New linkages or same old networking (but faster)?
by Molly Webb
But it is much more like an online avatar than a myspace profile. According to people I spoke with while in Korea, they must have a minihompy if they want to participate in the kinds of university social relationships they traditionally only engaged in offline. But you don't necessarily meet new people who you wouldn't meet in those offline 'clubs'. It gets addictive because you can see who's come to your site, create gift boxes and wish boxes so that friends can surprise you - or you can treat your friends. And according to some, there is some pressure to answer immediately, good for hits but stressful (also check out this wired article).
Decorating your space becomes very important. Photos, music, wallpaper, animated characters - you get the idea. If you have a boyfriend/girlfriend who wants to show you off to his friends, be sure your minihompy is well kitted out! (see an interesting discussion on what I'd call 'Cyworld: revolution or trivial' on Bernard Moon's blog).
To decorate, you use dotori - literal translation is 'acorn' - an incremental point paying system to get music, wallpaper, etc for your page. (You don't have to have technical ability to do this, which means lots of people can get involved.) SK invented the system and also allows mobile access, which had 1 million subscribers as of August, 2005 a statistic echoed by one of my interviewees in February. But you can even get cash back points when you buy other things (like petrol) at SK-owned stores. I heard but need to confirm that in one day, US $150,000 is spent on decorating minihompys.
Is networking dividing us as much as it unites us? The entire online social networking in Korea is happening in Korean and on different software products to ours. For example, google search has almost no market share - the major search service is NHN's Naver, which has a service called 'Knowledge-In'. It relies on people writing in questions and answers - and readers rating those (more on this here). So if you search for something, the logic behind the results is more curated than google. Also, the emphasis we place on RSS and wikis didn't make much sense to the people I spoke with. In fact, they were worried about that level of openness and blurring the ownership of 'knowledge'.
Actual patterns of usage, though, seem to contradict the hesitation of my interviewees. Koreans are certainly not worried about spending money online, and new micropayment models are clearly coming out of Asia first.
Anyone's avatar itching to get out? You might have to learn Korean, Chinese, or Japanese because this English version seems to be very very beta.