Dutch Fond Of Social Technologies, But Why?

Above: Social Technographics of Netherlands, see other global data for free at Forrester’s Technographics Profile Tool, for our clients we can cut this data in a variety of ways by role, region, and sometimes affinity.

Social Technographics Reveal Dutch Adopt More Than Neighbors
I’m an American social computing analyst in the Netherlands –which gives me a unique perspective to peer into the adoption and culture of social networks.

I’m here in the center of Amsterdam, overlooking a canal. Yesterday, I presented the above social technographics of the Netherlands at the Corporate Social Networking Conference, and talked about the future of the social web, MarketingFacts live blogged it in Dutch, but you can try the Google Translator (although I’m told the translation gives some comedic interpretations). Although the Netherlands are a smaller country compared to many, their adoption of social technologies is significantly higher than their neighbors –and many other cultures across the web.

[Social Technographics reveal that 39% of Dutch adopt social network technologies (joiner behavior) which is more than twice that of the European average of 18%]

Last night, I met Patrick, the founder of a European social media blog The Next Web, (smaller, but similar to Techcrunch), and Raymond, the founder of Hyves, the most popular Dutch social network. We discussed why the Dutch have an affinity towards social technologies on the local news (called BNR) listen in to this 23 minute clip of social networking in Netherlands. Apparently, I was the first to bring this program to be spoken in English rather than Dutch, I wonder how the loyal listeners will react.

Test Driving Hyves, A Dutch Social Network
For my research, I interviewed Raymond last night, one of the Hyves founders, I learned this SNS was founded in 2004, and was inspired by Google’s Orkut, he mentioned Cyworld a few times, also a regional SNS from South Korea. I learned that up 50% of the Dutch population could be on Hyves (although some may have double accounts) for a total of 8 million accounts of a total population of 16 million, and 60% of the Dutch population visits the site at least monthly. Brands are waking up to this, and there have been marketing efforts from Unilever, KPN, Vodafone, and Bacardi.

I’ve created a Hyves account (Hyves, like in bee “Hyve”) to learn more about how these tools are being used, if you’re already on, you can add me as a friend and I’ll add you back. A few key features that are interesting: There’s a way to enter your license plate number, and search for others. Secondly, a premium feature you can pay for is to have some abilities to have analytics, and see who’s looking at your profile. This network appears to be geared towards a younger generation that wants to socialize and connect, although the numbers suggest it’s gone mainstream across many age groups.

Potential Factors to Social Technology Adoption
With the Dutch population being so active with social technologies, I have to ask why, and make some comparisons to cultures like Japan, South Korea, and US where adoption continues to grow. Not being an expert at Dutch culture, I have to wonder if the following factors come into play to any culture:

  • Strong web based infrastructure, availability of high speed networks and access to wireless.
  • Mobile based culture where most citizens have smart phone devices with web surfing ability.
  • A culture and government that encourages independent thought and freedom of expression.
  • Social acceptance of sharing, learning and collaboration.
  • It would be rude for me to assert any cultural observations, so if you’re Dutch, I’d like to hear your opinion. What else would you add to these proposed criteria, or does each culture have a unique set of factors that governs its social technology adoption?

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    30 Replies to “Dutch Fond Of Social Technologies, But Why?”

    1. Historically there’s an anti-authoritarian base to the Dutch society, one that puts tremendous value on both individuality and, ironically, a type of group control where an “act like yourself and you’re already acting weird enough” policy is enforced.

      Both these elements help drive growth in an online society which is, essentially, without authority and grows out of true individualism.

      Linking license plates is a brilliant example of this “be who you are” kind of attitude.

      Finally, the anti-authoritarian attitude means that although we like traditions, we frown on being traditional. So in turn we look forward and adopt new technologies quite fast. The Netherlands was one of the first if not the first markets where CD’s took over the market, for example.

      (Born & raised in Amsterdam, now living in Canada)

    2. I think it has to do with the following aspects of Dutch culture:

      – Close to each other in space but also highly fragmented in cultural religious aspects (google the term pillarisation). This has become less but is still important.
      – Strongly opinionated yet at the same time ready to compromise
      – Due to the lack of space and population highly geared toward technological innovation and trade and thus communication and efficiency
      – Very curious about what others are doing (nosy) and also open. You may have noticed that some people have their curtais open so you can look right into their living room

      I think this about sums it up. Maybe others disagree or can add some more points.

    3. First: thanks for the great talk, I really learned and enjoyed it! 😀

      I think one could add a lot of smaller factors, like strong individuality, freedom of speech and direct approach when it comes to dialogues(/conflicts). Other cultures sometimes find Dutch to be rude people because they’re pretty straight forward, sometimes blunt. A new term, for me at least, I heard yesterday was “ego surfing”. Especially in the beginning, a lot of hyvers used their account in an almost narcissistic way, posting as much of their holiday pictures from nice spots creating almost a cold war when it comes to showing of their social and materialistic “welfare”.

      One bigger fact that I would like to add is the old fashion “polder model” in which players have the urge to satisfy all participants in a deal or issue. Combined with the freedom to express and in the face way of talking, Dutch are known to proclaim their opinion to much.

    4. Thinking back to the days before Hyves, we also had some smaller communities like Sugarbabes and CU2. I don’t know if this is a typical Dutch thing but we do like to flock together in groups and recognize our peers. So when these little networks started, they quickly became popular. I also remember the early days of weblogging in the Netherlands (1999 – 2001) when we organized several weblogmeetings to meet eachother in person and hang out. This has always been a significant part of any online subculture in the Netherlands, be it blogging, twitter, niche networks. We just like to hang out with eachother in a bar and have fun offline. This drives adoption of a network to others.
      I agree with Brendan on the way we are curious (remember the 17th century?) and are always ready to state our opinion. I am not quite sure if the fragmentation in religious and cultural aspects play a role.
      Jeremiah, you could connect with Anne Helmond (@silvertje and http://www.annehelmond.nl/) who is a lecturer on new media in Amsterdam. Maybe she can help you some more!

    5. @Jeremiah: Great talk at the CSN Conference, thanks for that! We Dutch are a very Social little tribe, thats for sure! We are open, direct and we all have an opinion! Some of the main factors that could explain the high number of Social actives in the Netherlands:

      1) Open culture
      2) Strong individuality
      3) Freedom of speech and
      4) Direct approach
      5) Curious
      6) Dutch are historically known as smart businesspeople, so they know how to sell themselves..offline as well as online.
      7)We all have our own strong opinions that we want to share with others.

    6. Interesting post, Jeremiah. Commenters before me have pretty much summed up my experience of their country – an exciting place to live in terms of the online world, there’s a lot going on and every one seems to be connected, but with quite a unique culture.

    7. Being rich (as compared to the vast majority of the world) certainly helps in adopting iphones or the above mentioned cds.

    8. Being born and raised in the Netherlands, the first thing that came to mind was the fact we have a good web infrastructure.
      After looking at the sheets, Sweden seems to support this theory as they also have quite high join rate (31%).

      Also most Dutch people have quite a busy life, but still want to know what is going on at their friends/relatives lives. A social network makes this easy to check and communicate with each other.

      Maybe you can add http://michieldenijs.hyves.nl/ and ask him, he is a Dutch social media expert.

    9. Jeremiah,

      First of all: thanks for the presentations of the last days – it was good to be able to view and review them.

      On your question about the Dutch, Koreans and Japanese : I checked the population density in the world (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population_density ) and found that The Netherlands, Korea and Japan rank #20, #24 and #31 respectively.

      This suggests a correlation between density of population and appreciation of online social networks. My best guess there is: when you are surrounded by people all the time, it might be logical that you transfer this skill (and its advantages) online.

    10. Ewout

      That’s helpful. China and India are also population dense, I’ve seen the technographics of metro China and the numbers are also high.

      One could also wonder if a spread out country that’s not population dense could actually give communities more desire to connect.

      We need to think more about the correlation and causation of population density and social technology adoption.

    11. One of the best digital (& social) Dutchmen I know is a Catholic priest, Father Roderick @ http://www.SQPN.com. He was one of the first to embrace new media and social media tools for his desire for online folks to understand Catholicism… and fuel his passion for gaming, movies, TV and all that is digital!

    12. A lot of good points already have been raised I think, so I won’t mention them again.

      If you’re interested in Dutch culture in general, you might want to read “The Undutchables”, which is very funny to read (and also oh so painfully true at times).

    13. I’m not Dutch, but I couldn’t resist chiming in: I had an American friend who worked in Amsterdam for about a year. She told me that one of the most remarkable thingsw she observed about Dutch social dynamics is that (compared to Americans) they were ultra-planners. If you wanted to do something with someone, you generally would make arrangements a couple of weeks in advance – that was how far ahead people planned their social lives.

      Part of the reason why I’ve fallen so in love with social media is that it has made me much, MUCH more effective at cultivating community. It’s like an address book on steroids, PLUS it offers the same effect as belonging to the same organization. A lot of community ties are just the culmination of seeing people “around” (in the hallways, on the street, etc.) over and over again and having something in common. Facebook (and Twitter, and so on) provide an approximate substitute, and they organize it for you. So cool.

      Anyhow, like I said, I’m not Dutch. But I wouldn’t be surprised if whatever what driving the social ultra-planning was in part driving the social media ultra-adoption.

    14. As a Dutchman living abroad (Switzerland), I have been looking a lot at different cultures and the differences between my own and other cultural paradigms. For what it’s worth, let me add a few more observations:

      1. The Dutch have a natural curiosity and learning attitude. Our trading culture has made us entrepreneurs. We love new developments and technologies, want to learn about them, search for opportunities through epxeriencing. The social online platform is a fantastic playground for us.

      2. The Dutch have a great sense of equality (vs hierarchy). And within online communities, there’s a great degree of equality. Everybody can say everything and you’re being listened to because of your contribution (your online achievements), not because of your ascribed background (status).

      3. Finally, we have been brought up in a multicultural environment. We love to travel, speak multiple languages, have a genuine interest in other cultures, other peoples, we have a mixed population due to our colonial past. Online communities are a gift from heaven: they are the ultimate meltpot where the world convenes, and it’s right there at your PC.

      Appreciate your many interesting insights, Jeremiah. Keep us curious!

    15. Dutch teens, even more than in other countries, are early adapters and parents support them actively in their upbringing to use an autonomic way of living. This gives teens the opportunity to start using new developments, like social media, earlier and more massively than youngsters in some other countries. Combined with other points mentioned already (freedom, ultra-planners, good web-infrastructure, the points of Sjef Kerkhofs and others) it explained the up speed accelerator effect to use social media so intensively. In the last three years hyves.nl changed from ˜teen based™ to also widely used by elderly people. There is quick behavioral change, boosted by teens as early adapters: people older than thirty behave still like 20, people (parents at starting group) of mid 40 behave like mid 30. This transformation process is extremely fast in the Netherlands. It is the mix of factors that did it.

    16. Hi Jeremiah, I joined Hyves thanks to your recommendation. I lived in the Netherlands (Zuid-Limburg) for a couple of years, and from my perspective, the seafaring/exploration/merchant (Dutch East India Company) history of the Dutch permeates their entire culture. They are adventurous, curious, multi-lingual and worldly. I miss living there very much.

    17. I suspect a huge number of information workers and small businesses understanding the necessity to interconnect with tribes is also a reason why we use social media.

    18. Apart from everything already mentioned it might help that:
      * we work less than a lot of people in other parts of the world (though we are not ‘lazy’ http://www.levensloopcalculator.nl/nieuws/2004/08/16-nederlandse-werknemer-is-niet-lui/index.xml)
      * we are pretty wealthy and happy, #3 in Forbes list of World Happiest places (this is mentioned in some form or the other before)
      * Dutch people have a relative high level of trust in each other and in institutions (source a.o. SCP)

    19. Sheila, I’ll see you on Hyves.

      Eelco, That’s very understandable, I can see why. I’ve traveled many countries, the Netherlands is truly unique.

    20. Jeremiah: glad to hear that you had a good time in NL. I am sure you will recognize after a week that there is a strong collectivism running through dutch society (vs. individualism if compared to e.g. US). this manisfests itself in a.o. high taxes (and high happiness ratio, see Russell Shorto in NYTimes last week http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/03/magazine/03european-t.html?scp=3&sq=shorto&st=cse and the recent OECD report that reported NL comes in third happiest country in the world, right after Denmark and Finland! http://tinyurl.com/pvo6j7. Countries mentioned in other posts such as Nordic countries and South-Korea, Japan also have a high level of collectivism in their resp. societies. Could there be a link? I believe the correlation and causation effects of (relative) collecivist societies and social technology adoption is another promising angle to explore…

    21. I think the Dutch are very active on social networks because we have a broadband penetration of 85% which is much more than in other countries.

      We also have a very open culture (although quite protective at times and willing to go against the grain), young people get stimulated to give their opinion and approx 30 percent of youth are using social networks (as presented at the VPRA seminar PR in het digitale tijdperk).

      Interestingly enough although Hyves has been the standard social network we are finally seeing social networkers catching onto Facebook. What will that mean for Hyves “ let™s wait and see!

    22. Great posting and comments, thanks Jeremiah and commentators. I have wondered for some time about the influence of culture on social networks take-up and use. I feel this is an important indicator of the “Participation Gap” across cultures and sub-cultures (including generational differences. So more on this the better!

      Having paid just one visit to Amsterdam. I can say that the quality of conversations face-to-face was one of the better conservation cultures that I’ve experienced. I believe the Dutch do have a willingness to open up and connect with others.

      I’ve been talking up the benefits of social networks in meeting basic social needs of connecting with others, self-expression and sharing. While I still feel these are universally-held, the form they take obviously varies according to many variables, including technology and disposition towards openness. Just taking say, broadband connectivity and similar stats only explains part of the picture.

    23. As a dutch student, I am one of few people who doesnt really use hyves. I have an account, but I only use it for research for school/work (I study interactive media). I used to work for the dutch office of MySpace, which was shut down last november due to cutbacks and the fact they werent able to compete with hyves. I think its weird the dutch would not adapt to myspace but just stuck to their hyves, since myspace is a global social network and hyves isnt. I think hyves needs to be improved in terms of usability and user-friendliness, but as mentioned by others the dutch cant seem to get enough of social networking. I’ve seen too many pages of young girls posing with almost nothing on on their pictures, posting them on multiple social networking accounts (CU2, PP2g and hyves) to get as much exposure as possible. It’s the “I’ll do whatever the f*** I want” attitude. And since everyone is already on hyves, thats the place you have to be if you want the most exposure and the ability to find everyone.

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