Band the next big thing in social media

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Band the next big thing in social media

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Users of the Band, from left, range from 40-year-olds to teenagers. Those in their 30s and 20s share hobbies and studying information on the Band. The teenagers in the third group are first-year members of Danggok High School’s broadcasting club. They communicate with other members, even those nearly 30 years older, through a band, or group. Those in their 40s are alumni of the same middle school. By Kwon Hyuk-jae

The Band has emerged as an up-and-coming mainstream social network service, proving especially popular among the middle-aged set, many of whom are looking to reconnect with fellow alumni.

The mobile-based application service by Naver is considered the successor to I Love School, an alumni-finding website introduced in 1999 and currently boasts about 230 million members. The number of bands, or groups, totals more than 7.5 million, and last month’s users spent more than 2 billion minutes on the site.

Experts say that users of open social media services like Facebook and Twitter tend to return to closed-service systems like the Band because they provide more online privacy options.

Park Jong-lan, 42, uses Band. Her mother passed away shortly after Park signed up for the service, and the members from her Youngchun Middle School alumni band expressed their support and condolences from all parts of the country.

Park admitted that her life has been much livelier since joining the social network. Members can post and read one another’s stories and even organize offline meet-ups.

“We couldn’t recognize each other at first. Sometimes [former classmates] look a lot different, but we eventually recognized the faces we used to know,” Park said.

When Naver introduced the Band in August 2012, users were primarily young people. But its alumni-finding function, added last year, slowly started to attracted older demographics. Members are automatically grouped into their alumni band after entering information about their alma mater and graduation year.

Perhaps Band’s biggest strength, though, is its closed service. While the public can sometimes see private posts from members on open social networks like Twitter or Facebook, Band’s privacy settings offer higher security.

Moon Ye-ri, a 27-year-old officer worker, said using Facebook often makes her feel uncomfortable.

“Co-workers and those who are related to my work sometimes send me friend requests on Facebook. After accepting them, I have no choice but to limit my posts. These days, I prefer sharing [aspects of my daily life] on the Band,” Moon said.

For many users of the closed social network, the benefits are noticeable, and its security has been praised.

Kim Ha-na, a broadcast program director, and Jo Hae-in, a musical director, first met through work and soon became fast friends. Spending time together, they found out they had many common interests and wanted a way to share them. Now the two often share music, poems and video clips through the Band.

The two friends acknowledged that they needed to use Facebook for their jobs, but mostly used the site nowadays to post work-related material.

The Band has also proven useful for those outside the civilian sphere.

“The Band is very secure. The post can’t be found on search engines, and users can delete their previous postings, too,” said Lee Byung-nam, of the Mapo Police Precinct. “We even share information of wanted criminals through the Band with other officers.”

Yoon Deok-hwan of Micromillembrain, a research firm, said the Band’s popularity is a result of more Internet users seeking more secure online relationships.

“Because cell phones, televisions and even home appliances are connected online, people would certainly feel anxious that there is information about them out there that they cannot necessarily control. Even though the Band is an online-based application, it is more like a way of communication for offline relationships,” he added.

Lim Moon-young, one of the founders of Nownuri, a first-generation online service, and a former iMBC Media Center Director, said the Band’s boom is partly due to the distribution of smartphones among middle-aged people.

However, Professor Shin Dong-hee of the Department of Interaction Science of Sungkyunkwan University, insisted that the popularity of open services and closed services are often cyclical, with the Band emerging as the latest trend in closed social networks.

While the users are enjoying the benefits of the closed social network service, some worry about its possible drawbacks.

“I Love School alumni get-togethers often led to an increase in adultery,” said Ko Jin-seok, director of Study Code and a former technical director for I Love School.

Band users are aware of such incidents, however, especially middle-aged users who once belonged to I Love School. “We know that the alumni meetings cannot last when such things happen,” says Huh Eun-ju, the operator of the Youngchun Middle School alumni band to which Park Jong-lan belongs. “So we make efforts to prevent them in advance.”

But for many, the benefits of the SNS outweigh its shortcomings.

“The Band enhances my life,” said member Lee Sang-yong. “We all know what we need to do to make it last.”


BY PARK HYE-MIN, KOO HYE-JIN [bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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