The SIG-III Blog

Notes from the ASIS&T special interest group in international information

Archive for the ‘Globalization’ Category

Current research on digital divides at the University of Washington


Image by Mulya_74, used under the Creative Commons license.

My friend and colleague Karine Barzilai-Nahon recently posted a synopsis of digital divide-related research at the Hawaii International Conference of System Sciences, or HICSS. She notes different papers on different aspects of the divide, as well as on telecenters and information and communication technologies, including a paper co-written my another of my collleague friends, Chris Coward. These papers all look very compelling, and will provide some interesting reading in the coming evenings.

Karine also notes the work of the Center for Information and Society, part of the University of Wasington’s Information School. I am particularly intrigued by the landscape study that she, Ricardo Gomez, and Rucha Ambikar did — their methodology is here, and the actual study is here.

(Disclosure: I should point out that I am an alum of the University of Washington, which is where I met both Karine and Chris. This is why I am as familiar with the UW’s work on the globalization of information as I am).

I am definitely excited about delving into this research, and to incorporating it into discussions of international information on this blog!

Contributed by Aaron Bowen


Written by sigiii

January 14, 2009 at 7:04 pm

The Globalization of Search



Yahoo China

Images by rustybrick, Bob Xu, and Colin Zhu,
used under the Creative Commons license.

This past September 16, Financial Times posted an article about the contest between search engines for dominance of Internet search traffic in different parts of the world. Whereas Google is dominant in North America, they have had trouble breaking into markets in other parts of the world. In China, for example, the majority of Internet search traffic goes to Yahoo holds an advantage over Google in other parts of Asia, and (according to FT) Naver receives 60% of South Korea’s search traffic.

The article discusses how and why different search engines are able to establish dominance in different regions:

Some common themes lie behind these local success stories, internet veterans say: Google has played second fiddle to rivals who invested much earlier, perfected their technology to work with local languages and came up with innovations that Google is now having to copy.

These companies have since been able to consolidate their hold thanks to their well-known local brand names and a strategy that often relies on combining search with a range of other portal-like services to keep users on in-house sites.

Article by Richard Waters, Robin Kwong, and Robin Harding in Financial Times. SIG-III Blog post by Aaron Bowen

Written by sigiii

September 19, 2008 at 5:12 pm

Posted in Asia, Globalization, Search

Tagged with

The future of multi-lingual domain names

spaghetti junction

Image by twenty_questions,
used under the Creative Commons license.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) voted today to allow greater flexibility in how people and organizations choose domain names. In other words, websites will no longer be limited to the standard fare of commercial (.com), organizational (.org, or national (.fr for france, .jp for Japan) domain names. The new system of allowing greater flexibility of how on names one’s website promises the introduction of personal names (.bowen for me), niche-specific names similar to the host of smaller domain names like .museum currently in existence, and of course product and brand names.

In addition to this greater general flexibility, ICANN affirmed a commitment to introduce Web addresses in non-Roman alphabets such as Cyrillic, Arabic, and Chinese, a move that has long been sought by different peoples around the world despite some fears that such action would lead to the “Balkinization” of the Internet. ICANN has been experimenting with these non-Roman addresses, and seems to see enough of a desire for such names to continue working on the technical challenges of implementing them.

The organization charged with the oversight of these domain names, ICANN maintains weak ties to the U.S. treasury Department — a fact that has long been a source of concern outside the United States regarding how the Internet is governed. ICANN last renewed ties with the Treasury Department in 2006, although the Treasury Department enjoyed far less control over the organization than in previous years. A source of much debate, the idea is to eventually make ICANN an independent organization free of ties to the U.S. Government. Currently the plan calls for independent governance in 2011.

Contributed by Aaron Bowen

Written by sigiii

June 26, 2008 at 7:46 pm

A global Internet video service

How do you say YouTube in French? Well, YouTube… but many would also be quick to note DailyMotion. Another Internet video platform, DailyMotion shares many similarities with youTube, but as Joy Marcus notes in an interview with, some notable differences as well — notably its European roots and its international focus.

And in particular, she notes, DailyMotion is second only to YouTube in terms of worldwide Web traffic to Internet video sites.

Contributed by Aaron Bowen

Written by sigiii

May 9, 2008 at 7:56 pm

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 here, here, 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, (62 percent) and (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. 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

Written by sigiii

August 12, 2007 at 2:55 am

Why should we talk about (international) social networking?

There’s been an ongoing discussion about whether social networking is a passing fad or a form of connection that is here to stay – and if it is here to stay, how pervasive or inconsequential it will be, and what it will look like as social networking applications continue to develop and reinvent themselves.

The single most significant expression I’ve seen of this outstanding question comes from a discussion on the ACRLog, the blog of the Association of College and Research Libraries. In discussing David Bickford’s assertion in this thread that the 1970s notion of library service done over CB radio was a passing fad, Marc Meola asks if Web 2.0 services such as social networking are a fad or something that is here to stay. Two people responded that certain aspects of Web 2.0 are fads while other aspects will stick around. But a recently minted librarian named Michael C. Habib commented that

MySpace and Facebook are 2.0 as it gets and it would be hard to argue that they have only been picked up by tech geeks. Those services also incorporate blogging, commenting, and photo sharing. Wikipedia, E-Bay, and Craigslist are also 2.0 as it gets. These are just a couple of examples, but the idea is that 2.0 is already mainstream and well entrenched in peoples daily use of the internet. Sites like Flickr might point to a newer breed of 2.0 technologies, but 2.0 is here to stay.

Agreeing with Habib, I wrote that

As the introduction of the Internet to a mass audience in the 1990s showed, it is in a library’s interest to pay attention to disruptive technologies. I would rather be guilty of paying attention to a fad than missing out on the “next big thing” — and 2.0 continues to demonstrate day by day that it is anything but a passing fad.

Other voices have echoed this thought when discussing social networking services explicitly. Forrester Research’s Vice President and Principal Analyst Charlene Li famously described social networking as being “like air.” Jenny Levine at the Shifted Librarian wrote in March of this year that

Hopefully it is becoming clearer that we [as LIS professionals] need to pay attention to virtual worlds because they are going to be a part of our collective, professional future. It’s up to each of us individually how much of a role it will play in our personal lives, just as we make decisions about books, television, the internet, parties, movies, parties, etc. are, but between Sony’s plans, the BBC’s forthcoming online children’s world, Second Life, There, and other virtual spaces, we’re seeing further illustrations of why librarians need to understand how cultures and interactions work in these spaces for our professional lives.

I believe the same to be true about blogs and networking services like FaceBook as well. These applications are affecting and will continue to affect the world of information in new and significant ways, thereby impacting the work we do as library and information professionals. And given that Internet-based information is borderless (with the exception of certain countries where a national government seeks to censor Internet information, a topic I will discuss in a later post), the different forms of social networking services are taking root all over the world.

Writing from Bangladesh, Mahfuz Sadique produced one of the best introductions to the global blogosphere I’ve ever read. He touches on the most significant themes I have seen discussed in foreign blogs, particularly blogs in the developing world. These themes include Internet access, instruction in using a blog platform to generate content, the size of the blogosphere in a given nation compared to the total population of the country, the socioeconomic backgrounds of blog readers in the country, issues of local language and blogging in local languages and non-latin scripts, and localized content such as citizen journalism (and how this content affects traditional journalistic reporting and potentially invokes censorship on the part of a national government. Sadique paints a picture in which many challenges remain in terms of growing the Bangla blogosphere and using it to produce useful content that can inform Bangladeshis and foreigners alike about life in Bangladesh. But he also notes the blogosphere growth that has occurred in Bangladesh, and such successes as opening up the blogosphere to the Bangla language:

Only around one per cent of people in Bangladesh currently have access to the internet. As a result, before the blogging boom, the national presence on the web… had been sparse… However, since blogging has become a popular pastime, the entire Bangladeshi presence on the landscape of the internet has changed. In the beginning Bangladeshi bloggers had to write in English because of technological barriers. But with the incorporation of Unicode (which is an acronym for a standardization of symbols, Universal Code, which recognizes Bengali characters) into various blog-hosting sites, the number of Bangla blogs has risen exponentially. This was best demonstrated by a blog hosted by a Danish-Bangladeshi site, Somewhere in, when it launched an exclusively Bengali blog platform site — ‘Badh Bhangar Aawaj’. According to Hasin Hayder of Somewhere in, ‘there are around 5000 bloggers continuously writing’. The figures are staggering; since it started, a little over a year back, more than 31,000 articles and 350,000 comments have been posted. The ability to blog in Bangla seems to have liberated Bangladesh from its initial online inhibitions.

Because of thoughts like this in the blogosphere, and the fact that the blogosphere continues to foster active participation and discussion around the world, I believe it is important for us in the library profession to have an understanding of how people use these services, and what types of information they use the services to communicate. Certainly there exist considerable challenges for bloggers and social networkers in many countries, such as those Mahfuz Sadique touched upon. But given that people around the world are using social networking services to connect, network, communicate, and share information on global issues and events, library and information professionals have an interest in examining this trend towards internationalization, and considering where and how they may play a role in this international conversation. Given that social networking services will continue to become a prominent means by which people around the world exchanging information, library and information professionals have an interest in monitoring and understanding this global trend.

Posted by Aaron Bowen

Written by sigiii

August 8, 2007 at 1:49 am