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[Newsmaker] Cyworld comes alive again

Social network that swept Korea pre-Facebook reopens

July 5, 2021 - 14:42 By Kim So-hyun
Cyworld, the dominant social networking site here before the era of Facebook throughout the 2000s, was set to reopen Monday evening, with many in their 30s and 40s ripe with anticipation to revisit their past.

Cyworld Z, the company that bought Cyworld in January this year, said it has recovered some 17 billion photos and over 100 million videos stored in the old servers.

With nearly 32 million members at one point, Cyworld was the uncontested champion of social media here, as the country’s younger generation spent hours decorating their own pages and digging up information about other people.

Major companies and universities eventually blocked access to Cyworld to stop employees and students from spending too much time there during working or school hours.

Following the arrival of the iPhone in Korea in 2009, however, Cyworld slowly gave way to Facebook and others that ran mobile services, and even suffered a massive data leakage incident in 2011.

Former Cyworld users can log in from 6 p.m. on Monday and check on their photos, videos, messages, background music and number of acorns, or “dotori” – a unit of virtual currency spent to decorate their page.

Those who can’t remember their IDs can find them by authenticating their real names on the website.

The social networking service is seeking to do more than just cling on to memories. Cyworld unveiled a video clip via YouTube on Friday showing how it had created a 3D “mini-room,” which had been two-dimensional in the past, on its mobile service.

It also began a music project in which K-pop stars reinterpret 100 songs that were popular on Cyworld during its heyday.

Cyworld Z spent 7 billion won ($6.2 million) over six months leading up to the social media site’s rebirth, according to a company official.

Cyworld has also embarked on a major project to upgrade the mostly low-resolution photos in storage into high-resolution. The company said the technology applied to Cyworld will achieve much higher resolutions compared to a popular service by China’s Tencent in 2019 that recovered photos for WeChat users.

Cyworld, created in 1999 by a startup club of students in the graduate school of business at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, began its service in earnest in 2001.

Users decorated their avatars and mini-rooms with background music, pixelated furniture and other items, using the dotori they had purchased with real money.

Cyworld users connected with friends, referred to as “ilchon,” to check out each others’ homepages and those of friends of friends.

In August 2003, SK Communications acquired Cyworld, linking the social network to SK’s Nate On instant messaging service. Nate On users could access their pages with a single click on the messenger, which opened an era of explosive growth for Cyworld.

In 2004, Cyworld made 150 million won a day selling dotori, presenting a new profit model on the internet beyond the typical advertising via banner ads.

Despite having enjoyed nationwide dominance for years, Cyworld failed to catch up with changing global market trends.

It lost ground to Facebook, Twitter and KakaoTalk, which thrived on their strong mobile services.

Adding to its misfortunes was the nation’s largest hacking incident in 2011, in which the personal information of some 33 million Nate users and 26 million Cyworld users was leaked.

SK Communications, drowning in red, split from Cyworld in 2014.

The founder of Freechal, Cyworld’s rival in the early 2000s, acquired Cyworld in 2016, but failed to revive the business. Cyworld was officially shut down last year.

Cyworld Z, a consortium of five firms including Kosdaq-listed Intromedic and Sky E&M, bought Cyworld, saving the memories of millions of people from disappearing.