From Bloter and IT Today comes news of a new domestic SNS contender called Helizet. Though Korea’s internet is littered with the graves of ill-fated start-ups, Helizet has been catching media attention for three reasons: 1) a boss with previous experience at Cyworld, Daum and Yahoo; 2) a user base that’s leaped from 100,000 to more than 500,000 in barely four months; and 3) a platform that Bloter characterizes as jeonggyeopda, meaning warm or affectionate.
Helizet claims to offer a more personable face for SNS. Where Facebook or LinkedIn sends only an automated message to new members, Helizet provides all new users with a “personal” message from one of the staff and a brief greeting from another member. In my case, those greetings looked like this:
I don’t know quite how the site prompts existing members to send greetings to newcomers (assuming it is a genuinely new message written to me), but there you go.
Another distinguishing feature of Helizet is that, instead of a written self introduction, your profile comes with a list of “keywords” that can immediately hook you up with like-minded users. If you look under my picture, you can see that I like watching House, listening to indie music and going to Garosugil. On the other hand, I hate nakji bokkeum (spicy stir-fried octopus). If you click on those tags, you are redirected to a page listing other people with those same proclivities. (113 other “Helizetians” are fans of Garosugil, but, to my great dismay, I am the only person so far to express a disliking for nakji bokkeum.)
Helizet also has you personalise your profile by asking a series of 320 questions, including everything from “have you ever seen a ghost?” to “when was your first kiss?”
Apart from that, it offers a fairly regular mix of SNS features, including a live feed, photo uploads, a “reply” function to posts, and a kind of LBS function that lets you see what other users are in your vicinity.
Helizet’s apparent aim is to act as a kind of ice breaker, like the host who ensures there are no awkward silences at a party by immediately welcoming guests in and ushering them toward people they might like. From Bloter:
“However trivial something is, [Helizet is a place] where you can show your specialities and interests,” says company head Yoo Jung-won. Helizet is not a place that gives special recognition to stars, academic achievement or where you work, he adds. Instead, it is a place where people are recognised based on how much they talk and share. Even if its just the LG Twins, if a member talks about them a lot and shows how interested he is, Helizet will recognise him as a “champion.”
As mentioned above, Helizet is currently doing pretty well, having enjoyed a five-fold increase in users thanks to its new iPhone and Android apps. Should it really take off, it’s a little difficult to imagine how they will retain this “personal feeling,” as replies purporting to come from staff will be increasingly meaningless. Still, it will be interesting to see whether, by trying to crate a warmer initial introduction to the site, it has hit on a quirk that will really sell it to Koreans.