22 June 2015

Fans of Cats & the Facebook group as a bonding exercise

A few months ago, a friend of mine who also has a cat was looking for a good vet in her neighbourhood to get him spayed. I would have—and did—offer my excellent vet, but she wanted to stay closer to home so transporting him around wouldn’t be such an issue. (Have you ever driven in a car with a cat? It defines Einstein’s theory of relativity. Even a short two kilometer drive feels like it’s been going on for three hours.)


Asking on Facebook seemed to be the best idea, but all the animal activist groups I belonged to were all dogs all the time. Now, I have nothing against dogs. Perfectly fine animals in their own way—and very nice pets if you’re looking for children who will never grow up and never be able to fetch you a nice cold vodka tonic should you need one. What a difference from the rest of the world where cats are not only the most popular household pet there is, but also have forums devoted to each particular disease they can get. I decided then to start my own Facebook group for people like my friend and I and call it Fans Of Cats, Delhi. The first question? Who is the best cat vet in the city?

Since that time, Fans of Cats has grown. Not very significantly, I still know more dog owners than cat ones, and still, in my own particular group of friends, know more people without furry friends than ones who have made the commitment, but the 65 member strong group has a lively discussion almost every morning on everything from how to cook chicken and fish the best possible way for cats (they can’t digest carbohydrates very well, so you have to make sure they’re getting the right amount of vitamins from chicken, that makers of dry cat food already add to it) to kitten adoptions, to people looking for pet sitters while they are away on holiday. I myself use it as an invaluable resource, collating information from cat owners across the city to help with behavioral problems, messed up medical exams and more. With three cats, I find myself both offering and asking for advice more regularly on this forum than I do anywhere else on Facebook.

The Facebook group is not a beautiful thing, like say, the Facebook page. In terms of design, it stays strictly old school: a picture on top, a description on the side bar, and rotating posts by group members. However, it is the easiest way to see and search for information in this age of almost too much information. The Facebook group Eat Treat, for example, a community of foodies that writes reviews and talks about food, recently received funding to the tune of $350,000 to turn the community-based group into a fully fledged website. The website called Eattreatonline (a bit of a mouthful, no pun intended) will offer vaguely food, fashion, home chefs and other such trendy things.

But perhaps because the Facebook group is so unbeautiful, advertisers are not jumping on it as much as they should be. And they really should. Your average popular group usually has tens of thousands of very engaged, very active members, more than you can say about the most well-liked Facebook page, where users can “like” the content but may not contribute to the active discussion. Occasionally, a savvy group creator will turn this around to their advantage, at another food group called Gourmet Planet, for instance, the founding member organizes meals at fancy restaurants where members can pay a fixed sum for a prix fixe menu. Or, in another group meant for real estate in Goa, the moderator earns a commission on each house rented out through the group. It’s a clever way to be, because it doesn’t require you to actually do any extra work, seeing as your community will do that for you. If you get lucky, and popular enough, you can use it for good.

Meanwhile, on Fans of Cats I’m feeling happy because a first time kitten owner has just posted an update. He had been feeding his kitten milk and she was listless and weak. The group told him cats are lactose intolerant, and to shift her to another diet with more protein. His kitty is now bright eyed and bushy tailed, leaping in the garden, and “it’s all thanks to some of the members of Fans of Cats,” he said.

That’s almost worth $350,000, I think. 

Gratuitous Lord Squishington photo. ("We're still getting the paper???")


(A version of this appeared as my column on mydigitalfc.com)

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