Interview No. 1 by Sharon McMillan Publisher of Inspire Jamaica.
Ever had the urge to find someone who could indulge your need to talk about cherished locations in Jamaica, or your deep down desire to re-locate to Jamaica? How about setting up a business in Jamaica, retirement in Jamaica, cooking Jamaican, or the time honoured “Jamaican” tradition of political philosophizing – ever have a need to share your thoughts on these kinds of issues but just weren’t able to find the person or opportunity to have the discussion when you wanted to?
Well thanks to entrepreneur Xavier Murphy, thousands of others like you, from countries and cultures from around the world, have found such an oasis. It is called Jamaicans.com and Inspire Jamaica found this website to be just the right kind of “inspiration” for the focus of our publication. In addition to featuring an interview with Xavier, we will also be featuring in this issue some of the wonderful ways members of his website have been able to bolster their businesses in Jamaica as a result of this website.
Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Xavier Murphy, founder of Jamaicans.com
IS: Xavier, thank you for agreeing to be featured in Inspire Jamaica. Tell us, what inspired you to start this website?
XM: When I started working for a “dotcom” company in 1995 there were only 3-4 Jamaicans website that I remember seeing. I was surprised at how little was out there on Jamaica so I started the website. The original title of the site was “De Website on Jamaica”.
IS:What needs, longings and interests are being fulfilled by those who frequent your website?
XM:The Jamaicans.com site actually serves quite a few needs. There is information their for people who want to learn about Jamaica and the Jamaican culture. There is information on the site for travelers to Jamaica. There is information there for Jamaicans who want to keep in touch with their culture. There is also a vibrant community of over 10,000 people on our bulletin boards where a wide range of topics are discussed and breaking news out of Jamaica is reported.
IS:Why do you think you attract the positive and supportive kind of subscribers that participate on your bulletin boards?
XM:Our bulletin board is like a small community. It provides a place where members of the site can connect and commune with others. The stories there are just amazing. The most recent one was a member there who was going through surgery for cancer. Members on the board got word of this and from all over the world they sent flowers and best wishes to her hospital room. There are numerous other stories I can relay about the board including a couple that lost contact with each other and met again on the board. They eventually got married.
IS:You’ve been in business seven years. What challenges have you overcome to succeed in your dotcom business this long?
XM:In the seven years the site has been online the two biggest challenges we have had to over come is growth and financing. The site visitors have grown at such a rapid pace it has been difficult to finance the infrastructure needed to support the site. In the first five years the site was online the advertising revenue and my out of pocket financing was enough to support the site. Once the bottom of the “dotcom” frenzy fell out in 2000 the advertising money dried up but the site continued to grow. The last two years have been very difficult but we have survived with the support of the members on the site. Most recently the members on the forums had a few fundraisers and sent the funds collected to the company that supports our infrastructure. The continued growth of the site is continuing to be a challenge and we continue to find ways to accommodate this.
IS:What is your future vision for jamaicans.com?
XM:We hope to continue to be a key resource for Jamaicans and lovers of Jamaica all over the world. Our initiatives for the coming year will focus more on supporting Jamaicans worldwide and providing more articles on issues that affect Jamaicans in Jamaica and worldwide. We will also be working more closely with non-profit organization helping Jamaica.
IS:Inspire Jamaica is focused on highlighting unique and “off the beaten” patch vacation spots and communities in Jamaica. In our inaugural issue we featured “community tourism” pioneer Diana McIntyre Pike and the work she is doing to promote Mandeville and the south coast as a vacation destination. Please tell us how your site supports the tourism industry in Jamaica.
XM:We have a tourism channel that is probably one of the most extensive guides to Jamaica. With over 100 trip reports from visitors to Jamaica we provide real and practical information. The second way we assist the industry is through our three forums where visitors to the site can discuss travel issues to Jamaica. Each forum is focused on different areas of the island and provides potential visitors to the island with an opportunity to learn about Jamaica from others who have visited. We also have monthly features on different attractions and “off the beaten path” destinations in Jamaica. Our goal is to showcase the real Jamaica from the eyes of those who have been there.
To visit or join this vibrant online community and resource for vacationing, re-locating and indulging in Jamaican culture and cuisine, log onto your computer and type jamaicans.com – but forewarned that this site is addictive!
Interview No. 2 by A “Smiley” Smith
Smiley: When the site was initially created, how was it advertised? How is it being advertised now?
Xavier:The site went live December 1995. The main means of getting the word out on the site was through Internet Search engines like Yahoo, AltaVista, Lycos and HotBot. Currently the site is still promoted mainly through search engines but there is some “virtual marketing” helping to promote the site. There is the “jamaicans.com” email address, “Send this page to a friend”, “Send this post to a friend” and in general users who visit the sites forums tell their friends to visit it.
Smiley: How does the status of a person change from being a newbie to those higher up in the hierarchy? Does it depend on the duration of membership or number of posts or any other criteria?
Xavier:Hierarchy on the forum is based on posts.
Smiley:When you initially created the site, what was the audience you intended to target?
Xavier:The main audience was people who wanted to learn about Jamaica from a true cultural sense. When the site first started there where not many other Jamaican sites. In fact I only remember 4 others being online. There were not many Jamaicans who knew about the Internet then. When I spoke to my Jamaican friends about the Internet in 1995 they would give me a blank look.
Smiley:Are any online events organized on the site? I know there are bashments planned in real life among people who’ve met at jamaicans.com, but are there any events for which people log in to the site at the same time and celebrate?
Xavier:Actually many of the “official” bashments are planned on line. Approx. 90% of the bashments this past summer were all planned online with about 10% of the work being done offline. Committees were formed online and they planned in the “Behind the Scenes” forum. There are events we have on the site, which requires users to log in for a specific time frame. We recently had a political discussion on the Jamaica Elections (10/16/02) which required users to log in for a few hours and talk to political “mover and shakers” in Jamaica. We also have had authors of Jamaican books come in and do discussions on our forums and earlier in the year, the leader of the new Political Party UPP had a discussion in our “Politrix” forum.
Smiley:Is there any specific reason that you’ve not included a Chat feature in the site?
Xavier:We had a chat feature on the site from mid 1996 – late 2001. It was the most under utilized area of our site. The sites audience was more interested in forum based discussion versus online chats. Many users have said that the forums allow users to spend time to think and also respond at their own pace.
Smiley:Does the site facilitate member created subgroups? i.e. — can groups be formed within the members — perhaps groups of people with similar interests?
Xavier:Our online forums were created to try and provide an area for people with similar interests. We do not provide any tools for users to create “subgroups” within these interest areas. We add and change forums based on the feed back we get from our community members.
Smiley:Does the site celebrate personal events of members? If not everyday events like birthdays, something special of a long-standing member?
Xavier:The site does not celebrate the special member events but the site community does. By this I meant that the other members might know when a member has a birthday and start a thread to wish them well.
Smiley:Though there are general “Forum Rules”, is there a ‘Code of Conduct’ with a constitution and amendments?
Xavier:Yes there is. The many volunteers who assist with the management of the site debate and review all these changes.
Smiley:Are there any special features of the site that would be known only when you’ve been around for sometime, i.e.: something that a casual visitor might overlook?
Xavier: I think the most overlooked section of the site is the archive of articles we have on Jamaican Culture.
Smiley:Can you recount one of your best experiences on the site?
Xavier:There are so many I don’t know where to start. One of my best experiences on the site happened most recently when a member communicated to me that a few months ago they were really sick and in the hospital. Other members of the site forums sent flowers and best wishes to them in the hospital. The member explained that the members were an inspiration and a support during a hard time.
The other good experience was how the members of the forum came together to help the site when we were in financial need due to our hosting costs. This and other similar experiences have enforced for me that this labor of love is not in vein. As a Christian sister of mine put it “This is your Ministry to God”.