Nate’s Big Fightback: Live Feeds, Social Searches … and a Hook-up with China?

I recently wrote a post looking at the contrasting fortunes of Google and Korea’s tottering SNS giant Cyworld. As much as anyone, I was very sceptical that Cyworld could regain its swagger in Korea, let alone succeed in its second attempt to crack social media markets overseas.

But some recent articles in the Digital Daily and the Hanguk Kyongje have got me thinking again.

As I mentioned in the previous post, Nate’s strategy, in common with other Korean SNS/internet companies, has been to stanch the flow of users moving elsewhere, while also searching for a winning formula that incorporates (and hopefully improves on) the elements of Facebook and Twitter that have proved so appealing here. Key to this, in Nate’s opinion, is the live feed feature that both Twitter and Facebook have, but Cyworld doesn’t. (Lest we forget, Facebook’s own live feed was largely inspired by Twitter as well.) Instead of just adding the feed to Cyworld, however, Nate launched an entirely new service: the slicker, much less cutesy C-Log.

Nate also knows that its key strength in Korea is its still dominant market position. For all the battering that Cyworld has taken at the hands of the foreign upstarts, fully 67 percent of Koreans who use SNS sites say they use Cyworld, according to this recent graph from ZDNet Korea (Twitter is in yellow, Facebook is in green, and me2day is in blue).

With this in mind, Nate is lining up a three-way “symbiotic” approach between its main SNS-related services: the Nate portal, Cyworld and C-Log. Nate is Korea’s third largest portal, behind Naver and Daum; Cyworld, as I’ve said, remains Korea’s most widely used SNS site; and C-Log is already claiming 900,000 members since it started operations in September of last year.

But what, beyond yet another opportunity to use the word “synergy,” does this tie-in mean?

Beginning with its portal, Nate is planning to draw on its vast stockpile of personal information — gleaned through more than 10 years of Cyworld operations with 20 million+ account holders — to deliver what it calls a “true” social search. Apparently, more than 90 percent of the information on Cyworld is open to public viewing, which means, in theory, that Nate will have a major advantage in delivering a social search service in Korea. Lee Tae-sin, the executive director of Nate’s parent company SK Communications, had this to say:

The social searches of Naver and Daum are not social searches in the true sense. This is because their searches do not reflect relationships. In order to be a real social search, you have to first show what your online friends have been writing on walls and notice boards on SNS sites.

As part of this change, Nate recently overhauled its main portal page:

According to this story from ZDNet, the new changes are aimed at making everything easily accessible from Nate’s main page, including Cyworld, the Nate On messenger service, notice boards, personal calendars and news aggregators. In keeping with the “social hub” theme that all Korea’s big internet companies are pursuing, Nate’s homepage also shows updates from your SNS accounts, including live feeds from C-Log.

This inter-connectedness and ease of use is at the heart of Nate’s strategy, which basically looks to take full advantage of Cyworld’s massive user base while complementing it with all the advantages of an iGoogle homepage, Facebook and Twitter. Why, SK Communications is banking on users asking, do I need to move to Facebook when all the connections and information I need in Korean are available through Nate?

As for C-Log itself, things are looking potentially interesting here, too.

After a slow start, SK top guy Lee Tae-sin says C-Log has been rolling out a series of apps and functions over the course of the first half of this year. A “groups” function will make it easy to form groups with C-Log members and, crucially, with Cyworld accounts as well. Photos from Cyworld’s vast collection will also be accessible for use on C-Log. And presumably in response to Cyworld’s almost total irrelevance to online marketers, C-Log will also have “trend” and “episode” sections that will potentially offer great insights to businesses.

Finally, the Hanguk Kyongje article notes that Nate is planning to extend the use of its app store Gaeul, meaning “autumn,” to C-Log as well. And tucked into the sixth paragraph is an intriguing little line saying that plans are under way to connect Nate’s app store with those of China’s Renren and Japan’s Mixi, two of the biggest SNS sites in each country.

Given that SK has recently been making noises again about opening up SNS services overseas, could collaborations such as these be the way they’re going to do it?

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