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Cyworld vs. MySpace
Korea's most popular online social network enters the American market
Jason Hahn (woowhee)     Print Article 
Published 2006-07-28 14:39 (KST)   
The hugely popular South Korean social network, Cyworld, will make its official debut in America in mid-August. This week it became available in a long awaited public beta version.

Cyworld placed a 30-man team in San Francisco eight months ago to work on the American version of the social network, which cost about $10 million to build.

Cyworld's popularity in Korea is astounding. Reports indicate that 90 percent of Koreans in their 20s have Cyworld accounts, and that there are 18 million Cyworld members in Korea, which is about a third of the nation's population.

The social network will be pitted against MySpace for market share on American soil. MySpace will, obviously, be a formidable competitor, as it has a dominating share of the U.S. social networking population, and was recently reported to be the most popular Website in the U.S., garnering 4.46 percent of all online visits in the country, and gobbling up a whopping 79.9 percent of all social networking visits.

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However, there are key differences between the networks. Whereas MySpace is, in its most simple form, a page with different sections, Cyworld presents users with a different experience that is placed wholly in the hands of its users.

"Minihomes" are the backdrop to the whole Cyworld experience. These are essentially virtual rooms that users can decorate and customize by purchasing objects with acorns, which must be bought with real money.

A user's avatar is called a "Minime," and can be customized for free (or rather, for no acorns).

Cyworld users can also indicate their current mood, write journal entries, and upload photos to share with their friends in their Minihome window.

In Korea, Cyworld's revenue is derived largely from the acorns users purchase in order to alter their Minihomes. Cyworld sells about $300,000 worth of virtual items per day in Korea, which translates into more than $7 per user per year, and puts MySpace's $2.17 per user per year to shame.

The current beta mode has obvious flaws, some of which are visible even when someone tries to register for an account.

The registration process goes much more smoothly in Internet Explorer than in Firefox, and the email verification hyperlink takes a few minutes to actually take the user-to-be to the page they need to go.

Nevertheless, Cyworld presents American consumers with a new and interesting choice to fulfill their social networking desires. Its business model seems to hold much more potential for profitability than, say, MySpace, but that all depends on how popular the social network actually gets here in the states.

And that will be a difficult goal to achieve in such a busy market that includes not only MySpace, but Xanga, Facebook, and Friendster.

Though Cyworld offers nothing technologically advanced, or even a user interface that is mindblowing in any regard, it gives users a social networking channel that allows them to express themselves in intimate and fun ways. And if its success in Korea is any indication, America could very well see some very involved and addicted Cyworld users within the next few months.
You can pay Jason a visit at his Cyworld Minihome here.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Jason Hahn

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