The test phase was activated in October 2012 when co-founders Johannes Jonker and Nico de Wet adapted the idea from the VryeMatie, which was already a running platform of opinion exchange for controversial topics on and around the University of Stellenbosch (US) campus.
The ‘VryeMatie’, translated as the Free Matie, was initiated by a group of Maties (the term used for students from the University of Stellenbosch) who opened a Web space for the discussion of controversial topics that arose around campus life and the greater Stellenbosch community. The initiative was later extended and renamed the 'VryeStudent' (translated as the Free Student).
With a blog-style interface, anyone can start or contribute to a freely suggested topic as open to all in the Bonfiire community, which can also be interlinked with other communities.
Compared to other interactive social networks, its difference lies in the approach to cultivate critical thinking within a community.
Jonker explained that Bonfiire is “a collective blogging platform where people can really engage with each other in a really interactive manner and also in a meaningful manner. So it’s not just a 144 character kind of sentence summarising your opinion. You can write a paragraph on your opinion or if you really feel very strongly about it, actually you can write a blog post about it”.
Unique features like think tanks and the hosting possibility for companies also differentiates Bonfiire from other networks.
“That is the thing that separates us,” De Wet pointed out.
“The whole idea is then to bring people together debating the same topic. So it’s kind of a gathering place for discussions on a specific topic,” Jonker added regarding the think tank concept.
The interface also offers opportunities to companies to create a profile and sponsor think tanks, which allows them to engage with a potential client base and also encourages the blogger to come up with a potential prize-winning post.
Its first pilot community, Bonfiire Stellenbosch, has approximately 600 members at present.
Aimed at the South African student, Jonker and De Wet have plans to expand to the rest of the universities in the country in the near future.
The founders are also open to cater for communities beyond the student context which are interested in interacting in a similar way.
The Stellenbosch municipality, for instance, is considering developing a Bonfiire community for residence to discuss their needs.
“Students are our initial target market, but we want to expand towards the whole country,” De Wet added.
HumanIPO will publish the full interview later in the week.