Wednesday, November 17, 2010

South Korea: the Pioneer of Social Networks

Social networks have considerably revolutionized the Internet usage patterns. Some studies have estimated that users now spend more time on social networks than on search engines. The most popular social network services include Twitter and Facebook.

Today I will shed some light on use of social networks in South Korea and their role in what can be termed as the social network revolution.

To the surprise of many readers of my blog South Korea is the pioneer of social networks, although you cannot find widespread use of Facebook in South Korea. In South Korea Twitter and Facebook are dwarfed by the local social networks, the most popular of which is CyWorld by SK Communications. Cyworld social network is used by 78 percent of Koreans with Internet access. The Facebook-style service was a pioneer in social networking, launching way back in 1999 and launching as a mobile service in 2004. SK’s instant messaging service – known as NateOn – is also the most widely used in Korea, and is three times more popular than Microsoft’s Live Messenger. It is a popular myth especially amongst the Pakistanis that the credit for making social networks popular goes to Mark Zuckerberg and the likes whereas the real pioneer is South Korea. Furthermore, South Korea's CyWorld was so popular and unique that its US counterpart by name of CyWorld US was launched in 2006. In Korea social networks are not just a social gathering point; in fact they are a very successful business model and as per my Korean lab mates social networks have been known to the Koreans back from the age of the dial-up Internet.

Korea's example according to me is an example that we Pakistanis can learn from. Back in Pakistan when Facebook was banned after the "Draw Muhammad" fan page controversy some people argued that creation of a local social network is not a workable solution since we need to communicate internationally - that is an argument that in my opinion comes from defeated minds and without knowledge of the science of social networks and their evolution patterns - CyWorld is a forum which international community has joined (yes many foreigners joined CyWorld to interact with Koreans) and learned from leading Korea to earn a respectable place in the world of SNS and mobile services with all this causing international communications to increase. Moreover, the data users share on social networks is a critical asset for any country and should not become a commodity for any other country which is currently the case due to not having any idea of the significance of local social networks.

For all the above-mentioned reasons Korea's case is one that has important lessons for many countries in Asia and in particular Pakistan where anything foreign and in particular by US is considered irreplaceable whereas many other countries of the world are moving in a different direction.