Sunday, September 04, 2016

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Who is InterNations expat website, what do they offer to Taiwan expats?

9/04/2016 Taiwan Explorer
InterNations
Screen grab from the InterNations homepage.

If you're an expat like me, you must have seen tons of articles referring to a summary of an expat survey on InterNations, an expat website, and adding flashy headlines like: Taiwan is the best place to be for expats this year! Living and working in Taiwan for several years now, I had my doubts. So the first thing I did is, I signed up and checked out what the site InterNations is about, and what's happening in their Taipei/Taiwan online community. I will write a separate post on this topic covering the media echo chamber, and talking about the issues I have with this often cited survey. It seems that none of these journalists checked out the source. I on the other hand feel I have a responsibility to my readers, so here are my findings.

Who is InterNations?

According to their website www.internations.org, from their About page, they claim to be (as of August 2016):

- Founded in 2007 by Malte Zeeck, Philipp von Plato, Christian Leifeld
- The largest global expat network
- 2.3 million members
- Present with communities in 390 cities worldwide
- A community of trust: membership by approval

They are registered in Munich, Germany. You can read the story of how they started from zero and where they were in recent years.

The registration process

The registration process on InterNations is fairly simple. You go to their registration page, and add your first name, last name, email, two times password, select gender, and add the city you were born in and currently living in. Then you have to agree to "InterNations Privacy Policy (including the use of cookies) and the Terms & Conditions". Once this is all done, you click on the "Join for free" button, and your registration is sent to them.

As seen in the screen grab above, InterNation claims on their website on several pages, that:

Membership at InterNations is by approval only:

Each membership request is carefully reviewed to make sure InterNations remains the special place it is.

This is the mail I received (please see the time at 1:14)

InterNations

2 minutes later (at 1:16) I was a member:

InterNations

Actually I became a member in a few seconds right after submitting, I just made the screen grab 2 minutes later. I have to say I am very impressed by how quick they are reviewing each membership request. It almost felt as if they did not review it at all. Unfortunately in my case, they have been a little bit sloppy, because I submitted a fake name and fake data, but no worries, I will leave InterNations the special place it is, I won't misbehave. I registered only to write a blog post about it, I will not be active there beyond this article.

Once you become a member

Once you become a member, there are three additional pages that you have to go through. First they suggest you to upload your photo, but it's not obligatory.

InterNations

Then you have to select some interests you have.

InterNations

And finally, they offer you a paid membership that is called Albatross Membership:

InterNations

To sum it up: They offer a free registration, but when you're a free member, you have limited access to certain features. They have a very nice FAQ page, where they answer all the questions related to memberships. If you're already a member, you will have access to this overview:

InterNations
Click here to enlarge this image.

To be honest, living and working in Taiwan for many years now and sharing my own experiences on life as an expat, I don't see a compelling reason for me to pay for the Albatross membership. I can imagine that for someone who just came to Taiwan recently such websites can be a useful starting point, but $5.95 per month (with the annual tier) is not that cheap (that's $71.4 annually), but ok, that's debatable.

In addition to the paid membership program, they also make money by offering companies a Special Offers Partner of InterNations program. This is what they say on their website:

Make your product reach the international community

InterNations offers its Global and Local Partners multi-faceted on- and offline formats for exclusive and targeted sales and branding partnerships in a trust-based environment.

- Make your product reach the international community - worldwide or specifically in your region or city
- Create credible and positive brand awareness in a trust-based, high-value environment
- Boost sales within a unique circle of high-profile expats and decision makers
- We are looking forward to discussing your opportunities within our network.

As of today, the InterNations Facebook page has over 830,000 likes, their Twitter account over 17,700 followers, their Instagram over 11,000 followers (just a tiny bit more than mine) and their YouTube channel over 1800 subscribers. In addition, they claim on their website to have over 2.3 million members (how many of these are actually active is another question), so no doubt they have quite a large platform, that will be attractive to advertizers. I have absolutely no issue with their business model, what they offer to members and advertisers seems to be very clear and transparent to a certain point (I would like to know how many members are actually active on their platform), but one needs to take the bare numbers with a pinch of salt.

What does InterNations offer to new Taiwan expats?

Since I have not paid for the Albatross membership, I can only share my opinion on their free tier, which has some limitations (so take it as such). Once you are signed up and done with the profile, you are in. You have 5 menues to choose from: Members, Forum, Guide, Groups and Events. I was most curious about the Forum, so I checked that out first, because it wanted to see how many people are active there. The Taipei forum is divided in 5 sub-groups:

InterNations

I checked out all of them, and I have to say there's not much activity there (especially if I compare it to my Facebook page, or various Taiwan expat centric Facebook groups). Here's a screen grab of the latest posts in the "Expat Q&A" sub-group (period August 2016):

InterNations

Barely 1 or 2 replies to people's questions, often no replies at all. They also give you views stats per post, on average I saw about 10 to 15 views. The most popular one in the Jobs sub-forum had 100 views. Let's also look at groups and the members. These two on top are the most popular Taipei groups as of right now:

InterNations

I checked the Taipei Explorers Group, and interestingly, if we look at the members number by nation, number 1 were Taiwanese (followed by Americans and Brits, which are not seen here because this is the bottom of the list).

InterNations

I'm not sure how Taiwanese qualify as "Expats" in their own country, but ok. I said before one has to take these total numbers with a pinch of salt. They also have a world map with statistics by city and country. I went to look up Taiwan, and there's only Taipei listed. This is what I saw:

InterNations

7700 expats are supposed to be in the Taipei community (I'm sure a big part of this number are Taiwanese). It is possible that so many people created profiles and joined it in the past few years, but visibly active expats in the Taipei community as of August/September 2016 are no more than 20-30, 50 at best, if you ask me. That would be my guess based on the forum and group activity I saw, and I believe that's more important than the total number of sign-ups for an unknown period. There could be a number of people signing up only to read the guides or privately message to other expats, but I still think that number should be low, I'm pretty sure most people check out the forums, and post views are pretty low there.

Is it worth to join InterNations for the Taipei community?

Based on all the data I saw, I would have a hard time recommending a paid membership to those who are only hoping to be active within the Taipei community. Frankly, not much is going on there. I think that's most likely because there are so many free and better resources on expat life in Taiwan, from blogs to social media, there is aplenty to choose from these days. And I think since many members don't pay, they probably lose interest after a few days, because a lot of features are limited. It's a vicious circle in some way. Some of the guides on life in Taipei and Taiwan are also a bit questionable. There is some good information available, no doubt (but you can get that for free in other places), but then there's stuff like this:

The Taiwanese Identity — A Big Question Mark

As we have shortly mentioned in our article on moving to Taiwan, the question of whether or not there is a Taiwanese identity distinct from a general Chinese one is still a matter of debate among the population. The island’s disputed legal status and the related issue of the cross-strait relations (i.e. relations with the PRC) are the dominant political topics that you will not be able to escape while living in Taiwan.

Many surveys have been conducted on this topic, and more often than not, the results have been somewhat contradictory — it seems as if context and wording of the questions influence the outcome drastically. The question whether people living in Taiwan see themselves as Taiwanese, Chinese, or both will surely continue to be a matter of much discussion. As with most such matters, expats should probably try to steer clear of the topic in everyday conversation.

This was quoted from here (which was freely available, the full article however requires paid membership). This part is simply not true: "Whether or not there is a Taiwanese identity distinct from a general Chinese one is still a matter of debate among the population". Several polls in the recent years have clearly indicated that the majority of Taiwanese consider themselves as Taiwanese. But ok, let's not go further here.

I hope my post helped you to get a better understanding on InterNations, what they offer, and especially what's happening in the Taipei Expat community there. I think if you're in doubt, sign up and try for yourself. As of right now, it's free, and they're not pushing you to move to a paid membership (however they are often suggesting it).