Massive Korean Social Network CyWorld Launches in US

Those of us in the US can finally get our very own minihompies in the newly launched US version of the South Korean social network CyWorld. Minihompies are now called MiniHomes in the US version and they are these strange little spaces for user avatars (MiniMe) and cartoon charms that people apparently spend real money on. Most of the charms appear to cost 5 acorns – the CyWorld currency (around 50 cents?) though purchasing more acorns with cash will not be enabled on the US site until next month. So spend your acorns carefully when souping up your hompie.

The new US site is experiencing some technical problems on its first day, account creation is a little messy but you can go in and look around the site.

According to a report by Katie Fehrenbacher, CyWorld parent company SK Communications has set up a 30 person office in San Francisco, spent around $10 million to the US version and pledges to spend whatever it takes to be succesful in the new market. Still to come are a mobile play and music sales through CyWorld. The company already has localized versions in Japan, China and Taiwan. Localization for most of the rest of the world is in the works.

Up to 90% of South Koreans under the age of 20 are reported to be registered on CyWorld, a market share even MySpace must be envious of. Whether CyWorld can translate its success in one country elsewhere is a great test case concerning the challenges of localization in the social networking space.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that the vast majority of US users will prefer the wide open space and clumsy code of MySpace to the minihompies, acorns and silly cartoon avatars of CyWorld. I suppose the employment screening perils of MySpace could be averted if you were able to say “that wasn’t me – that was my MiniMe!” Whatever.

If MySpace and Facebook are struggling to define themselves as places that include young adults with money, how hard is that going to be for CyWorld? Perhaps in other parts of the world very young children make frequent micro-payment online purchases online (see Finland’s Habbo Hotel$30m in twenty cent transactions), but I don’t think that’s common practice in the US. Perhaps they are targetting the demographic of adults who love HelloKitty, perhaps I’m wrong and will be surprised.

One notable limitation of the system is that US users are not able to make friends with users in other countries and data can’t be ported from one country’s CyWorld to another. But I guess it’s all about the acorns, anyway.