Friday, August 29, 2014

Google's Seoul "Campus" and the startup climate in Korea

Google announced this week that its first Campus in Asia will open in Seoul next year.  Google's Asia Pacific Blog carried an announcement about the plan, with information about the nature of campuses as spaces where entrepreneurs can learn, connect and change the world.
Also on the topic of startup ventures, my friend and fellow Korea Fulbright alumnus Danny Crichton has an interesting piece in Techcrunch entitled "As Samsung Falters, an Opening for Startups."   It is a thoughtful article, with useful links to a number of English and Korean language sources.
In the big picture, the relationship between Samsung's difficulties (or challenges) and the prospects for healthy growth of small and medium sized enterprises is a very important topic.  In the long run, it will help to determine the success of the Park Geun-hye administration's central policy initiative to develop a "creative economy."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What's wrong with these maps?

This morning I showed the accompanying map from the Information Geographies collection at the Oxford Internet Institute to students in two of my undergraduate classes at SUNY Korea in Songdo. (click to see a full size version of the graphic)  I'm a great fan of the various graphics being produced by the Oxford Internet Institute, and indeed the problem with this map lies in part with its data source (Alexa) rather than the Oxford researchers.  I'm referring, of course, to the grey shading for Korea, which  indicates "no information" and which also covers the whole Korean peninsula, merging North with South Korea.
The first part of the problem, that of "no information" about Korea may be because the Oxford team did not trust the 2013 Alexa data.  I just checked Alexa and found that Google.com is listed as the top site in Korea, followed by Naver.com.  However, these Alexa data are highly questionable and should not be used for South Korea.  Alexa's data are gathered from a panel of users that install an English language toolbar in Microsoft's Internet Explorer.  Although IE is widely used here, the fact that the Alexa toolbar is only available in English, immediately makes it almost useless in Korea, where the vast majority of users prefer web browsing in Korean.  For a good critique of Alexa versus other companies that provide web statistics, see this article, "Web statistics for internet market research: pick a number, any number".
In fact, Naver.com is the most widely used web site in South Korea, with about 31 million unique visitors or almost 95% of internet users (reach) during the most recent measurement period by Nielsen Korea.  It was followed by daum.net with an 82% reach and google.com ranked eight with about 12 million unique visitors and a reach of 37%.
As to the second part of the problem, that of shading the entire Korean peninsula grey, it obscures the digital divide between North and South Korea, the most dramatic and poignant such divide in the entire world and a tragic vestige of the Cold War era.  South Korea has the highest rate of internet penetration in the world, while North Korea ranks near the bottom among all nations of the world.
So the second problem with Korea's representation on the "Most visited website per Country" map is shared with another, otherwise very informative map based on internet population and penetration. (click for full size version)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

SK Telecom launches traveling ICT Museum

The news that SK Telecom has launched a year-long tour of its traveling ICT museum caught my eye today.  As reported by Korea Bizwire, the exhibit is a traveling version of T.um, SK Telecom's current ICT museum located at the company's headquarters in Euljiro, Seoul. (click on the accompanying graphic to see a full size version )  It has a goal of narrowing the educational opportunity gap between urban and rural regions, and rural stops will focus on schools and student groups.  As noted in the Korea Bizwire article, "T.um Mobile’s content was developed to allow young people to easily grasp concepts by illustrating the past, present and future of Korea’s information and communications technologies in four different experiential sections. - “Past” Section: Features an orchestra of mobile devices released over the last 30 years that plays a symphonic musical piece using only the devices’ ring tones - “Present” Section: ICT in health care, smart robots, augmented reality shopping, and smart farm technology - “Future” Section: Using a 360 degree view Head Mount Display, visitors can experience a “future home” containing technologies such as 3D printers, holograms and ICT devices. Also features a 4D simulator of “life 10 years from now” - “Academic” Section: Features a software learning course, a program for healthier and more balanced use of smartphones, and afterschool courses such as basic principles of communications.
During its year-long tour of the country, the traveling exhibit will visit 20 locations, including the 17th Asian Games in Incheon (Sept. 19-Oct. 4) and the 2014 ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Busan (Oct. 20-23).

Monday, August 11, 2014

Is Korea's mobile payment market "on the move"?

An interesting article this morning in The Korea Joongang Ilbo, headlined "Mobile pay market is on the move."  But is it really? As noted by the article, "With more customers using mobile finance services, a battle has begun in the banking and telecommunications world. KakaoTalk, the nation’s largest messenger app, plans to begin handling mobile transactions and payments as early as next month. China’s largest online payment company, Alipay, also is working to become an electronic prepayment issuer under Korean law. Financial companies are scrambling to secure customers by partnering with KakaoTalk, while at the same time continuing to develop their own electronic purses."  The article was accompanied by a graphic, included with this post (click to see a full size version) that shows the recent increase in number of registered mobile banking users, which now surpasses 40 million.  I recommend reading of the article for a quick update on current trends.
However, there is another side to this story, which is the larger picture of how financial transactions are currently being handled on South Korean web sites.  Unfortunately, there are still many institutions that cling to old, outdated and risky Microsoft software solutions, even after the government, from the President on down, have urged them to modernize and improve security for financial transactions.
To illustrate this point, I will use my personal example.  After being a happy expatriate resident of Korea and  user of Skype and its "Skype out" service for many years, I recently stopped using "Skype out" a paid service that allows you to call regular phones anywhere in the world.  The reason? Sometime after Microsoft purchased Skype, a Korean company took over responsibility for all Skype services originating in South Korea and I was asked (yes, in the Spring of 2014 and after President Park Geun-hye's meeting with business leaders on the topic of deregulation) to download and install Microsoft's Active-X control, as shown in the screen capture accompanying this post (click to see a full-size version). This pop-up screen appeared even though I was using the Chrome browser, not Internet Explorer. That was the last straw.   Microsoft itself warned the public about the inherent security risks in Active-X years ago.  Korean companies have been urged by their president to stop using Active-X and institute modern online and mobile security measures.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Public-Private partnership and the landmark EU-Korea 5 G agreement

5G or next generation mobile broadband service is a hot topic in industry and government circles these days, despite the large technical and policy issues it presents.  In January of this year, as noted in an earlier post, the Korean government declared its intention to be a world leader in 5G mobile communication.  In June of this year, the Korean government signed a landmark agreement with the European Union to cooperate on the development and implementation of 5G and issued a joint declaration to that effect.   As shown in the accompanying graphic (click to see a full size version), the EU's 5G Infrastructure Association has adopted the theme "public private partnership," which also happens to be a hallmark of South Korea's ICT-led socioeconomic development beginning around 1980.
In describing the new EU-Korea agreement, Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission for the Digital Agenda  commented that "5G will become the new lifeblood of the digital economy and digital society once it is established. Both Europe and South Korea recognise this. This is the first time ever that public authorities have joined together in this way, with the support of private industry, to push forward the process of standardisation. Today’s declaration signals our commitment to being global digital leaders.”
I searched in vain for news of any similar agreement involving Korea and the United States, and found no rough equivalent of the Korea-EU agreement. Perhaps history is going to repeat itself, for lack of government leadership or the inability to forge a genuine public-private partnership in the U.S.  I recently viewed former Vice President Al Gore's keynote speech to industry leaders at the 1994 Information Superhighway Summit in Los Angeles.  Korea started its highly successful, decade long Korea Information Infrastructure program the following year, with government leadership but also active industry involvement and facilities-based competition.  Over the same decade, relatively little was done to build a national fiber optic infrastructure in the U.S.  It would seem that one of the reasons for this was the inability of government to lead and industry in the U.S. to actively collaborate in constructing an essential infrastructure for the 21st century.