Korea’s Internet Giants Battle for Social Supremacy

In a not unrelated topic to yesterday’s post, ZDNet takes a look at the startling progress of Facebook and Twitter in Korea this year, and what local SNS services are doing to respond.

As the article notes, both Twitter and Facebook have captured the Korean imagination in a way that previous internet imports — MySpace, Yahoo, even (until very recently) Google — never managed. The number of Koreans using Facebook has jumped by 50 percent in the last six months to reach more than two million, while debates and news on Twitter now wield a sizeable influence on public opinion.

In the face of this onslaught, the article says, Korea’s internet giants are attempting a two-pronged strategy: In the short term, stem the tide of users leaving in favour of FB and twitter; in the long term, turn their services into “social hubs.”

One homegrown response (from Cyworld parent SK Communications) has come in the form of C-Log, which offers many of the same functions of FB, but with a self-consciously slick UI and (by the look of their homepage) a star-studded cast of celebrity endorsers.

Running with the hub concept, Naver (whose Twitter-like me2day already claims more than 4 million users) this month opened its Naver Me service, which lets users access everything from their blogs, cafes (online groups) and me2day accounts on a single page. It also incorporates a Google News type service that lets users manage all their news sources, as well as Naver’s messenger service.

Though currently trailing its bigger rivals, Daum’s Yozm service is aimed squarely at the booming mobile web market, supports location-based SNS services, and has some neat Twitter-friendly features. The gajyeoagi (literally “bring here”) function can post all your Tweets on your Yozm page in chronological order, and also find and display any responses.

The notion of an SNS aggregator is certainly not new — the ill-fated Google Buzz tried something similar, and Gist now offers summaries of updates from all your networks and SNS accounts. Though the concept has largely failed to take off among English-language SNS, it will be interesting to see if it gains traction here in Korea. However, while Korea’s internet companies have big advantages — familiarity with Korea, a big existing user base — it’s this lack of originality or “wow” factor, as ZDNet says, that is their biggest problem.

Which is not, ZDNet hastens to add, to say that it’s all going to be plain sailing for FB and Twitter. Already, FB has fallen foul of the Korea Communications Commission over privacy issues. And with FB due to set up an official Korean office this year, the SNS giant will be subject to all Korean laws, including the country’s real-name system.

Still, given their recent stratospheric rise, it’d be a brave man that bets against FB and Twitter in Korea in the next 12 months.

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