BantrA new(ish) breed of Social Networking
Despite the apparent stranglehold the likes of Facebook and Twitter have over the social networking arena, there are many more niche, online communities available that are built on considerations such as location, values and interests.

With this in mind, I was reasonably excited upon learning of a Football based social network – Bantr. Finally, somewhere I can ramble on about selection mistakes by Stuart Pearce to an ‘audience’ that would appreciate my opinions and engage with me. This seemed preferable to alienating my ‘friends’ further on Facebook who “have no time for football” – a concept I clearly have yet to grasp.

Of course, there are other places where you can discuss football; from fan forums to podcasts – or even pop down to the local with a couple of mates. However, being part of a social network dedicated to the beautiful game appealed to me, so eagerly signed up and started exploring my new world.

Bantr Features
It was clear within minutes of logging in to the website, Bantr clearly took inspiration from a number of higher profile social networking services and applied them to football.

Within minutes I was ‘checking in’ to a few matches I was planning to watch over the weekend, voting on whether I supported Harry Redknapp as manager at Tottenham Hotspur; all safe in the knowledge that one of our spirited academy players was about to have a nap (having said this, aggregating player Tweets was one of my favourite features).

The next time I accessed my account, I was being ‘followed’ by a couple of people and was rapidly earning points that could one day lead me to become the Bantr ‘Chairman’ of my beloved Spurs.

I wrote a couple of ‘status updates’ and started to get a few responses that led to conversations. This was going well.

A few weeks later though, I had lost almost all interest.

What I Learnt from Bantr
When I was an active user, Bantr was still at an early age in its life and had a few technical problems, some of which weren’t particularly important in the grand scheme of things and most have been fixed since, but were frustrating none the less.

All ambition of becoming a club Chairman had disappeared as there was no real incentive to be ‘king of the manor’. In my eyes, Bantr valued you on how often you used different features of the site and more importantly, how many people you could get to sign up. On the one hand this seemed a sure-fire way of generating more members, but on the other it lost sight of what the main selling point of the site was, an online football community.

One of the other main issues was that there wasn’t a version of the network dedicated to mobile devices. It’s hard enough to keep on top of my Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts with the odd mobile app, so Bantr simply couldn’t keep up.

Embracing Facebook
However, the biggest stumbling block in my opinion was that Bantr, in its attempts to reach as many potential members as possible set up their own accounts on the more mainstream social networks mentioned above. LinkedIn and Twitter I could understand just as they had different functions to what Bantr was trying to achieve, but I struggled to come to terms with their presence on Facebook.

For example, having a group on one social network to engage with members about your own social network didn’t make sense and went against why I joined Bantr in the first place. When you look at the number of likes and the level of interaction from people on the group, I think a lot of members felt the same way.

After a while members were able to access Bantr using their Facebook account. However, this came with the inevitable automated Facebook status updates alerting my friends (including all that fell into the “had no time for football” category) that I had taken my obsession to a new level. Not only this, but ‘I’ wanted all of said friends wanted to join me for some football-themed banter. I’m reasonably sure some people blocked me as a result of taking up most of their news wall with irrelevant Bantr updates – I have done the same thing with in the case of Farmville.

Reasons for Optimism
This post may read as being a little harsh on Bantr, but creating a successful social network is not an easy thing to crack. One thing that was excellent about the service was they constantly invited  feedback from members in terms of how to improve the experience; and making those changes.

With their recent partnership with The Daily Telegraph’s Fantasy Football game, it will be interesting to see how they evolve as an offering and whether joining forces with a second online football community will be the winning tactic in reaching the Champions League of social networking.