I spoke to new “social networking” site CyWorld yesterday. CyWorld is the newly launched US counterpart of a highly successful South Korean site of the same name, owned by South Korean telecommunications company SK Telecom.
For any new market entrant in the social media/networking space the question of course is: how do you expect to compete with MySpace, et al.? There are some things that do differentiate CyWorld from MySpace and others:
- Avatars (though there are others that offer avatars, e.g., WeeWorld)
- Minihomes: a graphical environment that people can customize and decorate
- Appeal to girls/women: the look and feel of the site appeals primarily to women/girls
- Privacy levels: the same profile/minihome can be managed to show different things to different audiences
Most impressive to me was the thinking CyWorld had done about the entire social media phenomenon. The company had also done extensive primary research on the subject. Among other things they found that the average lifespan of a user on a social networking site was 6-9 months. (The Facebook is perhaps different because it’s about a life stage in a structured context [high school, college].)
If these “longevity” findings are accurate then MySpace has reason to worry, notwithstanding all it’s traffic. We’ll see whether there will be significant churn in the next year.
CyWorld also found that people often had profiles on multiple sites, e.g., Facebook and MySpace. Accordingly, MySpace or Facebook usage doesn’t preclude the growth of other social media sites. Again, assuming the accuracy of the CyWorld data the usage of more than one social networking site means that if site A grows “cold” users could quickly depart for sites B or C, which they may be already using though not as actively. (This is the story of Friendster.)
CyWorld sees itself as a long-term play and cited its telecom ownership to argue that it had the luxury of taking that long-term view. It also sees itself as a global company, adjusting CyWorld to the cultural climate and tastes of each country as it rolls out.
Finally, the company also made some impressive “values based” arguments about how they want to integrate into users’ daily lives. CyWorld US sees itself as a platform for self-expression, creativity, authenticity and connection to community (including offline). The company’s CyWorld “world tour” is an example of the latter – connecting the use of the site to the local community.
The site wants to “tap into what’s important to people in their real lives.” It’s easy to dismiss new companies in the social media/networking space because it already seems so locked up by the market leaders (i.e., MySpace, Facebook). But one might have said the same thing about Friendster a couple of years ago.