MYANMAR people’s thirst for a 100 per cent local social network platform like Facebook will be satisfied by the recent launch of MM Social developed by young technicians, Yan Naing Myint, founder and managing director of MM Social Zone Co, said in an exclusive interview.
He explained that the growing popularity of global social networks including Facebook and Instagram among people in Myanmar motivated him to start creating a local social platform. So, three months ago, he established a company with a team of some 20 young technicians.
“Smartphone penetration is really high in Myanmar, and we are among the highest data consuming countries in Asia-Pacific. When you go around, you will see that everybody is using mobile data to access their social media accounts,” he said.
“A lot of Myanmar people who use a smartphone may not have an e-mail address, but I am sure all of them have access to at least one of the popular social networks, mostly Facebook. I noticed that many countries have their own social networks. For example, VK is widely used in Russia and Baidu is the most popular in China. Then I felt that Myanmar should have its own social network, so I tried to work on that.”
In the four days since its launch on September 8, MM Social got more than 10,000 members and Yan NaingMyint foresees a spike in users as soon as the mobile app is launched early next month. In fact, he expects a five-fold increase in the number of users by the end of this year.
“On average, 3,000 users usually sign up to create their own accounts on our website every day. And we are now working on the development of our mobile application so it will be available to the public by the first week of October,” he said.
He seems confident of long-term growth, thanks to Myanmar users’ preference for mobile applications rather than websites. To him, software development and infrastructure maintenance are equally important to ensure the success of MM Social.
“Our aim is to reach out to the whole nation within one year after the launch. We hope many people living in all parts of the country will get to know about MM Social and enjoy using it in the next few years. We expect commercial benefits within eight months from now,” he said.
However, he did admit that it would take a long time for his platform to be able to compete with global giants such as Facebook and Instagram. Despite the unwillingness to seek funding from international partners, Yan NaingMyint is optimistic about the company’s future, as he believes more users will enjoy the features of MM Social developed in the local context in the longer term.
Like other social networks, MM Social allows users to create their own accounts, pages and groups which includes similar features such as user profile, add friend, follow, like, share, comment and text messages. Customer care service will also be available to help address users’ problems and users’ information and data will be protected in line with existing laws and Myanmar culture, he said.
Meanwhile, there is some speculation that MM Social is backed by the Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) as it was launched less than two weeks after Facebook removed 19 accounts and 52 pages controlled by military officials and followed by some 12 million people. Facebook said this was done to prevent the spread of hate and misinformation via its platform.
Yet, Yan NaingMyint was quick to deny this, saying it is just a coincidence.
He also promised to prevent any moves to spread hate speech and hoaxes on the network by daily monitoring and removing fake accounts.
“We will monitor users’ posts in the Myanmar context. We have also partnered with third-party organisations to seek advice on legal issues. We believe fake news and hate speech originate from fake accounts, so we will remove them later,” he said.
“At the same time, we are now trying to add more features for users’ convenience. And will also try to make our app 100 per cent functional.”
In a bid to ensure a well-protected database and infrastructure, the company offers a “bug bounty” programme, a crowdsourcing initiative that rewards individuals for discovering and reporting software bugs to counter potential cyber attacks. It also requests the users’ e-mail address and mobile phone number for verification to create an account or page. For now, only Myanmar mobile numbers are accepted to ensure the user lives in the country.
Yan NaingMyint said the network would also help improve Myanmar’s income.
“Now businesses in Myanmar usually spend a fortune on boosting posts on their Facebook pages as part of their advertising campaigns. But, our country does not get anything in return. For instance, if 1,000 pages spend just US$10 [Bt320] a day, you can imagine how much Facebook earns from Myanmar businesses every year. At MM Social, we will pay tax to the government regularly, which will increase the national income,” he said.