A bit of international info humor…

Ok, maybe it’s not all that funny, but it did amuse me. John Yunker writes in Global by Design about Montenegro’s new top level domain name. (If you’re wondering, a top level domain name is the .com, .org, .net, etc. in a Web address). Montenegro’s domain name is .me. Yunker imagines some of the potential Web addresses people will create using .me:

– help.me
– buy.me
– gettoknow.me

A country has the option of selling its national domain name to foreign citizens if it chooses, and if Montenegro elects to sell access to .me, look for a land grab of investors creating Web addresses like this.

Posted by Aaron Bowen

From São Paulo and London with Love: Sex in the Blogosphere in Brazil and England

Raquel Pacheco, aka Bruna Surfistinha

Raquel Pacheco, aka Bruna Surfistinha

China has Mu Mu and Muzi. England has Belle. Brazil has Bruna.

Similar to Mu Mu and Muzi, who I discuss in this postBelle de Jour and Bruna Surfistinha are respectively a British and A Brazilian woman who blog about sex, thus presenting an opportunity for a three way comparison of cultural attitudes towards sex – both in general, and in the blogosphere specifically. The biggest difference to point out between them is that, whereas the Chinese bloggers were just Chinese citizens who posted sexual content to their blogs, Belle and Bruna are ex-prostitutes who were actively blogging during their tenures as a sex workers. But even taking that fact into consideration, both Belle and Bruna would write about themselves, their personal lives, and their boyfriends on their blogs, thus ensuring their blogs do not have a fundamentally different format from the Chinese blogs.

Belle

Subtitled The diary of a London call girl, Belle provides no real introduction to her blog, which suggests that it emerged somewhat spontaneously as a by-product of her profession. But on this blog, Belle chronicles different aspects of her life – primarily the sexual aspects, although she will occasionally include writings on other topics as well. In the (more complete) introduction to the U.S. release of a book version of her blog entries she published in 2005, she describes her move to London as a recent college graduate and the discovery of how hard it is in contemporary Western societies to bridge the divide between college degree and entry-level job. From there it’s a fairly typical road she follows – limited job prospects and the expense of living in London drew her first by accident and then by specific intention to the world of prostitution. The most interesting part of her entry into this world comes as the last sentence of her introduction in her book:

And it wasn’t too long after deciding to do it [become a prostitute] that I started keeping a diary

This diary of course turned into her blog.

Belle’s life seems to have changed since the days she was blogging about prostitution. On May 23 (Mai 23, as she writes it in French), she posted about getting a job and has since jokingly referred to herself as “Belle de Office.” She has also continued turning her blog into a commercial publishing venture. In addition to her first book, she has published this 2007 follow up. But she still writes about sex and different social attitudes towards sex on her blog, as well as providing different vignettes on her life, her friends, and her activities.

The main reason I bring Belle into my comparison is to provide a Western European perspective on sex blogging – what kind of content goes into it, what cultural factors affect or don’t affect it, and how readers respond to it. That said, culturally I find England to be the most similar to the United States of any European country. Having seen different parts of England with a British friend on one hand, and also having lived in both France and Greece and traveled to other cities in Europe on the other, I find it quite obvious which nation American revolted against in order to gain independence. I am not at all suggesting that British and American culture are the same, only that I find them closer to each other than I find comparisons between the cultures of America and other European countries. And as always, I invite discussion of this idea, either agreeing or disagreeing with me.

With this in mind, I find Belle’s blog the most culturally similar to a blog one would find in America. Her writings aren’t affected by the constant threat of government censorship the way Mu Mu’s are (and to which Muzi’s writings fell victim). (And no I’m not suggesting that censorship doesn’t exist in England – only that it doesn’t exist to the same degree that it does in China). Nor do Belle’s writings reflect any one pervasive element of British culture, the way Catholicism acts as a pervasive cultural element in Brazil, affecting Internet content and use, and occasionally make its way onto Bruna’s blog.

Belle also doesn’t explicitly discuss the use of technology or social media as a vehicle to make her online diary available to the world. I’m sure this absence is a result of multiple factors, ranging from what topics she feels are worth or not worth discussing, to the comparatively ubiquitous level of Internet connectivity in England as opposed to Brazil or China. (Drawing from data from the International Telecommunications Union and other sources, Internet World Stats reports 62.3% Internet penetration in the United Kingdom, as opposed to 22.8% in Brazil and 12.3% in China). My thought is that the relative ubiquity of Internet connectivity in England makes it more just an everyday feature of life – not the kind of cultural force it is in Brazil, where average netizens seem to dedicate much more explicit thought to the connection between their social interactions and the Internet. While it isn’t the focus of her blog, Bruna does talk a lot more about the explicit connection between the Internet and her diary chronicling her work in prostitution, as I discuss below.

Bruna

Like Mu Mu, Bruna made her major debut to American audiences through the New York Times. Larry Rother introduces her thus:

She goes by the name Bruna, the Little Surfer Girl, and gives new meaning to the phrase “kiss and tell.” First in a blog that quickly became the country’s most popular and now in a best-selling memoir, she has titillated Brazilians and become a national celebrity with her graphic, day-by-day accounts of life as a call girl here.

Bruna, whose real name is Raquel Pacheco, says in the article that her blog emerged as kind of an accident that just kept growing ad growing. “In the beginning,” she says, “I just wanted to vent my feelings… I wanted to show what goes on in the head of a program girl [the Brazilian term for a high class prostitute], and I couldn’t find anything on the Net like that. I thought that if I was curious about it, others would be too.” Since this beginning, her blog has become one of the most widely read blogs in Brazil and she has adapted some of her blog entries into a book titled The Scorpion’s Sweet Venom, which was first published in 2005 and has been released in two English editions, as well as a Spanish edition. A second book, titled What I learned from Bruna Surfistinha, is on the way. Like Belle, Bruna has turned her blog into a full blown commercial publish venture. Also like Belle, she no longer chronicles her sexual activities online, although she will still devote parts of her discussions to the general topic of sex.

But in addition to introducing Bruna, Rother’s article also points to the ongoing debate over social morality to which the presence of a person like Bruna has led. While it considers questions of what thoughts should or should not be allowed, who is and/or should be empowered to make such a decision, and what to do with conflicting views on the topic, this debate over social morality is different from the censorship debate in China. In China, Party officials are considering from an official point of view what the government should or should not allow in Chinese Internet content. In Brazil the debate does not spring from an official government stance on what should or should not be allowed in the Brazilian Internet space, but rather from different segments of Brazilian society debating with each other. A national government can be involved in a debate of this nature – see for example this report by Nicholas Kulish in the International Herald Tribune about the Bulgarian government cracking down on prostitution by punishing individuals willing to pay for sex from a prostitute rather than punishing the prostitute himself or herself, as well as this report by Henry Porter in The Guardian opposing government intervention of this nature in England. But in each of these cases, the government in question is responding to a social morality debate in which its citizens are engaged, not (as is much more the case in China) setting their own policy irrespective of what their citizens think.

So the social morality debate in Brazil of which Bruna’s fame is a product springs not from the Brazilian government, but rather from different social attitudes of Brazilian citizens. And these attitudes frequently revolve around sexual liberalization, traditional feminine roles in Brazilian culture, and the presence of the Catholic Church. As Rother says,

Carnival and the general sensuality that seems to permeate the atmosphere can give the impression that Brazil is unusually permissive and liberated, especially compared with other predominantly Roman Catholic nations. But experts say the real situation is far more complicated, which explains both Bruna’s emergence and the strong reactions she has provoked.

As a result, some Brazilians have applauded Bruna’s frankness and say it is healthy to get certain taboos out in the open… But others decry her celebrity as one more noxious manifestation of free-market economics and globalization.

Rother further quotes a host of voices on the different sides of the debate. He frames the debate by quoting Richard Parker, an anthropologist at Columbia University and author of Bodies, Pleasures and Passions: Sexual Culture in Contemporary Brazil:

Brazil is a country of contradictions, as much in relation to sexuality as anything else… There is a certain spirit of transgression in daily life, but there is also a lot of moralism.

Rother then presents two voices, the first – Maria Clara Lucchetti Bingemer, a journalist and theologian at Catholic University in Rio de Janeiro – decring the presence of a person like Bruna in Brazilian society, and the second – Gabriela Silva Leite, a sociologist, former prostitute, and director of a prostitutes’ advocacy group – arguing that moral concerns such as those Bingemer espouses are exaggerated. Bingemer says that

This is the fruit of a type of society in which people will do anything to get money, including selling their bodies to be able to buy cellular phones… We’ve always had prostitution, but it was a hidden, prohibited thing. Now it’s a professional option like anything else, and that’s the truly shocking thing.

Leite replies that

It’s not a book like this that is going to stimulate prostitution, but [comment instead on] the lack of education and opportunities for women… I don’t think Bruna glamorizes things at all. On the contrary, you can regard the book as a kind of warning, because she talks of the unpleasant atmosphere and all the difficulties she faced.

Last but not least, Rother quotes Bruna herself on the debate over social morality:

Brazilian women have this sexy image, of being at ease and uninhibited in bed. But anyone who lives here knows that’s not true.

Carla de Meis, a medical psychiatrist at the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro who has researched the mental health of Brazilian prostitutes, considers this debate in her own research. She points out in her article Subjectivity, Social Suffering, Liminality, and Suicide Among Prostitutes in Brazil that this debate is not just external, that a person can struggle with this question with respect to her own values and worldview. While the contrast is admittedly somewhat artificial, de Meis sets up a contrast between social roles in which a woman conforms to a societal definition of a dutiful wife and mother who honors her family, and in which she rejects family life to make a living through prostitution instead. de Meis notes that many of the prostitutes she interviewed for her research described making a wrenching decision when the elected to bypass the wife and mother role in favor of the prostitution role. She further notes that many prostitutes wanted to get out of their lives as prostitutes as quickly as possible and do their best to rid themselves of the stigma of having been a prostitute and live a life that more closely conforms to their society’s definition of a “good woman” (de Meis’ words).

Though this definition of a “good woman” – dutiful wife, honorable mother, moral woman, etc. – springs from multiple roots, de Meis and Parker both point to the presence of the Catholic Church as being a major factor reinforcing this role in Brazilian society. de Meis notes in particular Clara, a lady who wished to conform to her society’s definition of a moral woman and wanted to work her way out of prostitution to achieve that goal. As such, Clara differentiated herself from “real prostitutes” – women who willingly chose prostitution as a profession. According to de Meis:

Clara maintains that the real prostitutes are the women who begin early in life, explaining that those who begin later, as in her case, cannot adapt to it. She tells us that God curses prostitutes. However when I asked her if the curse of God would affect her she answered “No,” explaining that she pray every day and only works as a prostitute through extreme necessity. This would redeem her from the curse.

Regardless of whether one accepts Clara’s logic or not, her words demonstrate how deeply engrained Catholicism is in the Brazilian consciousness and social culture – even with the acknowledgement that many Brazilians are not personally religious.

As I noted in my discussion of social media in Brazil here, Catholicism is pervading the Brazilian sphere of social media as well. In this October 5 post Bruna offers two passages that touch upon religious themes. Writing about an interview she gave through an Internet chat service during a recent trip to the city of Salvador, she describes fielding a question from an “evangélico” – a person with an evangelical bend:

“As perguntas foram ótimas, mas cheguei na conclusão que eu posso estar onde quiser, em qualquer parte do mundo, que sempre terá algum evangélico com suas teorias macabras para cima de mim… Ele me perguntou se eu não tenho medo da morte… Afff. Sangue de Jesus tem poder ( é assim a frase?)!!! Amém.”

(I will e-mail some colleagues in Brazil to correct me, but in rough translation):

The questions had been excellent, but, as is the case anywhere in the world, there will always be some evangélico with macabre theories. I say this because the only question that left the focus [of the chat session] came from an evangélico… He asked me if I do not fear death… Afff. Sangue de Jesus tem poder (is this the phrase?)!!! Amen.

I do not know of an English equivalent of her last full phrase, “sangue de Jesus tem poder,” but if I read it correctly she is speaking in irony – in effect saying “oh dear God, what a ridiculous question” in response to the inquiry. (If any Brazilian or Portuguese readers can provide a translation, I would appreciate hearing from you). The translation aside, this exchange demonstrates not only the presence of Christianity in Brazilian society, but also the willingness to use the Internet as a forum to discuss it. And while Bruna seems to take an irreverent attitude towards its presence here, a little earlier in her post she describes her surroundings in Salvador as “the kind of life for which one would ask from God,” thus displaying a not-so-irreverent attitude towards religion in her post as well.

Diligent readers will point out the obvious problems with talking about the views and concerns of whole segments of the world’s cultures based upon just a few blogs from those cultures. This is an excellent point, and I do not seek to make any broad assumptions about a culture based solely upon the views of a few bloggers. With that in mind, I invite any commentary you have on the British, Brazilian, or Chinese segments of the blogosphere. I would love to read any discussion you would like to provide, as well as any examples of blogs or other Internet sources you know that support or refute my analyses. Thanks!

(The NY times requires a login to read their articles online. Creating a login and password for the NY Times is free and may be done here).

Work cited:

de Meis, C. (1999). Subjectivity, Social Suffering, Liminality and Suicide Among Prostitutes in Brazil. Urban Anthropology. V. 28:1. pp 65-101.

Posted by Aaron Bowen

What’s in a name?: Questions of privacy in a Chinese social network

Chinese social networkers – the right to be anonymous?

Besides being accompanied by the above photo, which I find perfectly encapsulates the tension between recognition and anonymity among social networkers, Robert Ness’ post to Danwei.org this morning offers some of the best commentary I’ve heard on the right (or lack thereof) to be anonymous on the Internet in China. At issue is the real name system (实名制), or identity verification system. This is a system that requires someone wishing to join an online community to provide his or her real name and photo in order to join. Some like this system because (as they put it) it guarantees the authenticity of someone’s view points – members of an online community will know who said what. The systems proponents further argue that people will think twice before posting any potentially incendiary social or political commentary, as they will not be anonymous. By contrast, critics argue that this system represents Big Brother in action. Many of these critics further feel that the ability to post anonymously leads to discussion of taboo topics that would not be discussed if discussants could be personally identified.

Ness frames this debate in the context of the Chinese social network Zhanzuo.com — in Ness’s words, “one of several sites contending for the role of ‘China’s Facebook.’” The English version of the podcast interview with some of Zhanzuo’s regular networkers does a great job covering the different perspectives on this openness vs. privacy issue.

I confess I was interested in Zhanzuo for another reason as well. In order to reach out to social networkers, particularly on non-U.S. networks, I created profiles for myself on different networks active in different parts of the world (see my MySpace and Facebook, as well as my Orkut and Bebo). So naturally Zhanzuo was something I wanted to check out. I tried using Google translator to get around the language barrier, and to my surprise it wasn’t a total failure. I did get this far:

But when I created the profile I wasn’t able to type in the Roman alphabet, so I couldn’t give my real name. I threw in few random words in Chinese I copied and pasted from part of the page on the faint hope that I would be able to edit that bit of text into my real name once I was inside. Not surprisingly I was not able to do this – while I found the “edit my personal info” button, I was still unable to get the site to recognize my Romanized name. So my Zhanzuo profile is doomed.

But before the name verification authorities deleted my profile, I did try to add a little blurb about myself and the SIG-III blog, partly on the off chance that someone would see it before my profile disappeared, and partly just to see if I could do it. What happened was interesting. My attempts to post to the “about me” section were blocked, with (in Google translation) a rather Orwellian message:

your current state is: not yet audited by administrators, unable to use this function.

Block of the network to promote the real-name system, in order to pass audit, you must:

1. Upload your photos as a true portrait

2. Complete the true information (including name, department, etc)

Within 24 hours administrators will examine your images and information vetted through you can freely enjoy the fun of the block!

If Facebook, typically considered the standard bearer for authentic profile information in the U.S., ever tried anything like this, Facebook users would leave immediately. This amount of verification would never fly with a U.S. audience, thus marking a very significant difference between American social networkers and a certain percentage of Chinese social networkers. And while I wouldn’t presume to draw conclusions about broader social phenomena such as privacy in general and how attitudes towards privacy change by culture based solely upon an experiment like this, I did think my experience with Zhanzuo offered an interesting if incomplete window into attitudes towards privacy among Chinese netizens.

Posted by Aaron Bowen

Sue O’Neil Johnson, 1939-2007

Sue O'Neill Johnson (playing the accordion)

Sue O’Neill Johnson (playing the accordion)

It is with sadness that those of us in the SIG-III community learn of the passing of Sue O’Neil Johnson, one of our members who inspired all of us with her dedication to the field of international information and her commitment to information professionals around the world. A memorial service to celebrate her life will be held at 1:00 pm on Friday, October 5th at St Luke’s Episcopal Church, Bethesda, Maryland.

ASIS&T has posted a touching account of her life. Two passages in particular offer thoughtful glimpses of her life:

Sue was also active in the American Society for Information Science and Technology. She was twice Chair of the International Information Issues SIG, which received SIG of the Year honors three years in a row, and she won the SIG Member of the Year Award in 2003. She also co-founded the ASIST international paper competition which brought travel grants, ASIST memberships, and publishing opportunities to dozens of information professionals in developing nations.

Besides her children, music, and tennis and golf, Sue’s other great interest was in traveling and seeing the world. Beginning with a memorable trip to Yugoslavia and France as a college freshman, Sue had visited some 33 countries (many more than once) and was on her fifth passport. Perhaps her favorite trips were to Provence in 1994, Paraiba, Brazil in 2004, and the old capitals of Japan in 2005, but, in truth, she really loved meeting and talking with different people just about anywhere.

Many of us in SIG-III have shared our personal reflections about Sue on the ASIS&T wiki.

Posted by Aaron Bowen

Sex, Blogs, and the Great Firewall Part II – Sexuality and Subversion in China

Chinese blogger Mu Mu, from a May 2006 post to her blog

Chinese blogger Mu Mu, from a May 2006 post to her blog

Decisions about when and what to censor can rest on multiple different criteria such as the reputation of the author and the relative visibility of the offending thought – an op ed piece in a major newspaper will be read by more people than if it were in a fringe publication, and as such may be subject to more stringent regulation. But the primary criteria in deciding when and what to censor is (obviously) the overall content of the idea. And as is exemplified by official censorship in China, some topics stand a greater chance of being censored than others.

DeWoskin, who I cited in part one of this article, notes that political commentary will raise the ire of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) censors immediately, whereas personal, social or sexual content is much more of a gray area. She writes (p. 31) that

It was as if an unspoken compact had been reached between the government and its citizens: we do politics the old way; you do your lifestyles anyway you want.

A Chinese friend of mine in Seattle echoed this thought regarding internet content specifically: an Internet search for “democracy,” “Tiannamen Square,” or “Dali Lama” will return censored results, but a blogger like Mu Mu, about whom we were talking, could get away with posting sexual content about herself.

Mu Mu first appeared on the radar screens of Western media outlets in late 2005, when Howard W. French wrote his article A Party Girl Leads China’s Online Revolution. French introduces Mu Mu as a fascinating mixture of sexuality and political commentary:

On her fourth day of keeping a Web log, she introduced herself to the world with these striking words: “I am a dance girl, and I am a party member.”

“I don’t know if I can be counted as a successful Web cam dance girl,” that early post continued. “But I’m sure that looking around the world, if I am not the one with the highest diploma, I am definitely the dance babe who reads the most and thinks the deepest, and I’m most likely the only party member among them.”

Thus was born, early in July, what many regard as China’s most popular blog.

Sometimes timing is everything, and such was the case with the anonymous blogger, a self-described Communist Party member from Shanghai who goes by the pseudonym Mu Mu.

A 25-year-old, Mu Mu appears online… most evenings around midnight, shielding her face while striking poses that are provocative, but never sexually explicit.

She parries questions from some of her tens of thousands of avid followers with witticisms and cool charm.

Mu Mu has changed a bit since French introduced her. After French wrote his article her blog attracted a large amount of media attention from the West, causing her to shut the original version of it down. If you follow the link French provides, you receive the following error message, saying (in Chinese) that the page no longer exists. Mu Mu started blogging again after the media attention subsided a bit, and her blog has since been through two other incarnations: this one here, and the current version, which exists on two different sites here and here. She has also refrained from posting any semi-nude photos of herself recently, although she is still willing to post provocative photos, such as the depictions of Japanese soldiers in the following post, which I presume deals with perpetually strained Sino-Japanese relations. (If any SIG-III Blog readers speak Chinese and would be willing to confirm or correct this presumption, I would appreciate hearing your interpretation).

Mu Mu also said she “finds it hard to comprehend why her blog is so enticing to westerners,” according to Dave Lucas. Lucas has published an English translation of Mu Mu’s reaction to French’s article. In this reaction Mu Mu uses the Google translator to engage French in a discussion, in which (if I read the Googleified translation right) she says she is glad she is living at a time when China is increasingly socially liberal, points to the challenges of separating one’s personal life from one’s public life (which is why she chose to mix the two in her blog), and reaffirms her belief in the CCP.

Mu Mu is an example of a huge challenge for Chinese censors. Politically she claims to be on their side, but then she writes about being a party girl and partaking in a Westernized liberal lifestyle (and as I discuss below, the contention that Chinese censors only go after political discussion and generally leave social and sexual topics alone does not always prove accurate). From researching her, my impression is that she is very adept at being edgy bout not too edgy as to be shut down by Party censors. Her popularity in the Chinese blogosphere adds to the challenge. With a large following, her sudden absence at the hands of Party Censors would cause a considerable stir around the Chinese blogosphere. But the attention she received from Western media in late 2005 and 2006 threatened to create a politicized crisis between official censors and Western media outlets over freedom of speech issues. I believe this potential political situation is what cause Mu Mu to shut her original blog down as an act of self-censorship and only later begin blogging again when the attention from the West had subsided.

Do Party censors really overlook all this sexuality in China’s Internet sphere?

The short answer is no, although it remains true that the severity of any reaction by official censors varies widely. Simply put, these censors are far less equipped to comprehend and deal with censoring social topics such as sex than they are political topics such as democracy.

But there is evidence of CCP attempts to regulate online sexuality in China. Perhaps the most visible example is the CCP blocking the Japanese portal of Baidu.com, noted in these two reports. (Baidu, whose name is taken from a poem from the Song Dynasty, is not a well known company outside of China, but inside China it is fighting a gargantuan three-way battle with Google and Yahoo. And Baidu is winning – see reports here and here).

Chinese blogger Mu Zimei

Chinese blogger Mu Zimei, reproduced in a report by Jeremy Goldkorn on a Sohu.com story about Mu

In the Chinese blogosphere, Mu Mu isn’t the only blogger blogging about sexuality in China. At the end of 2003 another young woman named Muzi Mei (Or Mu Zimei, Mu Zi Mei, or木子美) received a lot of media attention around the world for blogging the stories of her sexual encounters.

Hannah Beech of Time Magazine writes that

Li Li… isn’t averse to kissing and telling. For the past couple of years, Li has kept a blog–written under the pen name Muzi Mei–that has chronicled everything from her penchant for orgies and Internet dating to her skepticism toward marriage when it means staying faithful to one man… “I express my freedom through sex,” says Li, unapologetically. “It’s my life, and I can do what I want.”

Her blog has been translated into French and German (and she reports an English translation of some of her work, although I was unable to find her on Amazon in English).

She has had less success dealing with official censors than Mu Mu. While her blog was popular enough to give censors a daunting challenge in trying to counter the viral spread of her posts around the Internet, it now seems to be defunct. In the Time article linked above, Beech writes that

Despite government attempts to censor it, the sex diary is so popular that Li’s pen name is intermittently the most searched keyword on China’s top search engine.

An article by Hamish McDonald in the Sydney Morning Herald went even further, saying the rise of blogs exchanging views on Chinese politics is a direct descendant of blogs that deal with social issues in China. At one point McDonald essentially says that Mu Mu, with her mix of sexuality and politics, could never have existed without Muzi Mei having blogged about sexuality alone.

Muzi Mei was certainly aware of the censorship threat she faced, and took precautions to prevent her blog from being shut down. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Peter Goff says

For now, Muzimei is among those managing to sidestep [CCP censorship]. “I cannot go too far,” she said. “If my work was stopped that would be bad for me, bad for the development of the internet and free expression, and bad for China.”

Nonetheless she ran afoul of official censors. As Jeremy Goldkorn reports on Danwei.org,

Her online diary stirred up an online fuss which got the attention of the print media, but she was thrown off the gossip pages of the tabloids when [official censors] caught on to the action and issued some of ban on media coverage of her. She has been absent from the media since the first few months of this year [2004].

Goldkorn goes on to quote a 2004 story posted to Sohu.com that painted a very unflattering picture of her:

Muzi Mei, Li Li … she dresses gaudily, but even more gaudy is her thinking and her behavior. She frequently changes sexual partners and even brazenly describes the details of her encounters on the Internet, revealing or hinting at the real identity of the men she has known. All of this caused a great fuss in Chinese society in 2003.

The censoring of her blog may be permanent now. Whether it was a voluntary choice on her part or the result of official censorship, Muzi Mei’s blog seems to have disappeared. The last version of her blog cached on the Internet Archive was in January of 2007.

Mu Mu and Muzi Mei are just two prominent examples of a small but well known (to Chinese audiences at least) bloggers who have used the blogosphere to explore the nexus between sex, storytelling/information sharing, and Internet technology, all at the risk of being censored. Other examples come from a Cai Shangyao article in the Shanghai Star that covers Muzi Mei and Zhuying Qingtong, and Sister Lotus (also translated as Sister Hibiscus — now defunct blog here, reports hereherehere, and here). There is also the slightly different but related episode of a blogger named Hedgehog MuMu (no relation to the Mu Mu discussed above, according to Lonnie Hodge) participating in a blogger beauty contest only to be disqualified for posting nude photos of herself online. (Additional reports here and here).

That every one of these bloggers should face censorship for posting sexual content online demonstrates that Chinese censors can and will censor social as well as political content. Some astute readers may further assert that the political, social, and sexual spheres cannot be discretely separated from each other, and that posting sexual content online can be a form of political commentary. This is certainly true, and I do not at all seek to imply otherwise. This issue is, however, complex enough that it merits a full discussion that I will leave for another time. Beyond that I have additional thoughts that I will put into part III of this essay, which I will add soon. And as always, I appreciate and look forward to reading your reactions to my thoughts.

Work cited:

DeWoskin, R. (2005). Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd.

Posted by Aaron Bowen

Social media and the Internet in Brazil

Brazilians are passionate about the Internet, and all the social media applications the Internet has made possible. Internet use and social media are pervading a wide range of aspects of life in Brazil, such that even those who do not have Internet access or choose not to participate in social media are frequently aware that the Internet and all its related applications are being inextricably integrated into Brazil’s social fabric. The Wikipedia even lists a technical term for Brazilian appropriation of foreign Internet applications – the Brazilian Internet Phenomenon. And they are matching Americans with regard to time spent online. Telegeography, a telecom consulting firm, reported in 2004 that Brazilian Internet users had overtaken American Internet users in terms of hours online. I actually find their statistic of 12 million Internet users in 2004 inaccurate. Euromonitor International lists 22 million users in 2004 (Euromonitor International, 2006), and Internet World Stats and Caio Bonhila of the International Telecommunications Union list 39,140,000 and 40,800,000 respectively in late 2006/early 2007.

Likewise, many in Brazil are making extensive use of different Web 2.0/social media/social networking applications. My favorite bit of pop culture to come from the Brazilian Internet recently is this music video by Claudia Leitte:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBkMFVAuLPk]

It highlights the extent to which both YouTube and Second Life are becoming a part of daily existence for Brazilian Internet users. The success of YouTube has even prompted Universo Online, A Brazilian version of America Online, to produce a native Brazilian video sharing service, the Videolog. And earlier this year Linden Labs, the company that maintains Second Life launched the Mainland Brasilarm of Second Life, its first non-English language platform (Brasil is the Portuguese spelling of Brazil). Drawing from many Brazilian blogs, Jose Murilo Junior provides this excellent account of the opening of Mainland Brasil. He quotes Brazilian bloggers’ thoughts on the opening itself, on the marketing campaigns that accompanied the opening, on the presence of the Catholic Church in Mainland Brasil, and on the (inevitable) backlash that came with the hype surrounding the event. Two bloggers in particular are worth noting. Drawing from the March 2007 Second Life population data, a blogger named Aenea pointed out that Brazilians are the sixth largest group of active Second Life users, claiming 4.73% of active users around the world. She provides the following comparison of these numbers to other Sough American countries. And writing at the Mundo Linden (Linden World) blog, Debora Perenti writes that

The Catholic community and communications network “Canção Nova” will launch the second biggest Brazilian enterprise in Second Life. It is the first Christian world large scale initiative in Linden Lab’s virtual universe. The “Canção Nova Island” forms an archipelago of 25 islands which will turn into the biggest Brazilian (and Global) Christian center, and offers a communal space for relationships, events and business in Second Life, is already in an advanced stage of development and building. The project was already being discreetly executed about 3 months ago. A team of 15 people take care of the diverse aspects in the island, such as terraforming, infrastructure, code programming, multimedia development, along side of the space’s commercial and managerial demands.(Translation by Jose Murilo Junior)

The presence of the Catholic Church in Mainland Brasil is a huge example of the confluence between Web 2.0 applications and a longstanding institution that forms part of the social and cultural fabrics of the Brazilian people.

In addition to the Brazilian presence in Second Life, hundreds of thousands of Brazilians use the Orkut social network. Developed by Google, Orkut is an example of the Brazilian Internet phenomenon listed above – an American network, but more Brazilians than Americans using it. Jose Murilo Junior writes about Orkut as well – as he says,

In order to understand Google’s significance in South America’s biggest country it must be realized that today of the 20 million Brazilians with access to the Internet , approximately 17 million are in Orkut.

And immediately after he makes this statement he pulls together literature from around the Brazilian blogosphere outlining a tension between Brazilian authorities seeking Orkut patron information on people suspected of being involved in foul play and Google’s unwillingness to turn over information it believed should remain confidential. In addition to discussions of censorship and comparisons of Brazil’s government to the governments of China and Iran (both of whom have asked Google for information on Internet users), some of the discussion focused on an extremely frightening prospect for many Brazilians – that Google might elect to close Orkut to Brazilian social networkers rather than turn over data to the Brazilian government. Luckily for Brazilian Orkut users this course of action never became reality, and Orkut is still freely accessible in Brazil. This amalgamation of blogosphere chatter culminates in Murillo Junior’s thought that

All sides should keep in mind that the case can be an opportunity bringing important insights about how to deal with identity in the web environment. Brazilians are ready (eager?) to explore these possibilities. It would be important also that Google Brazil’s team should be prepared to think and move with respect for local cultural sensibilities while dealing with the implications created by such a huge experiment in social networking. It is obvious that ‘adsense’ sales people are not prepared to understand the deep issues that will keep emerging from the incredible digital laboratory spontaneously generated by social networking. Google’s one-size-fits-all approach may just not fit everywhere, every time.

I’d be interested to know any or your thoughts on the extent to which a social network or other Web 2.0 application can be imported from one “local cultural sensibility” into another one, contrasted to the extent of localization that must occur to make a social networking service palatable to a culture different from the one that produced it.

Citizen journalism blog reactions to violence in Brazilian cities

As is evident from Murillo Junior’s sources, the Brazilian blogosphere in general is vast and covers many different topics, from people’s daily lives, to blogs discussing specific topics. (In fact in terms of breadth and topics, the Brazilian blogosphere isn’t too different from the blogosphere in America, although the content posted to Brazilian blogs will have its own distinct cultural characteristics). Though they are by far not the only blogs to discuss these topics, I have run across two blogs in particular that highlight issues within Brazilian politics and rising violence in Rio de Janeiro. Written in both Portuguese and English, the political blog, Brazil Political Comment, is managed by a consultant in São Paulo named John Fitzpatrick, and (in its own words) offers “opinion and analysis of the Brazilian political and business scene.”

A starker example of a social justice blog, Rio Body Count chronicles the numbers of dead and wounded in Rio between February and September of 2007. For the past year to year and a half, Brazil’s major cities – Rio and São Paulo in particular, but other cities as well – have been hit by a severe spike in violence and gang-related activity. There are multiple causes of this spike, but in particular ethnic tensions and a wide gap between wealthy and poorer people (combined with a perception that this gap is widening even further) have fueled this rise of violence. An October 6, 2006 article by Ralph Hoppe in Der Spiegel called São Paulo: Laboratory of Violence provides easily the most graphic but detailed and informative picture of São Paulo’s heightened level of violence I have seen:

The criminal underworld in Sao Paolo wields a power that rivals the Brazilian government’s. It organizes deadly violence but serves as a welfare state, while the city’s wealthy have withdrawn into luxury neighborhoods and feel safe only when they travel by helicopter. Is Sao Paolo a forerunner of the 21st-century metropolis?

For Sao Paolo, 2006 is the year of violence. Never before have there been such intense and protracted battles between gangsters and the police, concentrated attacks that paralyzed the giant city for days… All this violence amounted to a challenge to the Brazilian government by the criminal underground. According to people in the favelas, it was high time. Sao Paolo proper has 10 million inhabitants; it’s the sixth-largest city in the world, the largest in the southern hemisphere. In this chaos of wealth and sordid misery, gleaming skyscrapers and gray huts, the criminal underground has issued its call to arms, and the upper classes have retreated deeper and deeper into enclaves of wealth…

Since this year’s civil war, though, the [“Primeiro Comando da Capital” or “First Command” – the main criminal gang operating in São Paulo] builds internal coherence through fear and trust… and the message of the violent “demonstration” was simple: This city is ours.

Rio witnessed a similar spike in violent crime in 2006 and 2007. Groups like Rio Body Count have used different means, including their blog, to convey a message of opposition to violence of this nature. Accessing the site on September 19 of this year and using Google translator, one passage on the site reads

At the beginning of the project, the shock was gigantic… [An average of ten] died per day, and the people had started to debate on the violence, on the real necessity to decide everything with more violence. Many blogs had appeared to debate the subject, others had deepened the speech, similar projects to the Riobodycount had been initiated in other States of Brazil, and the numbers had been growing each time more…

This violence, peaceful protests against it, and police actions to counter it also entered the mainstream media and made it onto citizen journalism blogs. Roger Cohen wrote about the current violence in Brail and its causes in the New York Times, and on the French citizen journalism site AgoraVox, J.N. Paquet had this report on the Rio de Paz (“River of Peace”) movement placing 3,000 black bags filled with sand on Copacabana beach in Rio to represent the 3,000 people killed in their state during the first half of 2007. He includes the following picture of the Rio de Paz cemetery:

Image of the Rio de Paz cemetery on Copacabana beach

Alan Mota at OhMyNews, a Korean citizen journalism site, wrote about a police reaction to the rise in violence, which involved coordinated efforts by 25,000+ police officers across Brazil and yielded over 2,000 arrests.

Other Brazilian uses of social media

Like any outlet for citizen journalism, Brazilian sites cover many topics – the blog reactions to violence discussed above being just one (rather grim) example. Also writing in OhMyNews, Antonio Carlos Rix covered the Eu-Reporter (“I Reporter”) site, which he describes as “a collaborative section at the famous Brazilian print newspaper and online newspaper O Globo.” Rix also points to two articles by OhMyNews reporter Ana Maria Brambilla, one about citizen photojournalism in Brazil, the other about professional relationships between citizen journalists.

Concerning corporate blogs in Brazil, Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research shares his experiences from a conference in São Paulo:

CEOs here want to blog. I met with CEOs of companies large and small, and this question kept coming up. “How much time does it take?” “What if someone criticizes us?”… I was intrigued that this idea was so popular. I think businesspeople in Brazil are more used to taking risks.

And beyond citizen journalism and the blogosphere, Richard MacManus writes about a host of Brazilian Web 2.0 applications that have emerged within the past two years. He covers, among others, Videolog.tv, theYouTube clone I mentioned above, the Gazzag and Wasabi social networks, the BlogBlogs and OverMundo blogging services, and the Flogão photo sharing service.

So in short, Brazilian social media applications and social media users are extensive and growing, and they use these media platforms to discuss a wide range of topics. As Internet connectivity and Internet use continue to expand in Brazil, the numbers of Brazilians using these applications to put their voices on the Web will do nothing but increase – and, I predict, increase rapidly.

Work Cited:
Euromonitor International. (2006). International Marketing Data and Statistics 2007. 2nd ed, v. 2. London, U.K: Euromonitor International Plc.

Posted by Aaron Bowen

The African blogosphere – more extensive than you might think

South Africa seems to have a ton of social networking services – see Uno de Waal’s blog post listing some of them. Yet aside from South Africa, I only know of one other African-born social network, mykenyanspace.com, and even this network is not actually hosted in Kenya. Apparently it is hosted in the U.S. and directed to Kenyans – see a description of it here. (Of course if there is a large African social network that I am somehow missing exists, let me know! Add a comment!)

It may be tempting to conclude that this absence of social networking is a product of fewer resources, fewer Internet connections, and less training with the use of technology, but reality is more complicated than this. It is true that each of these factors has hindered the development of social media in Africa, but in spite of these factors many Africans have begun experimenting with social connection tools. My observation is that while social networking is still limited in Africa, the African blogosphere is really taking off. The number of African bloggers may still be small compared to the total populations of nations in Africa, but the African blogosphere is extremely vibrant and active, and seems to be growing at an exponential pace.

There are some excellent pan-African blogging tools that have been deployed within the past year. For example, Afrigator is an excellent blog aggregator indexing over 1000 blogs on Africa. Muti is similar to Digg, where news stories are promoted or demoted by Muti readers. News and African culture blogs such as African Path have begun reporting throughout Africa, and special interest news sites such as Pambazuka report on different topics (in Pambazuka’s case, social justice in Africa). Last but not least, Hash, a blogger at White African, one of the best blogs on technology in Africa I’ve encountered, discusses African Signals a podcast on African information and development issues he recently started, as well as AfriGadget, a site dedicated to the use of technology (including simple technology – not always computer based) to solve problems that different communities in Africa face.

(As an aside, Ndesanjo Macha, a citizen journalist for the Global Voices project, conducted an excellent interview with Joshua Wanyama, a co-founder of African Path. Many of Wanyama’s thoughts on the African blogosphere and the future of blogging in Africa are worth quoting at length:

I anticipate a rise of blogging. Citizen media will continually grow. I think we will start seeing a more concerted effort to provide expertise in an area or a model that can allow for bloggers to earn an income by sharing their knowledge. More than that, blogging allows anyone to leverage their knowledge and potentially create a reputation that can give them a better chance at landing a prime job, improving your business or creating a following that can lead to political positions.

I also think a move to mobile technologies will improve the offerings for bloggers. Cell phones are really the access points for information in Africa. There exists some opportunity for entrepreneurs who can develop systems to serve content from news and blogging software to mobile phones in a package. I think we will keep seeing pilot programs and finally real products that will offer such services…

Africans should really care about blogging. Other than localized newspapers, one can’t access news generated by Africans featuring issues specific to them. We need that. Blogging provides access to alternative sources of news and stories that are important to Africans.

The need for African news generated by Africans goes back to creating our own identity and stories. When a western media house reports, on Africa, it is all blood, gore, famine, crime and other negative images. For them, a positive image is tourism. Africans have a lot more than just these issues. We need to hear about a farmer who has created a better way of tilling the land that has enabled the village to have a surplus of maize, or the lady who built a company employing 20 people from good fiscal management and hard work. These are the stories that make Africa wonderful. The hope that all Africans have in abundance is lost in the media and this leads to a negative connotation and identity for Africans. We have to take back our stories for future generations will love to hear what we had to say and actually see it as our own perspective and none other.)

On the topic of who narrates African stories (Africans themselves or others writing about Africa), Afrigator draws from blogs all over the world writing about Africa. Gargoyle on the other hand is a blog search engine that indexes African blogs specifically. The South African Mail & Guardian observes that Sokari Ekine’s widely read, pan-African blog Black Looks “is – unfortunately – one of the handful of African blogs to turn up in the top 10 (sometimes top 15) blogs in a Technorati search of their blog directory when using the search word ‘Africa.’”

Responding in particular to the Mail & Guardian’s observation, Ndesanjo Macha writes about Gargoyle, an African response to the Technorati blog search engine. He quotes Mike Stopforth’s positive reactions to Gargoyle:

It’s frighteningly quick. Warranted, I’m on a 1Mbps ADSL line at home, but if this is how fast Gargoyle can deliver meaningful (and quality) results, it’ll be my very first stop when searching within the SA blogosphere – something I’ve needed to do before and will most certainly need to do in future…

It’s not pretty, but that will come. It has the bells and whistles – an RSS feed for every search as an example, a feature I simply love (from an online reputation management perspective).

This site could very quickly become the standard alternative (or augmentation) to Technorati indexing for African bloggers. Well done on what seems to be a very solid platform.

In sum, the African blogosphere is generating a lot of activity. But in addition to the pan-African blog tools, individual African nations – Kenya and South Africa in particular, but others as well – are generating a lot of blogosphere and social media content. I will write about individual parts of Africa in a later post!

Posted by Aaron Bowen

The African blogosphere part II – Kenya

Kenya provides a great individual case study of the African blogosphere, as there has been a lot happening there in terms of developing Internet access and localized Kenyan content in 2007. Despite halting progress, The Kenyan government is working on securing more widespread Internet access through an undersea fiberoptic cable, and has received money from the World Bank to facilitate this connection (Duncan, are there any more details you can provide?)
In addition to this online community and aggregator, the Kenyan blogosphere is extensive and vibrant. Started July 5, 2004, the Kenyan Blog Webring is a portal to the Kenyan blogosphere with an impressive breadth of coverage and a vibrant community comprised of individual bloggers. Ndesanjo Macha, a citizen journalist for the Global Voices project, offers an excellent summary of KBW’s activities and role in giving Kenyans a voice online. He writes that

Since its birth, KBW has been able to bring to a global audience gigabytes of voices, opinions, news, knoweldge and debates from the Kenyan blogosphere.

Writing on his own personal blog, KBW administrator Daudi Were declared 2007 to be “the year of emergence,” where KBW solidified its position as an Internet institution in Kenya. He says,

The most frequent support question we would be asked in the Admin Team during the first two years was, “Why should I start a blog?” or “What is a blog?” or variations on that theme.

In the last year we mainly get asked, “I have a blog, how do I join the webring?” or “How do I get your aggregator to syndicate my content?” or variations on that theme. They “why” and “what” questions are decreasing, the “how” questions are increasing.

That is a good sign and KBW members have played a big role in convincing Kenyans to blog. These days when someone asks me why they should blog I simply point them to the KenyaUnlimited aggregator. I can almost guarantee you that they will read something that they either agree with whole heartedly or disagree with completely, that fuels an urge in them to get to a keyboard and start typing to contribute to the debate.

In response, Sokari from Black Looks adds her thanks that KBW has played the role that it has played for the past three years.

Beyond the KBW itself, certain individual blogs offer a constantly updated view of the Kenyan blogosphere and/or current issues facing the Kenyan people. In response to a perception that Kenyan government officials have begun trying to enrich themselves at the expense of the Kenyan people – a perception fueled by such events as police raids of Kenyan media outlets last year and police force directed at protesters protesting and attempt by the Kenyan parliament to award themselves pay raises, as well as protests against a law to restrict media freedom proposed by the parliament – Ory Okolloh and a blogger who goes by the name of “M” started Mzalendo, a watchdog blog that publishes updates on the activities of the Kenyan parliament. This project grabbed attention around the Internet, from the BBC to Ethan Zuckerman’s widely read blog. In fact Mzalendo received enough media attention both in Kenya and around the world that at least one Kenyan official has used the site to explain his rationale in voting as he did in parliament.

And no, not all blogs in Kenya are about technology, Internet access, and current issues. Hash, a blogger at White African, one of the best blogs on technology in Africa I’ve encountered, lists KenyanMusings as a blog of interest. KenyanMusings is a blog kept by a 25 year old lady in Nairobi who writes about her daily life, much the way a young blogger in Milwaukee or Tulsa might. Reading through her blog I found a lot of fluff, but I found her writing to be an interesting street-level view of life in Nairobi – similar to many of my friends blogs here in the U.S., but with a definite African perspective added to the mix.

This blogosphere activity has spawned a Kenyan information technology group, BarCamp Kenya, which has weekly meetings to discuss information and technology related issues and maintains a blog called Skunkworks. Google has taken notice of this activity, and had one of their employees featured in a BarCamp Kenya discussion.

Other types of Kenyan Internet community services are also developing themselves. Hash writes about Mashada, an online community, message board, and blog aggregator based in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi. As Hash says,

…This is one of the best community sites coming out of Africa today. It’s got a very healthy community of active users that make it their daily destination for conversation and news.

As Daudi Were noted, 2007 has been (and continues to be) a year of massive growth for the Kenyan blogosphere. And as it continues to grow in coming years, so will its ability to tell the stories of Kenyans to a global audience.

Posted by Aaron Bowen

Global social networking

Did you know that Americans do not have the largest social networking communities in the world? According to market research by Ipsos, America comes in fifth place in terms of number of people connected to a social network – South Korea comes in first. According to Ipsos,

Leading all other markets in its love affair with social networking is South Korea, as half (49%) of all adults in this country have visited at least one of these websites in the past, while over half of all online adults have visited a social networking website in the past 30 days… In comparison, about one in five American adults (24%) have ever visited a social networking website.

The chart they include is the best part of this announcement. It points to South Korea and Brazil as being the most active social networkers, with China and Mexico closer to the U.S. but still more active than American social networkers. (additional reports about these findings herehere, and here).

Furthermore, According to research by comScore, a company that measures Internet use statistics, different services gain and maintain popularity in different regions of the world. While social networking in the U.S. is dominated by MySpace and FaceBook, Latin and South America (Brazil in particular) primarily use Orkut, and the Asia/Pacific region uses Friendster first and foremost, and Orkut as a numerically solid alternative. As the comScore press release notes,

MySpace.com (62 percent) and Facebook.com (68 percent) attract approximately two-thirds of their respective audiences from North America. That said, each has already amassed a large international visitor base and both appear poised to continue their global expansion. Bebo.com has a particularly strong grasp on Europe, attracting nearly 63 percent of its visitors from that region, while Orkut is firmly entrenched in Latin America (49 percent) and Asia-Pacific (43 percent). Friendster also attracts a significant proportion of its visitors (89 percent) from the Asia-Pacific region.

And ironically, all the companies in the comScore study are American. Some have just wound up being more popular in other countries besides America. But are there social networking services born in other countries, which cater to people in those countries? Absolutely.

Danah Boyd has provided a (partial) list of foreign social networks, as well as the languages in which they are published and the number of profiles each has. She lists

– Cyworld (Korea)

– Mixi (Japan)

– QQ (China). Here is a link to the English version of QQ, which has a South African web address and a much cleaner appearance than the Chinese site.

– Hevre (Israel)

– Lunarstorm (Sweden). British version here.

– StudiVZ (Germany). StudiVZ has mirror sites in French, Italian, and Polish, as well as a Spanish language version targeting South America, but no English version.

Her commenters have listed still more services – one pointed in particular to this list, which lists many non-American services. All told I’ve looked at perhaps 30 to 50 non-American social networking services, some of whom claim tens of millions of users.

And yes, foreign social networks can look different from American ones, and people of different nationalities may use them differently from people in the U.S. or discuss topics that wouldn’t reach an American audience. For example Hevre, an Israeli site, looks like this:

Image of Hevre, an Israeli social network

La Zona, a music industry oriented social network maintained by MTV Latin America, looks much closer to American social networks than Hevre does, but even then (to my mind at least) this site has a distinctly more Latin American appearance than a U.S.-based social network.

Image of La Zona, a Latin American social network

In terms of how people in different countries use social networks differently than people in the U.S., Forrester Research’s Vice President and Principal Analyst Charlene Li wrote a report on Mixi that noted certain cultural differences in how Japanese people network with each other. I found these characteristics of particular interest:

– Invitation-only participation. Most of the Mixi users I spoke with said that they use Mixi only to connect with their friends. The most used feature – the “diary”. They update their own and frequently check their friends’ diaries. While essentially a blog, many users don’t consider it one, as it’s really only for their friends.

– Anonymous profiles. As a rule, the Japanese don’t use their real names on their profiles. While this is also often true in North America, I found it interesting that users made it a point to tell me that they didn’t use their real names. Also, very few of the Mixi users I spoke with said that they had ever interacted with people they did not know, the complete opposite of the behavior usually found on MySpace.

– Heavily mobile-based. Several users told me that text messaging updates actually facilitated participation as they were more comfortable writing than engaging in face-to-face conversations.

– Structure. Unlike MySpace, Mixi is highly structured with minimal ability to change the layout. The users I spoke with liked the structure, as it created certainty about how users were to interact with each other.

Writing in the International Herald Tribune, James Shih echoes Charlene’s thoughts about the structure of Mixi in this article. He notes that

MySpace, for example, has often been described as a “free-for-all” in which members can easily create multiple profiles, add their own programming and post other kinds of media, like pictures, music and videos… Mixi of Japan, however, has a much more structured approach. A person can join only if invited by current members. Personal profiles are based only on text, except for three photos (premium service allows more). Surprisingly, users do not seem to mind. In fact, most members do not post pictures of themselves, opting instead for photos of celebrities, scenery or pets.

This article continues by discussing Cyworld, which it says blends elements of virtual worlds (such as Second Life) with social networking:

Cyworld is yet another story. Personal profiles are dominated by the Miniroom, a 400- pixel-by-200-pixel space that users can decorate with digital furniture, wallpaper and other objects, much as they would decorate real rooms. An avatar, or a character representation referred to as Minime, is also in the room, and the user can change Minime’s clothes, hair and facial expression. In fact, users pay real money to buy the various virtual objects to spice up the lives of their Minimes.

By comparison to Japanese Mixi users, Chinese people are more willing to network with people they do not personally know – in fact they are even more willing to do this than American social networkers are. This chart from the eMarketer report I linked to above indicates that Chinese people are far more outgoing when it comes to social networking than their peers in Europe and the U.S., and the report itself adds that

Among adult Chinese broadband users, 80% had discussed hobbies or interests online via a social network, and 78% had used a social network to meet new people. Less than half of users in most other markets surveyed said they had used a social network for either of those purposes.

The internationalization of social networking has caught the attention of American services as well. MySpace in particular has branched out to other countries. They have dedicated this entire page to their global network, and generated media buzz such as this Victoria Shannon article in the Herald Tribune. But as to how successful these transplanted networks will or will not be among different demographic segments of the world’s population, Bob Ivins of comScore has the most pertinent observation. He notes that

A fundamental aspect of the success of social networking sites is cultural relevance… Those doing well in certain regions are likely doing an effective job of communicating appropriately with those regions’ specific populations. As social networking continues to evolve, it will be exciting to see if networks are able to cross cultural barriers and bring people from different corners of the globe together in fulfilling the truest ideals of social networking.

So I’ve just thrown a bunch of information at you. Now it’s your turn – I’d love to have your thoughts as a comment. Have you encountered the international sphere in your own social networking activities? If so, did you encounter any cultural differences you found particularly striking? If you met someone from a different country through your network, did s/he talk about his/her home country? If so, what did s/he say?

Posted by Aaron Bowen