Thursday, August 16, 2012

Facebook and Facebok Ten Years On

Remembering Korea's Facebok
Facebok – the Korean social network that once seemed set to sweep the world – imploded not long after a young Mark Zuckerberg visited its offices in Seoul and then returned to America to set up a rival service.

Today, many non-Koreans don't even believe the founder of Facebook effectively stole the idea of social networking from Korea when he visited Seoul, as claimed by South Korea Communications and documented by The Korea Times. Ten years on, what lessons can Korea learn about the failure of Facebok and the success of Facebook?

On the face of things, Facebook seemed doomed to failure, as unlike Korea's Facebok it was designed to be evil, because it effectively creates a separate Internet in which only members of Facebook can see other members' information – it's even possible to restrict personal information to groups of other members.

Korea's Facebok on the other hand had no such restrictions, so every member's private information could be seen by everybody else – even people who weren't members of Facebok – although not non-Koreans obviously. In doing this Facebok created an environment of openness, trust and mutual respect between people, whereas Facebook encourages people to be secretive and deceptive because it is run by foreigners and this plays to their secretive and deceptive natures.

But whereas Facebok was built with local cultural sensitivities in mind, Facebook shares no such cultural awareness, which makes it extremely dangerous. For example, on Facebok, you could go back and change anything you'd ever said or done – either by deleting it or replacing it with better facts, but Facebook doesn't allow you to edit your history by changing your words, which is very inconvenient for Koreans.

Despite this, it was still believed that Facebok could survive in the face of the increasingly globally-dominant Facebook, on the principle that people in Korea generally have no interest in social networking with foreigners outside Korea, so once again the country would retain its pure data.

But then the unexpected happened – Korean netizens started moving over from Facebok to Facebook in large numbers because using a foreign social network gave other people the impression they had foreign friends, which enhanced their prestige. All they usually had to say is "I'm on Facebook", but in case anyone checked it was always easy enough to befriend group of random foreigners by making enough friend requests, especially if you changed your avatar temporarily to a picture of Lee Hyori first.

Facing accusations that Facebook was based on the declining Facebok, the American company bought its Korean rival and closed down the site so that now one of the few reminders of Korea's social networking failure is the fact that the domain tauntingly points to Facebook also still retains the same shade of deep blue of the Korean flag, the depiction of Dokdo at the end of its logo, as well as its 'real-name' policy, which ironically Korea abandoned after discovering the President wasn't even using his real name.

Related Links
The Dokdo Times Facebook/Facebok
Stolen Korean Idea Facebook Floats
Cyworld fights back Facebook-Twitter onslaught with C-Log
Cyworld to Build Version of Cyworld Where Cyworld is Popular

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