Social Networking and Global Nationalisms

Image of Cyworld banner Fred Stutzman, manager of the Lyceum project and co-founder of, has an excellent post about five huge social networking sites. Despite frequent assumptions that Web 2.0’s social networking is always already a global phenomenon, the five sites listed in this article suggest how such sites align themselves along national lines. For example, Cyworld is South Korea’s largest social networking service with 20 million daily users (or 25% of the population) according to the article -simply staggering numbers! “Well, this is obvious Jim,” you say, “for how many people outside of Korea can speak Korean?”

All right, smart guy, how about this then -how many of us in the U.S. (or even North America) are aware of British social networking sites like Faceparty (with over 6 million users), or a post-colonial social networking space such as India’s Hi5 (with over 40 million users, published in English – that most ubiquitous of online languages -but that is another story about language, colonialism and the traces of empire).

More broadly, how do linguistic, national and cultural differences make some of our claims about the international nature of the web fall flat? I say this knowing full well that DTLT has been forging unbelievably fruitful international relationships with Instructional Technologists in Canada. But does this beg the question -why not Mexico? Or Liberia? Or Jamaica? While not trying to be overly polemical, I think our frame for Web 2.0 as a necessarily “global” movement may, at times, ring true, yet how do we explain the nationalized boundaries that social networking like MySpace or Hi5, or Faceparty rearticulate and reinforce?

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4 Responses to Social Networking and Global Nationalisms

  1. Fred says:

    Jim – The virtual regional boundaries in these services are very intresting (Orkut actually breaks down the national spread in their service – linked from Wikipedia.) I think the answer lies in the conflict of social networking services; that is, even though I can contact/connect with everyone in the world, I don’t, because the people I truly care about are the people around us. While the weak connections are important toour social network, our life patterns (exclusionary of virtual space) enforce that we know people locally. These services all branch out globally, but the critical mass lives inside a clustered, geolocalized area.

    I’d bet that all of these services have “cross-national” strategies, but I don’t know how well it will work. A userbase must establish itseelf before a service spreads – a service can’t spread from the top down.

    Very interesting post. Oh, and thank you for your excellent work with Lyceum!!

  2. jimgroom says:


    What you say above makes a lot of sense. i guess my questions, which intersect nicely with your thoughts, are asking how we have framed the internet’s networking capabilities, from its nascence, as an international, boundaryless phenomenon. And while it does represent these possibilities, the fact remains that many of these technologies (social or otherwise) depend much more on these geo-localized areas, as you nicely put it, then on any global/international frame that is often used hyperbolically for effect when describing these tools (something which I am all too guilty of). Thanks for both the comment and the great post which lead me to such unwieldy ruminations!

  3. Gardner says:


    Valid concerns and well articulated. (You also get the prize for first DTLT staffer to use “always already” in a blog post. :)) You’re exactly right that it’s all too easy for us in the US to speak of “global” phenomena when we hardly know our own culture, let alone what’s happening in the UK or South Korea or India or Africa.

    That said, it is true that those who are thinking in these spaces (not just enjoying their uses) are crossing national boundaries with some regularity, even if they’re speaking in English to do so. I think of IT Conversations, where English is spoken with a foreign accent a substantial part of the time. I think the international conversation among developers and philosophers of the Web is very promising.

    Sometimes the spaces themselves foster genuine international contact. I think of the Japanese woman in Second Life with whom I had a very interesting and occasionally unsettling conversation just the other day. She’s probably an outlier, and of course we spoke in English, but I came away from the encounter feeling I had just had a sudden, profound glimpse of an entirely different way of thinking.

    I also wonder about the idea of boundary-less-ness. There are deep questions of identity and alterity here, as well as the exhilaration of contact and community. Nations are geopolitical entities, yes, but cultures are something stronger, as the Soviet Union (for example) found out to its sorrow. The challenge as I see it is to honor culture and enable cultural contact and cross-fertilization without diluting or erasing the semi-permeable boundaries that define a culture.

    Thanks for this very thoughtful post.

  4. Rico says: is blog completely dedicated to Cyworld, the global online social networking site. Please come visit us for the lates news, resources and information about Cyworld.

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