METROPLUS - The Hindu (Kerala), 26 January 2004

Nostalgia on the Net

Alumni associations in the city have yet another stop these days - the Internet.

By ASHOK R CHANDRAN

WHETHER YOU have studied in Amballur or Vettimukal, you will mostly find your school-friends at www.infophil.com, website of the World Alumni Net. For Malayalis trying to contact long-lost friends from school, the traditional halt in cyberspace has often been Alumni.NET.

But now, powered by nostalgia, Keralites are stepping further - building websites for school friends, and offering services that global sites like Alumni.NET cannot match.

First off the block was the Old Boys' Association of Sainik School, Kazhakootam. The highlight of Kazhaks Online set up in 1998, is an online directory where the school's old students can search and contact friends with ease. "When an old student travels to New York, he would like to know whether there is an alumnus there. The site has helped to keep alumni connected,'' says Dennis M. Paul, a key person behind the venture.

lobaglobal.com, of the Loyola Old Boys' Association (LOBA) is leaving old students enthralled for good reason - it offers 360-degree views of selected areas of Loyola. "The campus has changed a lot since my days there. The 360-degree photograph is a superb idea,'' says Praveen S, marine engineer based in Singapore. lobaglobal also provides profiles of alumni, articles on teachers, and news from Loyola. Last month, to evoke memories of first days in school, LOBA added a sound clipping from the kindergarten. Alumni associations are putting up websites not just for the bytes of entertainment they provide. "The online services we offer reduce costs,'' says Vivek Krishnan, Secretary of the LOBA. "With postal tariffs rising, e-mail and website are better tools. We now reach out to alumni quickly at a fraction of the cost required for a newsletter.''

Websites, with their global reach also serve as round-the-clock advertisements and help in expanding the alumni network. "Through the site, we get enquiries from alumni wanting to join the Association,'' says Dr. Krishnan. Both at Kazhaks Online and lobaglobal, alumni can fill the bio-data form in 10 minutes and send it at the click of a button.

Unlike most college alumni sites, school alumni sites have a section on teachers. "The first thing I did was to quickly run through the list of staff to see if I could recognise any of my beloved teachers,'' wrote Suresh Mathew Verghis of Chennai, an alumnus who left Loyola 17 years ago.

Kazhaks Online and lobaglobal have put staff addresses online so that alumni can send greeting cards or write to teachers.

"The discussion forum is also active,'' informs Ceejo Thomas, administrator of Kazhaks. Here, topics range from early days in school to the latest career opportunities. But, the most popular tool to keep in touch with friends is electronic group (e-group). Alumni from several schools in Kerala have set up e-groups and exchange news, ideas and jokes. At Yahoogroups alone, there are more than 100 such groups. "The e-group will prove helpful to organise local get-togethers," believes Ajay J Prakash, creator of the e-group chennai@lobaglobal

Barring a few like Choice School, Kochi and St. Joseph's Higher Secondary School, Thiruvananthapuram, schools in Kerala do not earmark on their website a useful section for alumni. Hence, school alumni sites spring from a handful of dedicated old students. Most alumni websites, like that of St.Thomas Residential School, Thiruvananthapuram, set up by the tech-savvy at free website hosts like Tripod are abandoned because the initial enthusiasm cannot be sustained. Creating a site is 99 per cent inspiration, maintaining it is 99 per cent perspiration.

Mr. Paul draws attention to the time-factor. His private software firm in Kochi has been maintaining Kazhak site as a `philanthropic' venture.

Similarly, lobaglobal (sponsored by alumni in the U.S.) relies on volunteers who spend the evenings after college or work. And it is no smooth surfing. "Putting members' details online, with advanced search features, is time-consuming,'' says webmaster Abishek V.

Websites help associations fulfill their aims. Other alumni groups are also waking up to this new communication channel. "We are slowly building the Association. We have the website on our agenda,'' says Esther Jayanthi, secretary of the Alumni Association of the Students of Holy Angels' (AASHA).

However, it is Loyola OBA's slogan that captures the spirit of the times - making the Net work for alumni.


RELATED LINKS
Kazhaks Online (Sainik School alumni website)
lobaglobal.com (Loyola School alumni website)
This article at The Hindu newspaper's website
More newspaper articles by the author
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