TV hostess escorts Italians to Facebook


In September, 2008, I was in Amsterdam at the behemoth cross-media conference PICNIC speaking about the tepid levels of Italian participation in online social networks. image

Italy was at the time the sole country in the whole world in which Facebook’s popularity was completely overtaken by Badoo.

The main difference between the two websites: Facebook is built to keep in touch with people users already know. The platform protects their privacy and their content by allowing them to secure their profile and allow only approved users to see it.

They can also share groups, photos, videos and join common causes. The event feature is another great tool to organise events with friends and family.

On the contrary, Badoo is developed to motivate new relationships to be built online by publicly publishing personal photos and by voting for them. Badoo is a “first-generation social network”, with only basic features (profile, friends, photos and messages). Facebook adds applications, event management, group creation and many other features enabling users to live an advanced experience.

In July, 2008, Badoo had over 2 million Italian users. Facebook counted only 500.000 Italians. The disparity was a clear sign that Italians viewed the Internet only as a place where to date new people or read news - to the detriment of more evolved services.image

The situation changed radically during autumn 2008, when month after month Facebook saw exponential growth that brought the amount of users in Italy close to the number of those in France, home now to more than 8 million users.

What was at first described in Italian media as a place for perverts and psychopaths (this definition appeared in the “Corriere della Sera” newspapaer), has quickly become a mass phenomenon.

The fuel lightening the fire has been popular Italian TV host Simona Ventura. While presenting an episode of the reality show “L’isola dei famosi” during prime time, she spoke a few positive words about Facebook.

The day after the show, tens of thousands of Italians signed up for Facebook. They sent invites to other friends who weren’t yet subscribed.

Fabio Giglietto, professor at the University of Urbino, is a fine scholar who studies if and how social networks are impacting Italian culture. He recently funded Social Networks Sites Italia, an online laboratory to host discussions around this theme with the contribution of different Italian universities.

These are completely new developments in Italy. For the first time the media, the academic world and, most importantly, people at large have realised the importance of the Internet and, in particular, of social networks. They now start to look into them without prejudice, closing a long period of demonisation that characterised these technologies.

Flickr image from users Giuseppe Nicoloro