Back in May, I watched a fascinating report on BBC TV about Cyworld, the virtual social network on the net in which 17 million South Koreans spend a lot of their time. That’s 35 percent of the country’s population of just under 48 million:
[…] One in three South Koreans has a Cyworld membership and amongst people in their twenties the take-up is 90%. […] At Cyworld’s headquarters, 3,000 servers handle traffic for the virtual world in a control room fit for a space mission. The business is profitable – with most of its revenue coming from selling all that virtual furniture – and is expanding into China and Japan. “We have a new word in Korea” a manager tells me proudly – “Cyholic – for someone who is addicted to Cyworld.”
It’s that figure for people in their 20s – 90 percent – that’s the most fascinating one:
[…] There are a few misgivings in South Korea about this obsession with the online world – at least two people have collapsed and died after playing computer games for days without a break, and youngsters have been caught stealing money to pay for virtual goods. But young Koreans are now so accustomed to running their lives via the internet that they find it difficult to conceive of how life would work if the technology wasn’t there.
Business 2.0 has a depth feature on Cyworld in its August edition. Well worth reading if you want to gain some insight into a growing phenomenon:
[…] It’ll be a hellish battle for the hearts and minds of teenage girls – Cyworld’s target audience. And it’s not as if MySpace (which declined to comment for this article) is the only competition. Facebook, Friendster, Hi5, MSN Spaces, Multiply, TagWorld, Tribe.net, and Yahoo 360, to name just a few, are all jostling for population growth.
[…] There are 42 million 16- to 24-year-old Americans, who influence the spending of more than $250 billion a year. They are one of advertisers’ most desirable audiences, but they are also the most difficult to reach.
The medium they trust most is word of mouth, with 86 percent of them ranking it first. A distant second, at 53 percent, is TV. And that gap has been growing.
One more thing – this month, Cyworld signed a deal with T-Online to launch Cyworld Europe in Germany.
Add Cyworld to your list of virtual communities to understand and pay attention to, from both a personal and business perspective. Your list already includes Second Life, right?