In the eyes of many Cyworld is already dead, most users having already left what used to be Korea’s most powerful social network for other platforms like Facebook and Kakao Story. Despite this, the site isn’t throwing in the towel just yet and has several changes planned for the next couple of months.
According to SK Communications which operates Cyworld, the site’s flagship ‘mini homepages’ will undergo a makeover next month, with the size of pages to be expanded from the current pop-up style windows, to full screen pages. According to the company, there have been constant requests to increase the size of the page. An app for viewing saved photos is also in the pipeline and is scheduled to be released in July. Cyworld already has apps on both iOS and Android, and it isn’t yet clear how the new app will differ from the current ones.
Realistically speaking, Cyworld has now become somewhat of a graveyard to past memories, mini homepages lying dormant with barely any visitors per day. In its heyday 90% of those in their late-teens and early twenties had a Cyworld account but in 2011, Facebook finally surpassed the site in monthly hits from its mere 4 million Korean users at the time. At the end of 2012, Korea had over 10 million Facebook users according to Internet World Stats. More recently, Kakao’s social network service Kakao Story passed the total number of Cyworld members in October last year when it reported 28 million users, and remains the most active social networking service in Korea.
In the eyes of many these latest plans are too little, (far) too late. Cyworld is another classic case of a business that didn’t try and adjust to the changing environment around it until users began leaving in droves.
While Facebook was connecting people globally and easy to use, Cyworld was still(and still does) using pop-out windows and was an image heavy site with scripts which only worked in Internet Explorer. Several failed attempts at going global due to various reasons including lack of integration plus cultural and browser environment differences meant that Korean users who wanted to connect with international friends moved on to Facebook. Cyworld has tried to catch up by creating a newsfeed type interface with a “Today History” feature which tries to draw back users by showing them old activity, e.g. a photo they uploaded on the same day several years ago.
While there are sure to be memorable photos that users would like to keep from old homepages, Cyworld didn’t allow high quality uploads for a long time, resulting in most older images being distorted and compressed to a tiny size. One developer released an extension named Cy2Timeline which allowed ex-users to transfer their Cyworld photos to Facebook , removing any reason to keep visiting old homepages.
The last nail in Cyworld’s coffin was lined up once mobile apps for Facebook and other social networks took off. It didn’t launch its first app until 2010 when smartphones finally started flooding the South Korean market. By this time many had already started making the move to Facebook where overseas users had been using it on smartphones for several years already. It wasn’t long after this that messages saying ‘Like our Facebook page!’ rather then a Cyworld address began appearing on advertisements.
SK Communications has also said that they are preparing a Cyworld app connected to cellphone numbers, a la Kakao Talk. As one of the conglomerate’s most important sites, Cyworld is bound to stick around for a while regardless of reduced user numbers. Nevertheless, it seems highly unlikely that it will be able recreate the success that it once had, and if Cyworld is really serious about bringing users back, it will need to be more innovative than simply cloning an app that has already dominated the mobile market.