TECH TALK: Cyworld: India

Danah Boyd recently put forth a definition of a social networking site:

A “social network site” is a category of websites with profiles, semi-persistent public commentary on the profile, and a traversable publicly articulated social network displayed in relation to the profile.

To clarify:

1.Profile. A profile includes an identifiable handle (either the person’s name or nick), information about that person (e.g. age, sex, location, interests, etc.). Most profiles also include a photograph and information about last login. Profiles have unique URLs that can be visited directly.

2.Traversable, publicly articulated social network. Participants have the ability to list other profiles as “friends” or “contacts” or some equivalent. This generates a social network graph which may be directed (“attention network” type of social network where friendship does not have to be confirmed) or undirected (where the other person must accept friendship). This articulated social network is displayed on an individual’s profile for all other users to view. Each node contains a link to the profile of the other person so that individuals can traverse the network through friends of friends of friends….

3.Semi-persistent public comments. Participants can leave comments (or testimonials, guestbook messages, etc.) on others’ profiles for everyone to see. These comments are semi-persistent in that they are not ephemeral but they may disappear over some period of time or upon removal. These comments are typically reverse-chronological in display. Because of these comments, profiles are a combination of an individuals’ self-expression and what others say about that individual.

The definition is relevant in the Indian context. Social Networking sites in India are starting to happen. Google’s Orkut has the early advantage, but there are many others which have been launched or are in the pipeline. One factor that needs to be taken into account in India is that PC and Internet usage, though high in numbers, is not free and always available. Much of the Internet access happens from cybercafes for which users have to pay by the minute. This tends to limit the potential of social networking via a computer.

In India, I think mobiles will have to be the primary device for social networking because they are with us all the time. But mobiles too have their inherent limitations. Data networks are still quite expensive to use. Getting applications on phones is hard. SMS and voice are the only two universal interaction modes available on all phones. The challenge and opportunity lies in leveraging the mobile as a social networking platform keeping in mind the future. Phones are becoming multimedia computers, data networks will become more affordable, and the mobile internet will become much more of a reality. Japan and South Korea have demonstrated early successes in combining mobiles and social networking. India too can do the same in the next 12-18 months. In that context, we have to more to learn from a Cyworld than a MySpace or a Facebook. Keeping in mind Danah Boyd’s definition and translating it for India is what will create India’s Cyworld. The jigsaw puzzle is waiting to be solved.


Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.