My secret is I have a Google news alert..thats all O:) Oh and I joined the Yahoo virtualvanuatu@eGroups.com
Posted on Wed, Jun. 30, 2004
`Survivor' puts Pacific nation on virtual map
By Mike Cassidy
The Web is all about making the world smaller. And sometimes it's amazing just how small it can be.
Marke Lowen has been thinking about this now that all eyes in reality TV-land are on Vanuatu.
Really. They are. Von-ew-WHA-tu. Why?
Oh, you do so watch it. And right now, host Jeff Probst and the scantily clad contestants are filming this fall's installment on a tiny island in the South Pacific country.
It's like dropping Manhattan on Green Acres -- both in the real and virtual worlds.
The real world island has been invaded by helicopters, boats and what locals say is a production crew of 300. And then there is Virtual Vanuatu, a digital land Lowen founded on Yahoo Groups to spread understanding about the country he moved to in 1984.
``Just recently,'' says Lowen, who runs Vanuatu Online www.vanuatu.net.vu
, ``I found, we had a 24-hour period where we were four hits short of 200,000.''
Compare that to 10,000 a day before ``Survivor.''
Lowen, a 47-year-old Australian photographer, brought the Internet to Vanuatu after a 1996 visit to MacWorld in San Francisco.
He returned to the South Pacific armed with advice on launching a site and two Seagate hard drives, which landed him in the company's 1996 annual report.
But let's just say this isn't what he pictured.
``Sitting out here, you don't contemplate all this stuff,'' Lowen says from Efate (pop. 50,000), one of 83 islands making up the country.
Things have been crowded on Lowen's site, and his related Yahoo group since CBS announced ``Survivor: Vanuatu'' last month.
Posts on the Virtual Vanuatu group nearly tripled from April to May. Most of the discussions still revolve around politics, tourism and culture. Is the national airline, which consists of one 737, well-run? Can the historic Rossi bar be saved from developers? Will fishermen ferry travelers among the islands?
But among those messages you'll now find a debate over ``Survivor.''
Will the group be swamped by pop culture chatter? Are some of the curious actually spies for ``Survivor'' fan sites? Should the show's producers set up a charity for Vanuatu? Aren't those who watch ``Survivor'' intellectual weaklings? Does Vanuatu stand to lose or gain?
Lowen eventually appealed for a ``cooling off'' period. The ``Survivor'' chatter has subsided, but Lowen expects more when the show airs in the fall.
``I think the old members are worried about what kind of riff-raff might join with `Survivor,' '' he says. ``Is this virtual environmental pollution of a sort?''
It has all left Lowen, the group's moderator, with a new dilemma. He believes in a free Internet and is loath to ban people from the group. But, he wonders how big the group will grow.
``There is the potential to really screw it up,'' he says.
For now, he's willing to accept the rough and tumble.
``It could be good for Vanuatu,'' he says. ``Even if they are only `Survivor' freaks, if they start to engage in conversations on other little topics. . . ''
In fact, Lowen wonders whether he should use ``Survivor'' to drive traffic and advertisers to his Vanuatu site.
``I've been given a glimpse of the horizon,'' he says. ``It would be silly not to at least try to capitalize on it.''
Vanuatu, welcome to the rest of the world.
Geography: 83 islands in a Y-shape stretching about 500 miles. Several islands have active volcanoes.
Population: About 200,000
Capital: Port Vila on the island of Efate. ``Survivor'' is shooting on a nearby island.
Government: A republic with an elected parliament and president.
Languages: About 100, including English. Bislama, a form of Pidgin English, is spoken throughout the country.
Life: Most of Vanuatu's people are Melanesians, and 80 percent of the population lives in rural villages. Farming is the primary occupation.
Tourism: About 50,000 visitors a year who stay at the islands' resorts and hotels. Another 50,000 visitors a year arrive by cruise ships and visit for the day.
Claim to business fame: Vanuatu is a tax haven a la Bermuda, Cayman Islands, etc. Sharman Networks, the company behind Kazaa, is incorporated there.
Tough break of 2004: Cyclone Ivy hit in February, killing one.
Source: World Book encyclopedia, Vanuatu Tourism Office, AAP Information Services, Vanuatu Online.