The preface: The claim resurfaces regularly. I've written about it; others have written about it: in terms of internet and social media, Germany lags behind.
ReadWriteWeb just published an interview with Marcel Weiß, the editor of Netzwertig.com—one of Germany's most popular blogs—in which he explains that Germany is at least five years behind the U.S. when it comes to social media and its adoption by a larger part of society. Blogs are still considered to be suspect by a large part of the German public and have very little influence, and social news sites and aggregators attract very little attention.
He goes on to explain that
[B]logging and social media adoption in Germany is far behind similar trends in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. Blogs are still considered suspect and have almost no influence over local or national politics. The mainstream media still likes to describe the Internet as a dangerous place, full of malware, porn, and scammers. While regular newspapers in Germany have also started to feel the pressure from the Internet (and every major German paper has a web site), the absence of a successful Craigslist-type site in the country has given the newspapers a longer lease on life than in America.
The reasons for this are very deeply ingrained in German society. Felix Salmon offers a short and comprehensible (yet also stereotyped) overview: basically, Germany's culture is the antithesis of what blogging is all about.
The blogosphere is fundamentally egalitarian, to the point at which the young and even the completely anonymous can become A-listers. At the same time, highly respected professors and experts often find themselves ignored, perhaps because they hedge themselves too much or are simply too boring to pay attention to. Germany, by contrast, is fundamentally hierarchical.
A bit of a generalization, but he's close to the point. I'd say this statement rather applies to culture. The use of mass culture in Germany is quite hierarchical as it reflects power structures. I will spare you the sociology behind it (see my post about Bourdieu and social media). Just this much: in contrast to American discourses, which embrace the internet as a genuinely democratic and—thus specifically American—cultural practice, in Germany this egalitarian appeal and integrative potential is perceived as a threat to milieus (and media) which still perpetuate restricted high cultural traditions (or the "right" use of pop culture) in order to gain social capital.
Also: Germany experienced its greatest push towards modernity under the Nazis, the first party to embrace mass media for propaganda purposes in a kind of reactionary modernism, which makes the whole field... suspect.
Anyway, the result of all this is: Germany indeed does lag behind.
I was confronted with this fact very recently when an old high school friend of mine asked me to help him promote a movie he produced, by means of social media. The movie is in English (in fact it's supposed to take place in the U.S.), and aims at an international audience. Here, two mindsets collided.
It had to explain what a Facebook fan page was, why we want to get a Twitter and a Flickr account, etc. Once everything was set up, the next step was to explain how everything worked. It was a social media crash course.
I suppose Twitter alone would warrant a whole night of instructions (if the other person has no idea at all): What are the basics? How do I contact people? How, why and when do I send direct messages? Wait, I can change the background? I woke up to ICQ (yes, ICQ) messages asking me why a # was in front of a tweet. And what the hell is Follow Friday?
At this stage, we didn't even discuss the "proper" use of Twitter yet: engage in conversations, be nice and say thank you, look for Twitter users or bloggers who are interested in the romantic horror comedy splatter genre and get them to cover you... If someone does an interview or writes a review, see if the person has a Twitter account and add them... A sample conversation: "One of the singers from the soundtrack is following us." "Did you follow her back?" "Why?"
And so it went on. I was the one who's supposed to update the account. Andy, the director, attended the film's premier in Montreal. Lot's of potential there in terms of Twitter. But he had no idea about it either. So apparently it was up to me... (sitting at my office desk in Germany, writing my doctoral thesis, not really having the time to monitor any coverage of the movie). It was going to be a long way. I really hope my friend realized how to use Thwirl by now...
"BTW, it would be nice if Andy could take some pictures and could upload them on Flickr. I also installed a plug-in to display the latest Flickr uploads on the Facebook page" "Uh... he doesn't know how to. And why do we need Flickr in the first place, I thought we could upload photos on Facebook!" "Yaaaaah, but..."
The problem was: my friend's German mindset, not being acquainted with any social media or its principle at all, collided with the world out there.
But, to give credit were credit is due: he seemed to be learning—in terms of the basic idea at least.
While having a beer at a bar, the producer told me what kind of trailer they would produce and how they would introduce the people behind the movie in little clips; how he would ask the director to film movies with his mobile at festivals and put those on Facebook and Youtube—basically share the experience and engage people, let them become part of the project and involve them in the process of getting the whole thing started. Or as he put it "Keep zings reel!"
We were getting there. Slowly.
I invited all my friends on Facebook to become a fan of the movie, while my friend sent out an e-mail to the 150 people of the (German) movie team. All of a sudden 2/3s of our fan base came from Australia—apparently hardly anyone of the team was on Facebook!