The Indernet: From Internet Portal to the Social Web

The Indernet: From Internet Portal to the Social Web

Urmila Goel (European University Viadrina, Frankfurt, Germany)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 14
DOI: 10.4018/IJEP.2016070101
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Abstract

The social web creates a different technological environment for natio-ethno-cultural community building than internet portals did. Using a long-term ethnography of the virtual space Indernet, the article pursues the question, why after a relaunch of the former internet portal as a blog and a Facebook page it no longer functioned as a space of the second generation. In particular it analyses which demographic and technological factors had an impact on the capacity for community building. The article argues that the individualised usage of social media and the flow of Facebook make it much harder for ethnic entrepreneurs to create a space of natio-ethno-cultural belonging.
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Introduction

Make your choice and surf to the Indernet, Germany’s first and premier online portal for NRI's and for those who simply love India!

Thus, the virtual space Indernet (cf. Goel, 2009; Reggi, 2010) described itself (in English) on its Facebook page in the year 2016. Sixteen years after it was founded by Indians of the second generation for others like themselves, it claimed to be a space both for those biographically linked to India (Non-Resident-Indians/ NRI) as well all those interested in India.1

The emergence of digital media came along with the promise of making geographical distances less important and offering migrants’ new possibilities to create their own publics and facilitate their networking (cf. Karim, 2003a; Mitra, 1997). Thus much research was – and still is - conducted about how migrants use internet technologies (cf. Greschke, 2012; Kuntsman, 2009; Madianou & Miller, 2013; Miller & Slater, 2000). Much of this research deals with South Asian diasporas in the Anglophone world (cf. Gajjala, 2004; Gajjala & Gajjala, 2008a; Lal, 1999; Mallapragada, 2000; Mitra, 1997; Sahoo & de Kruif, 2014; Rai, 1995). Studies from other parts of the South Asian diaspora2 are hardly found, which confirms Goggin and McLelland’s (2009) critique of Anglo-centric internet studies (cf. Leung, 2008, p.10). Analysing the German virtual space Indernet accordingly aims at extending the map of South Asia online (cf. Gajjala & Gajjala, 2008b, p.1).

Germany lies on the margins of the South Asian diaspora3. Due to the small number of migrants from South Asia and because their diversity community structures hardly exist, digital media is even more important for networking both within Germany and transnationally (cf. Oberkircher, 2006, p. 178; Schulze Palstring, 2015, p.167). Since the year 2000, several digital networks have developed, most of which have been established and used by the highly skilled migrants who have settled in Germany since the year 2000 (cf. Schulze Palstring, 2015).

The aim of this article is to present an archaeological4 analysis of natio-ethno-cultural community building through the virtual space Indernet. A virtual space is made up of different (temporal) layers, which need to be excavated in order to understand its history. In the case of the Indernet it started in the year 2000 as an internet portal and was relaunched as a blog and a Facebook (fb) page in the year 2011. The Indernet in the year 2016 thus hardly resembles the one of the year 2000, but remains of the earlier versions still can be found. Thus, this article sets out to excavate the different layers of the virtual space, in order to analyse its development.

Method

The ethnographic analysis of the Indernet follows Miller & Slater’s (2000) approach of an ethnography of the internet. It shares not only the conviction that an ethnography must be based on long-term observation and interaction, but also Miller & Slater’s understanding that the internet does not exist as a fixed entity, but rather is assembled by its users according to their needs. Thus, internet usage must always be analysed in a particular context and take account of the interwovenness of online and offline (cf. Goel, 2014; Hine, 2015, pp. 55-88). Differing from Miller & Slater (2000), however, this research project does not start from a geographical space, but rather from a virtual space, i.e. the Indernet (cf. Greschke, 2012; Kuntsman, 2009; Shahani, 2008).

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