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Facebook and Twitter’s future in Korea

Posted: June 11th, 2010, by Yunho Chung

SNS has already been popular in Korea with Cyworld, which has existed in Korea since 1999. Now, globally representative SNS services such Facebook and later Twitter has begun to enter the Korean market. However, Facebook had failed to be widely adopted in Korea, while the more recent emergence of Twitter has been starting to gain ground. I believe this pattern is likely to continue for both Facebook and Twitter, because SNS rely on the spread of active users, and also partly due to the language barrier of “English”. However, in the long term, SNS in Korea should not and cannot remain remote from the English based worldwide SNS, hence it is early to determine the ultimate future of global SNS platforms such as Facebook and Twitter in Korea.

Why not Facebook?
Despite the fact that Facebook has more than 400 million users worldwide, it has faced a tough game in Korea due to the already dominant SNS, Cyworld. SNS popularity relies on the quantity of active users available within the network, and Cyworld has certainly managed to account for most of the Korean users. It has also been made to fit the taste of the Korean majority with decorateable avatars and homely features that are simple and attractive. Moreover, because people have already become accustomed to Cyworld with ready established networks, they find it cumbersome to readopt the facets of Facebook which are quite different and hence ‘complicated’ for Korean users. Hence, switching over Korea’s already massive Cyworld users base to Facebook would be difficult and unlikely in the foreseeable future.

Cyworld (above) vs Facebook (below)

Then, why yes to Twitter?
Twitter on the other hand has been gaining ground from quite early on. There had been no previous Korean SNS that gave such microblogging services that allow quick, short, no-pressure, real time sharing of information before Tweeting emerged in Korea. Furthermore the rising spread of Smartphone usage in Korea has made Tweeting much easier and mobile, hence encouraging instaneous posting of Tweets.
Later Korean versions, such as Naver’s Me2day and Twittpop(an Korean SNS app) has been developed. The Twittpop app even has added features such as posting through smartphone pen recognitions and GPS use. However, Twitter has already gained significant ground with the Korean user base, and though the localized version seem to be viable, it is perhaps more likely that Koreans are going to continue to build on the internationally large user base of Twitter. It could be one of the few global SNS to succeed in Korea in a long time, since blogs first began. Twitter has been already formatted for the Korean language, and especially with notable expansion of Tweets during Korea’s recent election season(an attempt to revive Obama’s Twitter effect), a significant number of tweeters have been accumulated in Korea. Many Koreans also have much interest in following up on international(or Hollywood) celebrities, politicians, and figures, and because the Tweet are much shorter, lighter, and easier to follow, Twitter perhaps reduces the language barrier.

Twitter (above) vs Me2Day (below)


What should the future for SNS in Korea be?
In Korea, local internet services are currently very competitive and dominant; Cyworld over Facebook, Naver over Google. Perhaps because those local services almost perfectly meet up to the preferences and taste of Koreans, and partly due to the differentiated structure of search engine in Korea that is limited to its associated data base, instead of the entire web.
However, as a tech-savvy, developed country, Korea’s SNS culture should not and cannot stay remote and away from the English based worldwide SNS platforms. People will increasingly seek to go beyond Korea, and connect with people on an international level. Even though, the English language barrier has made many Koreans reluctant to use English based SNS until today, there have been increments in people who are willing to take that chance. Moreover, with an almost obsession in learning and improving one’s English in Korea, there still remains to be promising possibility for global SNS such as Facebook in the longer term. Hence though Twitter seem to be more likely of success in the Korean market compared to Facebook, ultimately global SNS should be adopted in the future of Korea.

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65 Responses to Facebook and Twitter’s future in Korea

  1. Jimmy

    I’ve noticed that facebook is becoming more popular in Korea. A number of my students say they have accounts. Who knows, maybe the next generation of Koreans may create a facebook-fad. Just a thought.

  2. Micky

    There is a small group of SNS site which is growing rapidly for Korean connect with Foreigners. It is no language barrier of “English”coz it UI is simple as twitter.

  3. Sam

    Cyworld already has a footprint of about 25% of the ENTIRE population of Korea. Being a user of both Facebook and Cyworld (for my respective communities), I just don’t see much crossover unless you have people who already have relationships with those outside the country. I’ve seen those people who have studied in the States and made friends make facebook accounts. But I know many more who have moved to the US, but maintain a circle of friends and family that are almost exclusively Korean (this includes my wife). They stick with Cyworld.

    To be honest, Cyworld’s platform is far above Facebook’s in terms of it’s own functionality and features (skin/avatar selection, music, home page). Where Facebook takes the cake is 3rd party applications.

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