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Networking criss-cross Asia

I thought I’d kick-start these series of J-skool blogposts with a surprising message I received today. Facebook alerted me that…

By Cynthia Yoo , in Blogs SNS 3.0: The Asian Invasion , on January 18, 2008

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.

Folks behind Neocha.com: China's coolest SNS, photo courtesy of Sean Low1. 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 China's facebook copycat, photo courtesy of Eastenhuhthe 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.