The Importance of Being Social – A Talk on Online Social Networks

socialnetworksIn this year’s For the coming UnConference 2009 organized by E27 team in the Biopolis, I will be doing a breakout session entitled “Much Ado about Social Networks in Asia” about online social networks in Asia. I will discuss the trends and observations emerging that I have seen from my experience in building an online private social network (SENATUS), investing in social networks (iHipo, Eteract) under Thymos Capital LLP and observing dominant home-grown social networks in Asia (CyWorld – Korea, Mixi – Japan and Xiaonei – China). This talk will assemble some of the material that I am currently for a sample chapter for a book that I am working on with two other authors. As a primer, I decide to present the slides on a talk which I have recently given in Barcamp KL 2009 entitled “The Importance of Being Social” (which was featured on Slideshare as the Presentation of the Day) where I presented a framework to understand social networks and a whacky idea to how a next generation Linkedin (based on a weighted social network idea) might look like. In this earlier talk, I discuss (i) the context of online social networks – why some have succeeded and some have failed and used CyWorld as an example of one which succeeded in Korea and failed in Germany and US, (ii) the technology of online social networks – why different features make an online social network platform different in its earlier days since (the first online social network), and (iii) the business behind online social networks – why some Asian based social networks particularly in East Asia are trouncing their American counterparts. If you think that I am going to replicate this talk for Unconference 2009, let me tell you that the talk I will be giving will be slightly different in what I have presented.

Much Ado About Social Networks in Asia @ Unconference 2009

socialnetworksIn this year’s Unconference 2009 organized by E27, the topic led by me for the breakout sessions is entitled “Much Ado about Social Networks in Asia.” The talk addresses the trends of online social networks in Asia. Since it is not a keynote address nor panel discussion, I broke the session into two parts. In the first part of the breakout, I presented a set of slides which I have prepared that give a broad and perhaps academic definition of online social networks and its features, followed by looking at the generic trends of social networks in Asia. Then subsequently, I proceeded to look at the lessons learned from the three successful social networks in East Asia: (i) CyWorld – Korea, (ii) Mixi – Japan and (iii) Xiaonei – China. The second part of the event focused on an interactive discussion with the audience on the facts and thoughts I have presented. In that part, I have also presented additional slides that will facilitate the discussion further. I will summarize some points during the interactive session with the audience here: 

  • Plan B for Applications Developers on Social Network Platforms: During the session, I asked Leonard Lin, co-founder and CEO of Tyler Projects to discuss the problems encountered by application developers working on established platforms. He has indicated that after a run-in with Facebook for his product BattleStations during a platform change that reduced his business revenues, he realized that there is a need to publish the same game on another platform. They have also tried to put BattleStations on Friendster but it did not generate any revenue for them. It is important that if you are an application developer, you should have an exit strategy for another platform if the primary platform you work can throw you out anytime.
  • Can Friendster make a comeback?: A member from the audience posed this question to me given that I broke the story about Friendster losing her dominance in Malaysia to Facebook. My answer is pretty simple. It is about finding features that can bring the users back to the network. I explained why Facebook was able to have so much user interaction because of the transition from a static to a dynamic profile management, giving friends and people who share the same interests as yourself to know what’s going on in your life. Friendster needs to find features that can lure their users back or risk being superceded by Facebook and Hi5. Note Friendster is on the decline but they may abandon the traditional SNS and turn towards mobile social networking.
  • There is a role for Ning too in the social network landscape: Someone posed the question on whether Ning is able to survive given so much social networks out there. My answer to that question is that there are small and medium enterprises out there who can still use Ning to build a simple and quick social network to service their customers. I gave the example for Because i Matter – a Singaporean-based site on getting people to report on security using a Ning social network. 
  • Social network aggregators for managing and aggregator data: Given the plethora of user data that might be distributed across different social networks, there exist an opportunity in social network aggregators analogous to in sharing links and microblogs. The social network aggregators have taken two routes: (i) the desktop aggregators built on Adobe Air – OrSiSo, TweetDeck and Seesmic Desktop or (ii) (web-based aggregator). The issue is that people will still visit the main sites given that most users might want to play their favourite games or use their favourite apps which may not be compiled by social network aggregators.
  • Interesting Social Networks which you can find in Singapore and Malaysia: Here are some interesting social networks which you can take a look at for Singapore – iHipo, Eteract, SENATUS (all the three networks I am involved in), Settlr and for Malaysia – Ruumz, Social Wok and Pacmee.

Acknowledgements: I thank Yung-Hui (, Daniel Cerventus (Malaysia Entrepreneurs), Gwendolyn Tan (SG Entrepreneurs), Patrick Linden (, Colin Charles (Bytebot), Thorben Linneberg (OrSiSo), Leonard Lin (Tyler Projects), Jonathan Wong (Armchair Theorist) and the audience for the interesting twitters and interactive discussion that sparked all the thoughts and opinions in this breakout session. You can check out Richard Korffr’s Qik video on my breakout session as well.

Picture by Meng Weng on my talk: