Twittering and the Future of Social Networking in Korea

Twitter: What are you doing?

Twitter: What are you doing?

Ever since I moved to Seoul last year, I’ve begun to post to Twitter more regularly. It started as a means to stay in touch and update friends I left behind in the US. I expected people I know to follow my feed, however I really didn’t expect people I didn’t know to become followers. Who would be interested in my mindless ramblings?

When I received notifications that total strangers were following me, at first I was a little distressed… then intrigued… then somewhat comforted in a strange way. They started to respond to my updates. Here were people who discovered me through search, or through other followers, with whom I share a passing interest which may be that we are English-speakers living in Korea, or interested in technology, music, or even Firefox3 etc., who track my comments and with whom I could hold casual conversations.

Jason Kottke made a really interesting observation that there is a trend towards making private conversation channels public and permanent. Blogging is thus a the public form of emailing, Flickr is public photo sharing, YouTube is public home videos and Twitter is public form of instant messaging (IM).

I always thought that with Twitter, I was just broadcasting my thoughts into the wind but when I started to get comments and followers, it did indeed feel more like public instant messaging.

The barrier for someone to respond to a Twitter post is really low. You don’t have to know the person, and they don’t have to approve you for you to follow their feed. This makes for looser more casual relationships, but no less interesting ones. The potential of services such as Twitter seems to be in its "discoverability" – the ability to find others who share you thoughts and start casual conversation, just by the fact that you broadcasting your thoughts publicly. One of my favorite Twitter spin off services is Twistori which simply track Twitters that begin with "I love…", "I hate…", "I think…", "I believe…", "I feel…" or "I wish…". It’s addictive to watch people random yet actual thoughts scroll by.

The dominant social networking site in Korea is Cyworld, and from stats, most of the traffic on Cyworld is between "Il-chon" or "approved friends/family". This reinforced the notion that Koreans are very closed in their relationships, and prefer closed social networking sites like Cyworld to more open ones such as MySpace. The Korean version of Twitter, Me2Day challenges that notion to a certain degree. Here is a site, much like my experience with Twitter, where users form loose relationships with other users they "discovered" leading me to think that the internet is a greater enabler of social relationships than I thought.

Now that Cyworld’s popularity is on the decline, they are fishing for new ideas. They had a terrible launch of Cy2.0 which was supposed to Cyworld’s next generation but after a lukewarm reception, they hastily demoted to being a lowly "blog" application tab. They are also in beta version of a 3D service not unlike Second Life. I’ve contended for a while that it would have been in Cyworld’s best interest to move more agressively towards mobile, because that’s where all the action is occurring, by acquire a service like Me2Day and moving towards shorter, more casual sharing of thought and comments to complement its more established social networking system. Instead they created a service called Tossi which is similar but doomed to fail, lacking strong integration with Cyworld and more so because it’s a paid service (you have pay for data usage). This is due in no small part due to a rift between SK Communications who operates Cyworld and SK Telecom which is its parent mobile operator. Sad.

I never thought that a service like Second Life would ever have much of a chance in Korea, but I am seriously having second thoughts (no pun intended). Cyworld is showing strong signs it’s losing steam and If my original assumption about Korean being adverse to open, casual social relationships can be overturned by services like Me2Day, maybe it’s an market just waiting to be tapped. We’ll have to see.

Just for laughs, I stumbled upon a hilarious role-playing conversation in Twitter between Starwars Characters (see screenshot below).

Luke Skywalker\'s twitter feed

Luke Skywalker's twitter feed

  • Clay Burell

    You want some fun, follow @Tweetjeebus and @Tweetsatan. @Borat is also fun.

  • sandrar

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

  • John Brisbane

    I can’t wait to see how Twitter turn their brand equity and traffic into money.

    If I were them, I’d come up with some sort of Adsense-like program with revenue share to the Twitter page owner and sell small and tasteful banner ads on profile pages at a cost per impression and a cost per click.