Earlier this year, Cyworld, South Korea’s hottest online social networking site, launched a U.S. version of its popular web community. Cyworld also launched mirror sites in Japan, China, and Taiwan (R.O.C.). Owned and operated by SK Telecom, one of South Korea’s largest telecommunications companies, Cyworld has been nothing short of phenomenal in South Korea. According to Wikipedia, 90% of Koreans in their 20’s have a Cyworld account (I’ve read as many as 95% of youth under 29 do), and 25% of all Koreans have a Cyworld account (I believe this to be much higher). A question has been mulling over in my mind for awhile–can U.S. Cyworld catch up to MySpace, another online social networking phenomenon? While MySpace does not have the penetration rate in the U.S. that Cyworld has in South Korea, an estimated 50 million visitors visit MySpace each month, more than the entire population of South Korea (est. 48 million).
I like both Cyworld and MySpace. I set up accounts with both sites and tested them out. Both are comparable and offer compelling products. Cyworld has a stronger social pull than MySpace, but MySpace offers more features that allow individuals to showcase their talents. The sites’ objectives differ in that Cyworld has always been about sharing one’s life with family and friends, whereas MySpace began from humble beginnings as a way for people to showcase their talents. MySpace launched as a site for musicians and music fans to network in a new and different way. MySpace’ theme is still centered around music, and its success, like that of Apple’s iPod, can be partly attributed to Americans’ strong affinity for music. Cyworld tapped into South Korean’s affinity for socializing and networking. Americans aren’t quite as attuned to networking for networking’s sake, which is likely why early social networking sites without specific themes such as Tribe.net and Friendster did not experience the success of MySpace or college-themed site Facebook.
Will Cyworld catch MySpace and become the biggest social networking site in America, just as it has in South Korea? No, I don’t think so. I don’t believe that Cyworld will supplant MySpace as America’s favorite online hangout, just as I don’t believe MySpace could overtake Cyworld in South Korea. Google has had difficulty competing in South Korea against Naver, Korea’s biggest online search engine, to the point that it recently announced that it will open a research and development center in Korea to figure out how to catch up to Naver. Likewise, as compelling as Cyworld’s product is, it too will have difficulty beating MySpace on its home turf. Still, the U.S. social networking market is big enough that there is plenty of room for Cyworld and MySpace to co-exist. I believe Cyworld will establish a viable presence in the U.S., possibly partnering with SK’s joint venture with EarthLink, Helio. Helio currently markets MySpace Mobile, but it’s entirely conceivable that it will partner with its sister company, Cyworld, in the not-too-distant future.
Which social networking site do I think is the coolest? Hands down, Second Life is by far the coolest. Although it requires a good computer graphics card and a downloaded software program, Second Life’s virtual reality interface puts it leagues ahead of any web community bound by static web pages. Second Life was recently featured in a BusinessWeek Magazine article. I set up an account and briefly checked it out. It is quite amazing. Although I did not explore too far into this strange new world, I imagined its amazing potential and plan to visit again soon. I would not be surprised if Second Life creates the same kind of buzz next year that MySpace did this year. Run by a small, private outfit, Second Life will probably get many unsolicited buyout offers from major technology or media companies.
Blog Notes: AP is reporting that New York Yankees Manager Joe Torre may resign or be fired after the Yankees’ loss to the Detroit Tigers in Major League Baseball’s American League Divisional Series. Yankees Owner George Steinbrenner may rehire former Yankees, Cincinnati Reds, and Seattle Mariners Manager Lou Piniella to take his place. That would add yet another former Mariner to the Yankees roster, extending the Curse of Yamauchi. Message to Lou Piniella–don’t do it! You couldn’t manage Tampa Bay! You’re not going to last three years in Yankees pinstripes! No matter what, Joe Torre won’t be unemployed for long. As soon as he’s fired, the have-nots of baseball will be lining up to let him manage their team.
Should Google buy YouTube? YouBet! Although YouTube competes with Google Video, Google Video is still in beta (as my cousin often likes to note), and YouTube is far more popular. YouTube fits well into Google’s mission and product offerings. Like MySpace, YouTube has generated significant buzz this year. However, before Google invests $1.6 billion of its war chest, it must answer two questions: 1) How will YouTube make it money? and 2) How will it handle copyright issues? After all, much of YouTube’s uploaded video content is copyrighted, opening the possibility of hefty lawsuits for copyright infringement. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), Google is already grappling with both these issues as it tries to grow its business beyond search. If Google can figure out how to make money from searchable content it does not produce without intrusive ads, and it can resolve sticky legal issues, then it should invest in YouTube. At the very least, it should help Google’s stock price!