The idea for Facebook was born after Mark Zuckerberg visited the Korean company which invented social networking, Cyworld - part of SK Communications. A favorite story by company officials is how they taught him to use a computer and showed him how their service worked in Korea. Unfortunately, all records of his visit have since been lost, although the Korean Northeast Asian History Foundation says its researchers have found a receipt for coffee dating from the period which contains a smudged fingerprint that many believe belongs to a foreigner.
But Facebook has since denied its Korean origins - and that it was originally based on an idea called Facebok - because like many companies based overseas, it has undertaken almost no 'corporate social responsibility' (CSR) in Korea as it doesn't care about Koreans. CSR projects have become a big political issue in the last year after the government condemned foreign companies for not building a welfare state, which the government is unable to provide since the money is urgently needed for opening 'hallyu' restaurants in New York and research into Northeast Asia's Korean history.
Cyworld fell behind in the global social networking trend after spending years making their site available in the Korean language only. It was believed that as the Korean language was sweeping the world, and everyone would soon be speaking Korean, paying for it to be translated into English and fringe languages such as Chinese would be a waste of money. But typically difficult foreigners refused to learn Korean in order to use the site.
Another stumbling block was the government, which required sites like Cyworld to only allow people with Korean national ID numbers to register - in other words Korean citizens. The company said that it also accepted alien registration numbers of foreign residents in Korea, as long as the alien phoned the company and explained in 2,000 words to a Korean-speaking operator why they wanted access and weren't a security threat.
Some said this hampered Cyworld's global growth, but it was not clear why Koreans would want to create social contacts with people outside Korea. Koreans in America, who are called 'gyopos', which approximately translates as 'ethnically Korean foreign criminals', said even they were prevented from joining the social network, and had to join Facebook instead. But the government said this was by design - Koreans who leave Korea are regarded as traitors unless they end up in a position of power in another country, in which case they are instead regarded as 'secretly working for Korea'.
Cyworld was eventually translated into German, but Germans still needed to be Korean citizens to use all its features. The service was also launched in other countries, but users of Cyworld in one country were prevented from making friends with users of Cyworld in another, as like in Korea, it was not believed that citizens from one country should be fraternizing with others. It is believed the Ministry of Health had also warned Cyworld that if Korean users of its service were allowed to make friends with users of its service in other countries, their souls may slowly be stolen and they may even become less pure-blooded. But worryingly, there is growing evidence that Cyworld has begun to lose Koreans to Facebook anyway, due to Facebook's policy of not sharing its members' data with Chinese hackers.
Having ultimately missed out on the trend of social networking despite it being the entire basis on which Korean society sits - rather than it being a meritocracy or based on rule-of-law - the Korean government nevertheless takes some comfort from Facebook's Korean origins. "Facebook has generated tens of billions of 'likes' in its short history" said a Ministry of Culture spokesman, "and you have to understand that means tens of billions of 'likes' for a Korean idea, which shows the strength of support for the Korean Wave which is sweeping the world."
Facebook developer Cyworld says it will also soon announce the next generation of social networking which will sweep the world and replace Facebook. Using augmented reality glasses similar to Google Goggles, Koreans will be able to walk around and instantly 'Like' other people. Other users will then be able to walk around and see how 'liked' a person is, and this 'social reputation score', or SRS, promises to be a huge time-saver in Korean society as people can instantly judge whether a person is worth bothering with or not. But the idea goes further than Facebook, as in addition to 'Like' there will also be other options such as 'Pretend to Like', 'Use', and 'Fight'. However, experts are skeptical about the plan, saying Koreans do not like wearing glasses because they are a sign of inferiority.
In addition to Facebook, Google Goggles is another example of a stolen technology - which is based on the long-established Korean cultural concept of picturing a reality and seeing something else.
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