Technology

BusinessWeek


With the World Cup in full swing, the Internet is awash in soccer. But what if you're looking for more than just interviews and live match commentary? For a place to meet others who share your passion for the world's game, Nike (NKE) and Google (GOOG) have cooked up just the site—Joga.com.

Think of Joga.com, from the Portuguese for "play," as MySpace for soccer fans. Developed as the cornerstone to Nike's World Cup media blitz, Joga.com's success has hinged on the unlikely partnership of Nike and Google. To their credit, they've gotten a lot right. The login page is simple and visually pleasing. Create a free Google account, using a link, log in, and you'll score nicely. Like other networking sites, Joga encourages members to fill in their basic personal information. But this is where the similarities end.

With customizable graphics and a tool that lets you choose the team of your dreams, Joga gives users great control. Included in the profile are a standard blog, video- and photo-hosting space, and a comprehensive search engine. Just as with MySpace, you can search Joga for people who might share your interests. But what makes this function so neat is that you can customize it. Want to view the most recent photos of Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar? Simply click on photos and search. The same process can be used if you're looking to find a fellow Ajax supporter in your location.

GREMLINS? NO, HOOLIGANS. Joga allows you to search for and join fan groups, or communities. The communities are broken down into two subsections: official and unofficial. If you search both communities sections for "Manchester United," you'll come up with 79 groups. Yet if you search for "Manchester United" under official communities, you'll be sent to the one and only official ManU community group.

Despite its virtues, the site does whiff on a few kicks. As a beta site, it breaks down from time to time, for instance. Fortunately, the site managers have a sense of humor: When a service isn't available, a message appears, letting you know that "the hooligans appear to be running wild on Joga.com. Please visit again soon; we'll have order restored as soon as possible."

Also, while full of soccer fanatics both young and old, it tends to attract many younger fans. So it's a great resource for the casual fan, but may appeal less to the diehard supporter. This is the product of the tone of Nike's most recent soccer ad campaign, titled "Joga Bonito." Joga Bonito is Portuguese for "play beautiful," and the campaign features, among others, the Brazilian national team in its ads. The campaign is aimed at bringing skill and passion back into soccer rather than diving, fighting, spitting, and arguing. Eric Cantona, a former Manchester United star, narrates the ads.

SPAWN OF SOCCER MOMS. To the most serious supporter, the Joga Bonito campaign seems to put style above substance. Critics say it has created a community of soccer players who can perform mind-boggling tricks but muff the less glamorous tasks so often needed in the game. It gives no credit, for instance, to defenders who track back and make hard tackles.

Joga.com reflects the campaign's kinder, gentler tack. Its younger members post videos and photos of tricks they've completed, for instance. They write full blog entries about their days of glory on the youth fields of America, reinforcing the "soccer mom" image that plagues American soccer in the eyes of the international community. So diehard fans abroad may not find this site to their taste. But to fans new to the game, Joga.com can open windows on this turbocharged sport.


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