Cyworld is a new social network in the West having launched in the US last July but has been operating in South Korea and much of Asia since 1999 where it has been phenomenally successful. Ninety percent of all Koreans in their twenties are members.
Cyworld is a clever name as it suggests a cyber world (think Second Life) but it also translates to “relationship world”. There are a lot of similarities between Cyworld and Second Life. Users set up their own avatars and their own “Minirooms” within Cyworld and can then visit their friends within these virtual spaces. The other key similarity with Second Life is that Cyworld uses its own currency “Acorns” to allow users to buy products to enhance their virtual space. Second Life uses Linden dollars and has been reported to have a gross domestic product of US$64 million just ahead of the Republic of Kiribati an island nation of 100,000 people located in the Pacific Ocean. In fact tax offices around the globe (Australia, USA) have been looking into how they can get their hands on this virtual currency.
It is fitting that in our ever more consumerised world it is now becoming common to spend real money to enhance our virtual lives with virtual goods. These not so virtual economies have shown themselves to be a key component of future social networks.
The question is will Westerners take to the more childish, cartoon like avatars of Cyworld. Perhaps Cyworld will fill a hole for those who do not want the completely immersive experience of Second Life but are bored with the flat page experience of social networks such as MySpace and Facebook. Only time will tell.