DesignMind. Africa's first Social Network for Design Professionals...

Right. News out about the big project we've been working on for the last couple of weeks. The Virtual Works proudly presents: Africa's first social network for design professionals. And we're pretty proud of it.

There is a huge gap in this market. Design Professionals are actively involved with the purchase decisions of pretty much all manufactured products that get used within the built environment. Yet there is no real collaborative portal for them to engage with their own industry, trend watch, pontificate and do all the other good things designers like to do.

Hence the launch.

Feedback has been fantastic so far. 150 members and climbing in just over a day. Where I think this product will make a difference, is in the approach.

Usually (and let me generalise here for a second) - social networks, niche communities, content portals etc. etc. get started with a bright idea, pinch of passion and some caution-to-the-wind. DesignMind is a bit different.

REASON 1: We've been running this as a content portal and monthly newsletter for almost 3 years now - so have an established brand in the market place. Launching innovative new services off the back of an established brand is always better.

REASON 2: Most (niche) social network creators will spend the first "6 weeks" (the critical tipping point, as I'm told) concentrating on nothing else but bringing in members. Theory being, enough members and the thing begins to run itself. We've taken a slightly different approach - and while we will definitely be after a high membership, our strategy is to help push relevant, insightful industry information down the pipe and into the community. It's my personal view that too often, these things fail because people don't add enough VALUE upfront. Communities in this social media space have to work pretty hard these days - we're trying to do a bit of the work for them.

REASON 3: We STARTED with a database. We didn't create one out of the network. It is quite a privileged position to be in - but we sit on South Africa's largest database of design proffesionals, lovingly built up by our outbound data centre. When we launched DesignMind - 10,000 invites went out to opt-in members. That's gotta start you off on the right foot!

We'll be watching (and pushing) it's growth with interest. I have a little bit of a hobby horse with "Social Networking". Hobby horse being I'm bored of it. But where FaceBook may ultimately have to continue re-inventing itself, there is definitely room for niche "business" networks. Especially those that can really offer something valuable, as opposed to yet another place to add friends and leave wall posts.

Check it out - I'd love to hear your feedback...

(SIDEBAR: I really have to offer some creative thanks to Dave Duarte and the crew at HuddleMind. I'd been thinking of using these open source platforms and doing some intense customisation before - but his example really set the idea off. And congrats to our internal design team, especially Lesley Upton, who really pulled the rabbit out the hat in super quick time).

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