’s the nice social side of what we’re doing too. It’s extremely satisfying when you help somebody.”
The prominence of the site has been boosted considerably by an association with Ireland.com, who approached Richard and his colleagues in September 2010 with the idea of a partnership. “We’re delighted with the partnership because Ireland.com is a global brand and a household name which also has an association with The Irish Times. It was an obvious fit for us, and there’s a commercial side of it as well insofar as we can endeavour to make some money with them through advertising and various other commercial things we’re doing with them.”
With Ireland.com on board, and the network of ambassadors set to be extended in the coming months the agenda of Rendezvous353 will be increasingly dominated by its members as their numbers grow. “It is the members who will dictate which direction you’ll go in. We’re very judicious in our moderation, we just stand back and watch, and it takes its own balance.”