The next chapter in social media

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The next chapter in social media

It has always saddened me that although Korea led the development of social networks early on, it failed to make its flagship Cyworld into a global leader.

Unfortunately, Cyworld had no vision for itself as a global player and only belatedly launched an English-language version. It ultimately pulled out of the American market in 2010, and today Facebook, launched in 2004, has become the most favored social network worldwide, including in Korea.

But today we are on the edge of a new revolution in social networks, and Korea once again has an opportunity to establish itself as the global leader. Social networks are becoming extremely popular in countries like Vietnam, Mongolia and China. Yet, Facebook is not properly customized to the needs of local cultures and takes a one-size-fits-all approach to social networking.

The next generation of social networks should be run as a utility administered by a consortium of nations in the same way that a highway is run by local and central governments. Social-networking companies should use that infrastructure to build creative content.

A global consortium of governments for social networks can provide the large-scale investment needed to lay down the foundation for something beyond the means of any one corporation. Because the infrastructure, including the administration, will be built as a public service, we can be sure they will be developed with a long-term vision to address important societal issues.

New social networks should work closely together with local governments as a means for citizens to cooperate with each other and with public officials to improve their neighborhoods and solve complex problems by combining expert knowledge from multiple fields. Social networks can span citizens groups and government agencies, giving us an opportunity for true government reform and innovation in a participatory democracy.

The Korean social network should draw on the country’s tradition of social networking, or sarangbang. The sarangbang was space used for intellectual and cultural exchange between like-minded people in the Confucian past. The modern sarangbang, however, will be expanded to serve as a platform for broader exchange between people with similar interests and concerns worldwide, making the concept universal.

One distinction between the sarangbang and previous social networks will be its open administrative structure. Not only will users be able to customize their own pages, they will be able to create their own emoticons and design templates for other content - even develop applications that run on sarangbang. They will then be free to sell those materials to others through a sarangbang exchange using a unique sarangbang currency. This innovation will mean that the time spent by youth on SNS can contribute to the creative economy and generate income while encouraging exchanges with peers.

Although Facebook could be used for intellectual exchange, the economy or technology, in fact, it is used instead to exchange pictures of cats and cafe lattes. But Korea could change all that by introducing a new seriousness into sarangbang, making it a platform for addressing the true concerns in our society.

Moreover, the sarangbang should feature a powerful search engine, the equivalent of Google, that allows users to find partners for business or NGO activities. It should be possible, for example, for high school students in Korea to find partners for a start-up company among high school students who have similar interests in the United States, China or Japan.

A sophisticated search engine will also render sarangbang a platform for global governance with a focus on needs at the local level. A rural village in Chungnam, for example, can identify a town in Iowa with similar concerns about flooding and find a way to share costs for a study, cutting expenses for both.

There is a lot of room for experimentation in the visual representation of the connections one develops in social networks. At present, we only have the most primitive means of visualizing the networks we have built. Sarangbang will let the user create structures in three dimentions, allowing the user to sort out hundreds, or thousands, of online friends in a manner that is easy to understand.

It is also possible to develop a true virtual reality, wherein each user’s page is literally a 3-D room to which he or she can invite people for discussions. That space can be expanded as a house or a town, creating a visual space that makes the virtual community more substantial for its members.

Sarangbang should also feature a sophisticated archiving system wherein the material created by its users is organized systematically and made accessible to those looking for help. We can learn from the experiences of others about disease, social problems, economics and the environment, sharing our best practices.

Finally, sarangbang can be a means for the government and for educational institutions to set up seminars that bring together experts to exchange opinions via online seminars on pressing topics. Experts who have never had the chance to meet can discover new research partners through this format and launch exciting collaborative projects.

Language does not have to be a barrier. Often we find that when great scholars and global business leaders meet at conferences and seminars, they only exchange a few brief words in English.

But sarangbang can offer a service in which experts can write their comments as part of an online written exchange - equivalent to the pildam written exchanges of the Joseon period - and have those comments translated and then passed on to the other members of the discussion. This approach would create truly profound written discussions that are not limited by language.

The social network revolution is not over; it is just beginning. This is the moment for Korea to seize the initiative and create a new global standard for the world.

*The author is an associate professor in the College of International Studies at Kyung Hee University.

by Emanuel Pastreich

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