Advancements of Web 2.0 have made communicating and the use of social networking sites more convenient for our society today. It enables people to share and retrieve information with one another at an instant. An excellent example of a Web 2.0 medium is Cyworld. Cyworld is a popular social networking site which is heavily used in South Korea. It can be compared to social networking sites in the U.S. such as Facebook and MySpace. However, Cyworld has much more to offer than both Facebook and MySpace combined. Cyworld’s main page can be compared to sites such as MSN or Yahoo!. Users have the option of using Cyworld’s main page as a search engine, as well as to read the most up-to-date news. However, that is not what most registered users access Cyworld for. The main feature of this social networking medium is creating a personal homepage, which is also known as a “Minihome.”
For starters, one must register to be a member of Cyworld at no cost. The user then creates a virtual room which will appear on the front page of his or her Minihome. There are many options when creating this virtual room. The room can be decorated with different interior, including room colors and different furniture; or it can even look like the outdoor scenery. Then the user goes on to create a character, or an avatar, which is called “Minime,” to live in this virtual room. Like the virtual room, there are many options when creating the avatar. The user can modify their Minime to have different facial features, skin colors, different hair styles, as well as clothing, accessories, and even the Minime’s pets. There is also the option of changing the mood of you Minime. To further decorate your Minihome, users can purchase what is called “dotori,” which translates in English to “acorn.” This is the online currency used in Cyworld. Dotori can be used to purchase templates for your Minihome, songs, accessories for the virtual room and the Minime, as well as have the option of purchasing gifts for friends on Cyworld, Cybuddies. The usage of “dotori” for Cyworld users can be compared to Facebook to a certain extent. Facebook users have the option of buying virtual gifts for their friends on Facebook, as well as pay money for various applications. However, Facebook users do not have the option of purchasing templates or songs to enhance the look of their page. According to an article on CNNMoney.com, the daily revenue from selling “dotori” is estimated to be around $300,000 in U.S. dollars. Also, in 2006, Cyworld was expected to make $100 million for Cyworld’s virtual inventory. (CNNMoney.com)
After creating the virtual room on the front page, the user can then go on with creating different pages throughout their Minihome. The Minihomes are organized in a unique fashion. Each Minihome has tabs, where each tab leads the navigator to different secions of the user’s homepage. The tabs have titles such as: Home, Profile, Photos, Bulletin Board, Message Board, and Guest Book. Then the user is able to further categorize and organize their information and data by creating subfolders within each tab. There are no size limits when posting or uploading data or documents such as pictures, videos, music, and diary entries. Cyworld also has the option of being able to post photos straight from a mobile phone onto the Minihome, just like Facebook and MySpace has offered their users recently. The way Cyworld is set up with the different tabs makes this social networking site extremely user-friendly and allows people to easily navigate from one page to the next.
After creating the Minihome, users can do what is called “wave riding,” by browsing other members’ Minihomes. Each user has a friend’s list, like other social networking sites such as Facebook and/or MySpace. The friends on these lists are called “cybuddies.” Being Cybuddies allows users to comment on each other’s pages, just like any other social networking site allows. While “wave riding,” a user may find a photo or a particular post to be interesting. The user then has the option of bringing that post and adding it onto his/her own page as well, just as long as the two members are Cybuddies.
There is no discrimination when it comes to which types of people register to use Cyworld. There are no written sources for the exact demographics and numbers on Cyworld users, except that 90 percent of all people in their 20's are registered users of Cyworld (Cnnmoney.com). However, it is obvious that people of every age group and many different occupations all come together on this social networking site and build what can be called to be their “virtual world.” As explained in an article in BusinessWeek, Cyworld is not just another website to some people; it is the nexus of everything a person does. Shin Byun Hwi, senior manager at SK Communications, mentions in the article that the company’s goal is “making users’ online activities entwined with their offline life.” And Cyworld does just that. It is almost as if the user bringing his or her life in the “real world” into the “virtual world.” It has lured so many people that it is almost uncommon for a person in Korea to not own a Minihompi. Cyworld users have been labeled as “Cyholics,” due to the addiction of constantly updating and wave riding on Cyworld.
So who is the brain behind this extraordinary social networking medium? There is not much known on the original founders except that Cyworld was founded in 1999 by four graduates of KAIST, which is known as the MIT of Korea. At first the site was thought of as a “personal contact website, a way to connect to your immediate circle of friends and family.” It was then bought by SK Telecom, a mobile company, which is a subsidiary to SK Communications, in 2003. In merely less than four years of the site’s laughing, almost a third of the South Korean population has become registered members of Cyworld. Also, according to an article from 2007 in Korea Times, it was stated that Cyworld is now the largest online community site with more than 20 million members.
Cywold has already set up localized versions in countries such as Japan, China, and Taiwan, and most recently, in the United Sates. An article in Tech Crunch states that SK Communications funded $10 million along with a 30 person office in San Francisco to the U.S. version in hopes to make Cyworld as successful as it is in South Korea. However, the CEo of the U.S. version of CYworld, Henry Chon, has admitted that the Korean version of Cyworld is “a little too cutesy” for the American taste. Chon teamed up with native Korean and American staffs to debate on which features they should keep and which ones they should get rid of. The final appearance of the product varies a bit in some aspects but is not much different from that of the Korean version. The users of the U.S. version still have the option of customizing their MInihomes by purchasing “acorns.” However, Chon expected the revenue to come from advertising, rather than selling virtual items. There have been many debates about whether Cyworld will topple MySpace or not. One aspect of Cyworld that MySpace lacks is the way Cyworld is organized with the different menu tabs. However, one limitation of Cyworld is that users of the different versions in each of the countres are not able to be “Cybuddies” with one another, nor are they able to “wave ride” and port data from one county’s Cyworld to another.
Cyworld has much to offer in Asia, and has lured so many people into become members. Although it became an instant phenomenon in South Korea, it failed to produce the same gaudy numbers it has produced in its own region. One reason that could have led to their demise is that the operators of Cyworld are simply just out of touch with the American culture. This is evident in CEO Henry Chon’s statement about the Korean version being “too cutesy” for the taste of American culture. This statement alone shows that although Web 2.0 has taken many steps forward in advancements globally, it is unable to satisfy people of all regions in the same way. This is simply due to the fact that different people from different regions do not all have the same purpose when taking advantages of the many tools that Web 2.0 has to offer. Although SK Telecom has succeeded in making Cyworld such a successful Web 2.0 tool in South Korea, it appears that they still have a lot of changes to undergo in order to please the American culture as much as they have been pleasing the Korean users of Cyworld.
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