Internet social networking accelerates life in the 21st century. It also proposes challenges to everyone doing business in Costa Rica.
More importantly, all the negative comments about Costa Rica are going to kill the country’s tourism future because the negative runs rampant through social networks. The country’s marketing system better catch up fast. The country is plagued with bad reports, from out-of-control property thefts to Americans getting beaten up at popular tourism destinations.
Social networking is the practice of expanding social contacts through connections among individuals, and although the process is as old as civilization itself, the Internet has accelerated the pace while increasing the amount of information that can be shared.
For those living in Costa Rica or considering relocation here, the Internet social networks are as important as ever. While in the past much of the information has been disseminated by those with a profit motive, the Internet social networks allow individuals to share first-hand information and experiences. A person is now able to consult instantly with dozens of other persons to determine if retirement in Costa Rica would fit their lifestyle or if a particular doctor, dentist or real estate broker has a good reputation.
Social connection is especially valuable for a newcomer who lacks roots in a new country, language skills and years of assimilation that can only come from growing up or being educated in the culture.
While many have been aware of networks like Facebook, Myspace and Youtube it’s possible that living in Costa Rica has distracted expats from the magnitude of change that is occurring on a truly global scale. Collectively these three social networks receive 250 million unique visitors per month, and have been in existence for no more than six years. ABC, NBC and CBS combined can only manage to reach 10 million viewers per month.
Radio as the first form of electronic mass communication took 38 years to reach an audience of 50 million. Television accomplished the same in 13 years while the Internet took four years. Facebook reached its first 50 million people in just two years, and presently there are 400 million registered and active users on the network. To put this in more perspective, this is a number that exceeds the total population of the United States.
Facebook is rated as the No. 2 page on the Internet by the Alexa ranking service, and is exceeded only by Google, which presently serves 76 billion Internet searches per month. Google served just 2.7 billion searches per month in 2006, and the increased volume of information is not and probably never will be a problem for massive networks of computers.
The effects of Internet social networking are particularly visible through American expats, who are informal ambassadors to nations like Costa Rica. One expat in Costa Rica can link to hundreds of relatives and former high school and university classmates, which expand exponentially. This reason alone is enough for the Costa Rican government to really consider how its treatment of expatriates has an effect on tourism.
The country is quickly reaching the point where one well-connected expat with a negative attitude can deter hundreds of people from vacationing in Costa Rica. No amount of expensive promotion on the part of the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo can counteract the damage that hundreds of expats talking about things like pollution or crime can do.
Nations like Costa Rica, unfortunately, are in danger of falling so far behind in bandwidth that the speed of now marginally broadband ADSL connections will resemble the dial-up Internet of the 1990s. As the former telecom monopoly struggles to implement 3G Internet service, the United States already enjoys 4G services in every major market.
One typical 4G phone can provide an Internet connection for up to 5 devices, and it is expected that the typical package will deliver between 5 and 12 Mbps by the end of the year. Following the dynamics of smartphone and social networks like Twitter is vital because it is predicated that in just 10 years mobile phone will replace the desktop computer as the dominant Internet device.
Web pages that do not automatically adapt their layouts to smartphones are in danger of becoming as obsolete as print media. Equally so, it is vital that any Web site with a future embrace social networking in a meaningful way. It’s no longer good enough to simply link to a profile on a social network without providing systems for commentary or social interaction directly on the page.
Some experts predict that the traditional Web site as we know it and even many blogging platforms will fade away in the coming years under a wave of information, much of which will be generated by social networks. While professionals talk about the loss of journalistic standards or declining quality of information, the more successful media outlets look for ways to aggregate information from social networks and moderate discussion.
At this point, no one has emerged as a leader in the realm of social networking among the English-speaking community in Costa Rica. The U.S. Embassy has a Facebook page. However its Web site is not a portal for social networking. For example, the Spanish-language news publication La Nación allows readers to comment on the news on its Web page in real time through a Twitter account. No English-language outlet of comparable professional standards provides any level of instant social collaboration.
Print media is truly dead, and while Costa Rica does have one English-language print newspaper the reasons for its continued existence seem ambiguous. Time is also gradually eroding the base of English-speaking people who are still willing to participate in the newsprint culture.
The average American teen on average sends 2,272 text messages per month and can be expected to never subscribe to a print newspaper during his or her lifetime. The next generation will in all probability view any form of print media as an expensive waste of environmental resources. Social networking is vital if this generation is ever to know much of a place like Costa Rica.
Costa Rica better clean up its act and get into the 21st century because the days of traditional media are numbered. Most important, the country needs to clean up its act, because its dirty laundry is aired instantly on the Internet, and there is little opportunity to counter the negative impact.