Yahoo 360°, the company’s failed blogging/social-networking site, is shutting down on July 13. Few people are likely to notice — except in Vietnam, where the service became the dominant player in social networking and especially blogging. Yahoo Vietnam director Vu Minh Tri told me this morning their studies showed Yahoo had an 85% share of Vietnam’s social networking market, which is pretty incredible. I’ve never heard anyone explain why Yahoo 360° became so dominant while Facebook and MySpace remained relatively weak here. My impression is that these things are basically random snowballs, with arbitrary early leads by one service or another blowing up into overwhelming advantages due to network effects.
In any case, the unanticipated negative consequence here is that the end of Yahoo 360° is likely to deal at least a minor temporary blow to independent Vietnamese political discourse. Almost all of the independent political bloggers in Vietnam who’ve been cropping up over the past few years used the Yahoo service. Because Yahoo 360° is so important here, the company has designed a special Vietnam-only successor service called Yahoo 360°-Plus, and most bloggers will hopefully migrate their sites there or to other free blogging services (WordPress et. al.). But there will be at least some disruption of the networks of commentary and discussion that political bloggers build up, and some of the significant commentary that’s taken place over the last few years — responses to the anti-Chinese demonstrations in the spring of 2008, to the government’s arrests of anti-corruption journalists in May 2008 and their trial in December 2008, and, further back, some of the blogging that went on around the Bloc 8406 group in 2006 — may vanish.
Hopefully Yahoo will make the conversion process relatively easy, and even if it’s not, there’s no doubt that in this wired era the vibrant Vietnamese blogging community will reconstitute itself in a difference form within a few months or weeks. (Or hours.) But Vietnamese bloggers are worried and complaining.
There’s obviously no nefarious intent on Yahoo’s part here. The company has been trying to shut down Yahoo 360° for over a year because, globally, it’s a failure; it’s been hesitating because it needs to make sure it adequately serves its user community. Yahoo wants its users to migrate their content to its social-networking follow-on, their Yahoo Profiles, rather than leave Yahoo altogether, and the creation of Yahoo 360°-Plus shows they’re making every effort to retain their lead in Vietnam. But the situation is an interesting lesson in how globalization can lead to unexpected kinds of dependencies for weaker countries. In this case, Vietnamese bloggers enjoyed unprecedented freedom: they could say things on a Yahoo blog they never could have said on a blog hosted by a social networking company based in Vietnam, which would have faced legal risks from Vietnamese authorities. But with freedom came dependency: their blogs were contingent on the fickle interests of an American company for whom Vietnamese users were only of limited importance.
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