Advancements of Web 2.0 have made communicating on the internet more convenient for our society today. It enables people to share and retrieve information with one another at an instant. Web 2.0 technologies have also become user-friendly which has made it easy for almost anyone to sit in front of the computer and have access to the World Wide Web. Also, social networks are created within the World Wide Web community which enables users to interact with different people, as well as belong to a certain network or a community on the web. Being a part of the online community also widens our social network and can often be a big help to many people in the “real world.”
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 the 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. Cyworld’s main feature is creating a personal homepage, which is called a “Minihome.”
For starters, after you have registered to Cyworld at no cost, the user 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 known as “Minime,” to live in this virtual room. Like the virtual room, there are many options when creating the avatar, such as facial features to skin colors, different hair colors and styles, as well as the character’s clothing, accessories, and even their pets. There is also the unique option of being able to change the mood of your avatar. To further decorate the virtual room and add different templates to your homepage, there is a virtual currency used in Cyworld called “dotori,” which means acorn in English. Users can purchase “dotori” online and use this currency to buy different templates and/or songs for their homepage, as well as buying gifts, templates, and songs for other Cyworld users. 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 applications. However, Facebook users do not have the option of purchasing templates or songs to enhance the look of their page. According to 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. Cyworld is organized in tabs, where each tab leads you to different sections 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 data or documents such as pictures, videos, music, and diary entries. Cyworld also has the option of being able to post photos straight from your mobile phone onto your homepage, 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 your Minihome, users can do what is called “wave riding,” by browsing other member’s Minihomes. Each user has a friend’s list, like Facebook and/or MySpace, which are called “cybuddies.” This allows users to comment on each other’s pages, just like any other social networking site does. 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, as long as the two members are “cybuddies.”
There is no discrimination when it comes to which types of people register to use Cyworld. 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. According to Shin Byung Hwi, senior manager at SK Communications, mentioned in an article in BusinessWeek that the company’s goal is “making users’ online activities entwined with their offline life.” Cyworld does just that. It is almost as if the user is bringing his or her life in the “real world” into the “virtual world.”
Cyworld was first 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. Today this social networking site is heavily used in South Korea amongst various age groups. In merely less than four years of the site’s launching, almost a third of the South Korean population has become registered members of Cyworld.
Cyworld has already set up localized versions in countries like Japan, China, and Taiwan, and most recently in the United States. 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 is not much different from that of the Korean version. The U.S. version is still organized and categorized with different tabs. 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 does not offer is the way it is organized. Cyworld is neatly organized in tabs and folders whereas Myspace does not give you options of having different folders on the user’s page, rather they have just recently offered an option to make folders for the user’s photo albums. However, one limitation of Cyworld is that users of the different versions in each of the countries are not able to be “Cybuddies” with one another, nor are they able to “wave ride” and port data from one country’s Cyworld to another.
Although Cyworld became an instant phenomena in South Korea, as well as the other Asian markets it has been distributed to, it failed to produce the same gaudy numbers it had 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 of the Korean version of Cyworld is “too cutesy” for the taste of American culture. This statement alone shows that although Web 2.0 has taken many steps forward in advancements, it is unable to satisfy people of all regions in the same way. This is simply due to the fact that people from different areas and different occupations do not all have the same purpose when taking advantages of the many tools that Web 2.0 has to offer.
Cyworld has so much to offer in Asia, especially in South Korea. It has lured so many people to this social networking site that it is almost uncommon for a person in Korea to not be a Cyworld user. Because the addiction to this extraordinary site is so prevalent, they have even been labeled as “Cyholics.” 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 make in order to please the American culture as much as they have been pleasing the Korean users of Cyworld.
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