Text and photo: Tonggo Simangunsong
Translated by: Beta D. Adiwidjaja
MEDAN- Although Facebook and Twitter currently dominated the largest social networking-based IT creative industry market, it doesn’t mean that there are not any other segments that can be work on. This is becoming the basis of creativity for Bambang Saswanda Harahap (25) and Palit Hanafie Lubis (27) to initiate the creation of an online social networking media www.letterater.com. It is impossible to compete head-to-head with those two big IT industry players. Creating a new market (blue ocean) is one of the solutions to be able to take part in today’s IT industry.
Since online for the first time, about four months ago, Letterater.com had become a new place for social networking users on the internet. The amounts of active users are now reaching 3000 from about 6000 registered users. For a social networking site, that amount is not big – compare it for example with Facebook which can have millions of fans for one fan page. Moreover, at this time Letterer still has a limited capacity server.
Indeed, it is ostentatious to compare this Medan youth made limited infrastructure social networking site with Facebook or Twitter. This site just want to take a part of segments which previously hasn’t think of by IT persons in creative industry, which is creating a place for writers and literature fans on the internet. In other words, Letterater.com is a home for Indonesian online writers.
That is the reason why this site is named Letterater.com, which the work is helped by Bambang Riyanto and Rodiah (both are literature students from Universitas Sumatra Utara-USU) and Joshua from IBBI Medan majoring in computer.
‘Letter’ which means literature added by the word ‘rate’. “So Letterater is a new form of appreciations to writers and literatures. Users in this account interact with each other through their writings (short story, poem, essay or even book and movie review), not just only to update or to comment status anymore,” says Palit when Indonesiakreatif.net visited him and Bambang Saswanda in early March, in a lease house at Jl. Dr. Mansyur III, Blok C no. 4a, Medan, which they made as Letterater office.
Saswanda and Palit who both studied at USU faculty of literature see that the opportunity still has big potential. Based on their observation before they invented Letterater.com, it turns out that there are many internet users who like to post in social network but not yet organized and directly segmented. “This is a phenomenon in internet,” says them.
According to them, so far Facebook or even blog has not yet able to make writing as a new ‘game’ in the internet. The interaction has not yet build in a more focus way because of many reasons. For example, Facebook do not have special channels to accommodate users in a specific interest, especially for those who like to write. To find an interaction place especially for writer, at least just only through Facebook fan page which is made by a specific account owner – if there is any. It is the same with blog which still have limited moving space. “It is not certain if someone wants to read our blog, especially if it is a new one. It will need a long time, only our friends who know it that will read our writing in our blog. If not, there will be no one reading it,” says Palit.
At Letterater.com, account owners do not have to trouble themselves to increase hits or doing SEO (Search Engine Optimization) so that his/her writing is read by a lot of people. A newly posted writing will be put into ‘new writing’ index channel automatically, so other users can know in an instant, read and comment on it. In that way, the interaction process is faster.
Saswanda explains that at this moment they are thinking of how Letterater later on will give reward to account owner whose writing have the highest ranking (most popular writing) based on ‘like’, ‘comment’, or ‘share’ activities from other users. So, later on this site is not just a place to post writings, but also giving profit to talented writers.
This idea is originated from the understanding that so far there is not any social networking site that gives some of their profit to users – which actually is the main resources of a social networking site.
“If there is not any user, it is impossible for Facebook to become big,” says Palit. What is sadder, he says, is the user who has given a big contribution to the social networking site.
“Indonesia is the 3rd largest Facebook users in the world. So what? It means that Indonesia is the 3rd biggest country in the matter of expanding and enriches Facebook. So, is it comparable with what Facebook give to Indonesia? For example, through tax for Indonesia. If they want to contribute, please open a Facebook office in Indonesia and hire Indonesians. That is what is called giving profit for our country,” says Palit.
Unfortunately, that idea, says Saswanda, still have to wait for process and time. Now the problem is, Letterater is in a dilemmatic position. They already spend a big amount of funds – the exact numbers is not mentioned, but it reaches hundreds of million rupiah – for this site. That amount is for web design concept, programming and server’s cost which is still borrowing servers owned by an Indonesian domain and hosting provider company. On the contrary, it is still too early to expect profit, for example from advertisement which is the main profit source for IT industry.
“For now we don’t yet have the confidence to make Letterater purely as a business, but we have creative vision in here,” says Palit. According to him, apart from that, there are still a lot of things that has to be fixed if we want to make the IT sector as a promising creative industry in Indonesia. The main thing is that there is not any protection from government for foreign countries’ sites (whether it is social networking site or search engine) that made Indonesia as their biggest market. “If our government has not done any protection, Indonesian product still has a small market opportunity. The biggest market still owned by foreign, Indonesia is still just as users. Why not starting to give a broader opportunity to Indonesians?” says Palit.
Then, how if there is an IT company that is willing to acquire Letterater? Saswanda and Palit have not thought about that possibility yet. Without ignoring the event when Yahoo! acquire Koprol, Saswanda and Letterater says that if there is someone who want to acquire their site , then that someone better not be a foreign company, but rather a domestic company or an initiative from government to lift up Indonesians creativity.
“What we do is actually answering the government’s question all this time – ‘Where are Indonesians youth that are creative and willing to give creative contribution to this country?’ Now we have made it, and we are waiting for the government’s next respond. We are just ‘village kids’ who wants to give something useful to this country. Maybe it is not big, but at least we have done it,” he says. Bambang and Palit come from Madina (one of the regency in North Sumatra) and came to Medan in 2002 to continue their education in a university.
Saswanda and Palit try to ignore that kind of things – maybe because it is too early to talk about its opportunity or because the skepticism that is still haunting. That skepticism is: How is it possible for a locally made site that is far from perfect is able to attract anybody to acquire it? The one they are hoping for right now is how to create a new concept so that Letterater can be more useful, especially for its users.
Recently Letterater is available on Blackberry smart phone and conventional cell phone. “At this moment we are designing so it also can be accessed by Android device,” says Saswanda.
With Letterater, they also still have their idealist mission, which is making this site as an archiving place for works of literature or old cultural manuscript. According to them, there are many old manuscripts or old literature works that are buried in libraries and only needed in a certain moment, for example for literature or cultural research purposes. They want to popularize those old manuscripts to online users through Letterater.
We don’t want to be compared to or compete with Facebook. People might become satisfied by updating status or doing online marketing in Facebook. In Letterater, writing becomes a new trend for internet users. With that, we are also participating in helping Internet Sehat (Healthy Internet) campaign and taking part in developing our youth’s mind. About profit, maybe not now,” says Palit.