China Goes Foursqaure

Despite the fact that the internet is the new "global village," we're still deeply invested in the idea of tribes, demonstrated in the cultural divisions within social media.

I’m from Toronto – the most multicultural city in the most diverse country in the world. We’re a mishmash of people, from all different places and various walks of life. Despite our multiculturalism, the landscape of Toronto is culturally divided. There’s Chinatown, Korea-town, Little Italy, the Danforth and even “the Village,” a place claimed by Toronto’s gay community.

The topographical separation of our city demonstrates that we have yet to fully integrate with one another, and also suggests that there’s something inherently tribal about us. We, as humans, insist on setting up and distinguishing our tribes – even in places where it’s not necessary for survival.

The internet is like Toronto. It’s a space where all kinds of people have gathered to cohabit, to live amongst one another. In the digital information age, is it necessary for us to draw out cultural boarders and boundaries? Despite the fact that the internet is the new “global village,” we’re still all deeply invested in the idea of tribes, demonstrated in the cultural divisions within social media.

While North Americans are all about Facebook and Twitter, the Chinese surf something called Sina. Rather than tweeting, Chinese record their mental breadcrumbs on Weibo, a Twitter-like service. And now, the Chinese have developed a web service akin to the North American Foursquare.

If you’re not already familiar with Foursquare, it’s a location-based social media tool for mobile devices. Users “check-in” a certain venues and locations via text-message. Each check-in earns you points, and you accumulate points to earn “badges.” The entire cite is meant to incite people to explore their cities and hometowns.

According to Business Insider, the power company Sina has launched WeiLingDi, or “Micro Territory,” a web check-in service akin to the Foursquare. Like Foursqaure, WeiLingDi is used to check-in to places like restaurants, cafes and bars and are invited to leave customer reviews. And, just as Twitter is integrated with foursquare, the Chinese WeiLingDi is easily connected to Weibo.

Apparently, WeiLingDi already has 60,000 verified users who are Chinese celebrities (and Tom Cruise – just because he’s random like that). Media specialists estimate that users will follow celebrity tracks just as North Americans obsess with Charlie Sheen’s tweets. The twist: the Chinese are planning on using WeiLingDi as a means of advertising locations to users. So, for example, a celebrity gets paid to dine at a restaurant three times a week, and suddenly, that restaurant is flagged as a cultural hotspot, and soon there’s a line-up extending out the door.

The project is still underway, and as it stands right now, Chinese internet users don’t participate in Foursquare. Instead, the most popular independent check-in service in China is called Jiepang.

While it’s important for the internet to offer a diversity of social media sites created by a spectrum of people from different backgrounds, I can’t help but wonder if we’re segregating ourselves, making tribes in spaces where it’s no longer necessary.