MySQUAR’s vision is to connect all Burmese nationals with an accessible social platform. To create a space where Burmese nationals can meet, connect and share with no boundaries or limitations.
This is the vision behind the rapidly growing Burmese-language social media platform MySQUAR. Founded last year by Rita Nguyen, usage has skyrocketed in past months.
When she began the project, said Nguyen in an interview, she expected to encounter an unsophisticated user base working with low connectivity. Myanmar (or Burma), has an internet access at less than 1%, according to Wikipedia, mostly accessed via internet cafés.
However, what Nguyen did not expect was that those few who are connected are also extremely tech-savvy. She describes this young generation as “basically hackers because they had to be,” as their options for accessing the Internet were very limited.
Nguyen sees three main barriers to entry for consumer technologies: limits from governments on freedom of speech, limits due to physical access such as connectivity or technologies, and limits for cultural reasons, such as language.
Politics and Identity
Nguyen has not experienced any problems from the government regarding censorship. She says that young people are not so worried about sharing information and that there is a big trend towards taking and sharing selfies, and showing one's own identity.
When MySQUAR launched last June, the team decided to require usernames, rather than real names, asFacebook does, to keep a certain level of safety and anonymity. However, after going live, they have had many requests to change this requirement, from users who want to make their real name public.
Nguyen guesses this is in part due to the popularity of posting creative drawings or poems on MySQUAR, and users who to want to identify themselves as the authors of their posted work.
Technology and Connectivity
Connectivity has been increasing and will continue to do so in coming months, as two major telecommunications providers will come into Myanmar this year: the Norwegian group Telenor and Qatar-based Ooredoo.
Nguyen also identified a major concern in the world of Myanmar tech: the most popular font on Burmese-language websites, called Zawgyi, does not correspond to Unicode, leading to larger problems.
Localization and Programming
Adapting tech projects to local cultures can be extremely important in order to interest local populations, requiring an understanding of what local people like and want.
MySQUAR exists entirely in Burmese but, emphasizes Nguyen, the localization goes far beyond simple translations.
In their research, the MySQUAR team and found a particularly popular trend among young Burmese of shared notebook diaries. These diaries have sections to be filled in and exchanged among friends, asking questions about the owner of the diary and how they met, and can be scrapbooks of photographs and drawings.
After seeing this trend, the MySQUAR team built similar features into the platform which are reminiscent of this paper-based diary.
In the future, MySQUAR is looking to expand into a non-urban market, finding ways to help those Burmese who might not be interested in social networking but who can take advantage of technology to improve their standard of living.