my news feed has time zones

In my first blog post about initial thoughts, I wrote about how we live in a world no longer bound by time and space. The digital age has brought us together by freeing us from the restrictions of geography and time zones, as well as giving us an opportunity to further develop our networks that cater to the local trends and preferences.

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Traveling frequently back and forth between Seoul and Boston, there are many cultural differences that I’ve encountered, but one of the most noteworthy is the presence and role of social media in each dimension. Social media is more than just a platform for marketing and advertising, since it reflects lifestyles and cultures in a unique way. What kinds of social networks emerge and how they are used give us insight into what people want and need as well what they find interesting, valuable, threatening, and many more. Since my friends back home and my friends here have different peak hours in online activity due to the 14-hour time difference, my news feed on Facebook and Instgram has phases that are divided into two different time zones. At the beginning of the day here when people are quieter online, it’s usually a bustling hour for my Korean friends’ accounts and vice versa. This drastic shift helped me notice the contrasting usage of social media in general as well as the acculturation Facebook has gone through not only as a dominant platform but also as a part of the local industry. 

To briefly discuss the structural differences, South Korea has an internet system with the highest average connection speed, a development made possible by population density and competition-spurring public policy. (personally I don’t find this riveting, but there is more information on ISPs in South Korea on the following link, based on research up to 2015: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2482328,00.asp) Anyway, given this internet-friendly infrastructure, it was inevitable that everything from interpersonal communication to consumer trends attuned to how they would best function online. Starting in the early 2010s, there has been a steady rise in Facebook use, and by 2015, around 14 million people, meaning over half the country’s population was on Facebook. 205893.gifIn August 2016, a research by DMC Media reported that users between age 19 and 59 spent more time daily on Facebook than any other platform. However, despite this impressive performance, I’ve noticed some factors that were different from the usage increase we experienced in the U.S. For instance, I remembered that I had never communicated with my Korean friends using Facebook messenger and that Facebook albums are rarely ever used by them since tagging and liking are the most common activities. Facebook messenger doesn’t have the competitive advantages over a homegrown messenger service called KakaoTalk, which is basically the equivalent of WeChat in China that Lesley has told us about.

(To the right is a brief summary of Whatsapp-vs-Kakao-Talk-vs-WeChat-vs-Line.jpghow the big messenger apps differ, in case you were wondering) In areas that the global dominance of Facebook cannot reach, there are players that take over using their knowledge of local culture, and stay in charge of keeping up with specific needs like instant messaging. For KakaoTalk, its vast range of graphics and emoticons and customization options like chat fonts and backgrounds find more appeal in Asia. Since gif. files aren’t used as casually in conversation in Korea, people stick to animated emoticons, and although Facebook messenger offers something similar in nature, it was not able to compete with the Korean emojis that had already become an industry of their own. On top of the aesthetic factors, there are so many consumer services that are adapted to or even created for the KakaoTalk network, including anything from transactions to mobile games. 

Even aside from homegrown apps, the same platforms that initially come from the U.S. are used very differently in Korea. As mentioned above, Facebook does have a dominating presence of active users, but it is not really used for individual accounts; I don’t remember the last time I saw a photo album posted by a friend from home. Most of the photo uploading happens outside of Facebook on Instagram or Kakaostory, an extension of the messenger app that gives users a sort of timeline, but is limited since it’s very photo and status-based as well as mobile-exclusive without much room for sponsored contents. There definitely is a sense of personal identity on individual Facebook timelines because people upload and update their profile photos just as frequently as they do in the U.S. Even so, the most visible and popular Facebook activity emerges from popular pages and their contents because people tag and share more than post on their own. Memes and viral contents prevail on American Facebook as well, but it is more balanced in relation to the amount of personal contents such as status updates and check-ins. I plan on delving into this aspect in my presentation with more analytics and detailed information because I think this is a fascinating observation that highlights each culture’s characteristics. Doing research on this topic reminded me once again how #blessed we are to live in such a small, interconnected world where communication seems effortless and any interaction can be instantaneous. It’s a great time to be alive.

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9 comments

  1. joeking5445 · ·

    I found it intriguing that KaKaoTalk’s competitive advantage comes from in their emoticons. FB has emoticons, but KaKaotalk’s emoticons have become highly accepted with Korean culture. I would never think that emoticons could be decisive factor in what becomes popular or not. I also find it interesting that photo sharing behaviors are different and also the same in Korea and in the US. In my FB feed, there has been a decline in sharing photos due to competitors like instagram. It seems like Korea also uses different apps for photo sharing.

  2. CarbNatalie · ·

    Great post! The differences you highlighted are very interesting and I can somewhat relate because most of my friends and I use Whatsapp to communicate. A little more limiting than what you described KakaoTalk to be in terms of competitive advantage, I think its interesting to watch these messenger apps compete to become something more than simply the aim messenger of back in the day. The addition of the photo share that was separate is something that is cool because of the fact that it has little room for sponsored content (something I like, I hate ads). Worth thinking about for other messengers yet, slightly saturated space.

  3. drewsimenson · ·

    Interesting exploration of interaction of culture a social media! I used to communicate with offices in China a lot in my past work, so your title hooked me because I am all-too-familiar with the impact of time zone difference on productivity, but I’ve also encountered a lot of these phenomena of differences in social media use from culture to culture. Good stuff!

  4. fayehubregsen · ·

    Cool post on the impact of culture and time zones on your social media feeds! Curious if there could ever be a uniting messenger app across regions and to what extent network effects versus features impact messenger apps’ success across countries. When Messenger released conversation stickers, I remember being surprised by the style of the emoji sticker illustrations, but after reading your post, I can see how they may have been trying to appeal to an Asian demographic.

  5. alexisteixeiraa · ·

    I had never thought about what it was like to connect and interact with people in different times zones until this year when one of my friends is studying abroad in Hong Kong. It is very difficult to keep in touch as she sleeps most of the time I’m awake and vice versa. When she sees things on instagram or Facebook she’s is almost always a day late on commenting or liking them simply because she is sleeping when we are all connecting. As frustrating as that it, like you said, we do live in such an amazing time where we are even able to connect and interact thousands of miles apart. Loved this blog post!

  6. Great post, which I could really relate to as well. Coming from Israel, we too have different peak hours and usage of SM, which makes me think of the timing I would like to post on SM when the majority of my friends back home are active on the platform. I use Whatsapp a lot with my international friends back home, but very few of them use the emoticons there, instead they have shifted to using emojis. A big difference in SM culture usage in the U.S. vs. in Israel is with the usage of GIFs.
    It was interesting to hear about KakaoTalk, as I have never heard of it or used it before. I was surprised that people find them appealing in Asia due to the emoticons. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  7. Great post Yeojin! Similar to you and some of the others that commented, I have also noticed that there are a couple of different peak hours of activity from friends in Ireland and the UK, and some friends that have emigrated to Australia and New Zealand. This is particularly noticeable on Fridays when I see posts of friends beginning their weekends, while I’m sitting in work. The discussion about KakaoTalk was really interesting. It seems even though they launched a couple of years after WhatsApp, their app is better suited for the Korean culture. Looking forward to your presentation!

  8. Nice post. I confess that I’m always fascinated by how social media gets adopted differently in different cultures.

  9. lesleyzhou · ·

    Great post Yeojin, looking forward to hearing the rest of your in-depth analysis via your presentation! Since we both juggle 2 different international social media platforms to stay in contact with our friends from abroad/home, I have found similar patterns as you have mentioned, especially with regards to what time my friends and family tend to post. I had Kakao downloaded on my phone first semester of freshman year (suggested by a few Korean friends), but deleted it soon afterwards since most of my family used WeChat and Kakao still seemed too foreign for me. Thank you for explaining the app through your post, from all that you’ve written, it seems that its functions are very similar to WeChat in that it allows stickers, customized backgrounds, Kakao story to upload pictures, etc. I think the major difference (and probably the most interesting) is that WeChat is really the only social media communication platform due to government censorship whereas Korea’s connectivity is excellent, yet everyone still freely chooses to use Kakao.

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