I thought I’d kick-start these series of J-skool blogposts with a surprising message I received today.
Facebook alerted me that I’ve finally become facebook buddies with a certain Mr. Hwang who is the head of the online division at the Chosun (the most-read Korean daily, and apparently the only one in the black). We lunched many, many months ago when I was working for OhmyNews in Korea last year.
I followed up our off-line introduction with an online network invite: a friendly facebook poke or two or three, followed by a stronger friend-request.
Months of virtual silence were the response. Until today, that is.
The whole drawn-out episode made me ponder on the difficulties of cross-cultural networking in the virtual world.
1. Language barriers
- The issue isn’t whether Mr. Hwang understands English or not. Even a native English speaker may have trouble understanding online communication.
- Online lingo is more complex, fluid and often it’s a mash-up of tech-speak and slang.
- Case-in-point: “w00t” was chosen word of 2007 by Merriam-Webster. It’s an expression that online gamers use. Being a non-gamer, this article was the first time I heard of it.
2. Cultural differences
- Some cultures may be particularly averse to the idea of a social network that reveals so much personal information about yourself, your friends, your dog et etc…
- For instance, many Japanese are averse to revealing personal information online. Unlike other Wiki-communities, Japanese Wikipedians want to participate with complete anonymity. And the top Japanese SNS is Mixi, a strictly by-invitation-only network.
- China for instance was late to the Youtube craze, because many Chinese media experts believed that the Chinese public was uncomfortable with sharing personal videos. A top UGC site, 56.com, began with flickr-style photo slideshows as a result. Things have changed though, as there’s now a fierce competition between UGC-video sites in China.
3. Home-grown vs. Global networks
- Each country has their own online networks that understand the cultural and social norms and aesthetics valued by their public.
- The failure of Google Korea showed how these factors are important when online networks branch into new markets.
- Another example is Cyworld. Cyworld in Korea links a quarter of its population, but Cyworld America hasn’t experienced much success against Myspace and Facebook.
- Again, Google’s Orkut has done well in some markets like Brazil and perhaps India, but it’s a disappointment everywhere else.
Next post will look at how Secondlife and other global networks are taking these and other issues head-on as they move into Asian markets.