Tribewanted – online communities going native

Tribewanted completely passed me by until I stumbled across an article trailing a BBC2 observational documentary series about the venture entitled “Paradise or Bust”.

Tribewanted describes itself as a unique community tourism project that is simultaneously based on Vorovoro Island, Fiji and online.

According to the website, Tribewanted was founded by Ben Keene and Mark Bowness in April 2006. Mark was a 26 year old serial social networker in search of the next level of the internet revolution. Ben was a 26 year old serial ‘gapper’ in search of the next level of adventurous travel. Mark emailed Ben with his idea of finding an internet tribe and building a unique on-line-on-island community. Ben said ‘ok, let’s do it’. Mark has since moved on from Tribewanted to pursue his next online dream while Ben continues to run the tribe today.

The idea was to create an online community of 5,000 members who form a tribe and then fund the development of a tribal “home” on an island in the Pacific, with each member spending between three and twelve weeks on the island. Members would get a say in the running of the island during the three year life of the project and remain in close context with other tribal members via the online social network.

An island in Fiji was chosen and rented for 3 years and the first episode of the BBC programme followed the project from the first landing on the island and the set-up of base camp, through to the arrival of the first tribe members. It covered the travails of recruiting online members, a process beset by online accusations that the whole scheme was a financial scam, and warning people not to part with the £300 to join.

It was fascinating to watch and see the youthful optimism of the founders, impatient for success, hit the realities and slow pace of Fijian life. Likewise, the scheme was hugely dependent upon attracting a large membership to cover the setup and running costs of the island venture, and they hit financial difficulties very quickly because of a shortfall in numbers. Even today, only 1,300 of the hoped for 5,000 have been signed-up, of which 400 have already been to the island with ages ranged between 4-63 years old.

If you missed it, worth checking out via BBC Online and their (awful) iPlayer.

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