Wednesday, January 30, 2013

"Citizen cartographers" help Google map North Korea

I have been aware for several years now of crowd-sourcing efforts to map North Korea using Google Earth. That effort is led by Curtis Melvin, who publishes a website called North Korea Economy Watch and who collaborated with the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies on a digital atlas of North Korea.
However, I was not aware as reported by the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets around the world,  Google has published a detailed map of North Korea on its Google Maps program, after years of a crowd-sourcing effort using its Map-maker program. The article reported that "On Tuesday, the company revised its Google Maps application to add information for North Korea—from naming streets to marking the outlines of prison camps—beginning to flesh out a national map that has been largely unannotated since Google started providing maps online and for mobile devices eight years ago."
The Map-maker program has already started to attract both serious additions to what we know about North Korea, and also humorous comments from web surfers around the world who obviously haven't much real interest in the country.  The problem facing Google's map-maker program, as with other crowd-sourcing efforts, is how to distinguish credible, sincere efforts to provide information from the equivalent of social media spam.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Are MOOC Credits the "Real Deal?"

This post is also being published on my Internet Age Education blog.  As reported by Times Higher Education, the co-founder of one of the largest MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course), thinks that certifications offered by these open courses will never be as valuable as a degree from one of their partner universities.   Andrew Ng, co-founder of Coursera and an Associate Professor in Stanford University's computer science department said "I don't think this will ever be as valuable as a degree from one of our partner universities." Coursera is one of several large US companies offering free online access to university courses, and the first to start charging participants who wish to obtain accreditation. Ng added, "I really don't want to put us in competition with other ways of education because I think universities provide a great service."
On this question, I would respectfully disagree with the co-founder of Coursera, for several reasons.   First, in many fields, especially the STEM disciplines, employers care much more about a potential employee's capability and competence than the degree they may or may not possess.  This is especially true in such areas as computer programming and coding.  
Second, some universities are already offering credit for MOOC courses, or looking at new arrangements that amount to the same thing.  As reported by Inside Higher Ed Coursera, the largest provider of massive open online courses (MOOCs), has entered into a contract to license several of the courses it has built with its university partners to Antioch University, which would offer versions of the MOOCs for credit as part of a bachelor’s degree program. The deal represents one of the first instances of a third-party institution buying permission to incorporate a MOOC into its curriculum -- and awarding credit for the MOOC -- in an effort to lower the full cost of a degree for students. It is also a first step for Coursera and its partners toward developing a revenue stream from licensing its courses.
Third, the incorporation of social media capabilities has already dramatically transformed the nature of online coursework and promises to change it even further in the future.  Online courses taken at some off-campus location around the globe are becoming more like on-campus courses, even as in-residence or on-campus courses today incorporate much more online content.
In short, I would argue that there is already considerable real value to a MOOC course certification, and that value is only going to increase.  The genie is out of the bottle in relation to the impact of expanding digital networks on higher education.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Western-centric approaches to "defining" social media

The rapid and continuous technological and social changes embodied in the information revolution elicit a natural human effort to define the phenomena. Especially in this era of social media, when citizens everywhere can create content, there is a booming business in defining and categorizing "social media."   To the extent that this business contributes to better understanding and a better ability to manage, use or cope with "social media," it seems a worthwhile endeavor.  However, the effort to define social media should be approached with the following considerations in mind.

  • The constancy of change has occupied philosophers over the ages.  In Western philosophy, Heraclitus claimed that life is like a river, and one can never step into the same river twice.  In today's information age, one constant is continual, rapid change.  Social media are continuously changing, but to further complicate definition and classification, they are also converging as part of a pervasive socio-technical, mobile, digital and remote sensing revolution that is universal in its scope.
  • Media have always been social in certain respects.  Unfortunately, the definitions put forward by many bloggers and creators of online content are ahistorical in this regard, suggesting that the social aspects of media began with Facebook.   Such an approach is limited and even overlooks the rather profound social character of Google which explains its dominance as a search engine.
  • Most of the available definitions of "social media" are published in English language journals, newspapers, blogs or other media and are blatantly Western-centric.  The vast majority of such definitions ignore the reality and experience of millions of South Koreans who socialized on Cyworld during the half decade or so before Facebook was launched in the U.S.
  • As most observers and users of social media would probably agree, the internet and web-based revolution that gave birth to the current infatuation with "social media" is still in its infancy.
Despite the above realities, there is a natural human tendency to seek a short, simple, one sentence definition of "social media."   However, knowledgeable observers, whether from government, industry, academia or just plain citizens, will avoid that temptation.  As one former high-level policymaker in South Korea put it to me in a discussion last Fall about ICT-related government policymaking, "we do not know how far and how deep the changes will go."

Friday, January 25, 2013

Google's Chairman visits North Korea (3)

I am in Honolulu following the PTC13 annual conference of the Pacific Telecommunications Council. Several of the presentations I attended touched on North Korea, in one way or another, which prompts me to comment again on the recent visit to that nation of Google's Chairman Eric Schmidt. (see an earlier post here)  The New Yorker has published an interesting interview with John Delury, a Yonsei University professor who was part of the Schmidt delegation.   He has visited North Korea frequently in recent years and had the following to say in his interview with The New Yorker. "Kim Jong-un is putting a major stress on economic development and on building a “knowledge-based economy.” North Koreans I speak with understand the relationship between connectivity and growth. They also realize that the rest of the global economy is wired, and that if they want a piece of the action they have to get online, too. So they are now in a preliminary phase of experimenting with increased connectivity among their own people. Huge obstacles stand in the way. But Google folks went there to make the case for the virtues of the Internet, and North Koreans listened. That’s all we can say at this point."
Read the full interview at this link.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Planet Blue Coat: More on internet surveillance patterns around the world

As a follow up to the previous post, an article in Slate reporting that Silicon Valley internet surveillance gear was being used by authoritarian regimes caught my eye yesterday.  It described a study just released by researchers from Canada's Citizen Lab.
The report shows that network technology made by Blue Coat, a Silicon Valley based company, is being used in a number of countries that have questionable human rights records. Part of the problem is that the Blue Coat product is so-called "dual use" technology. It can serve a legitimate purpose—like filtering out spam or malware. But in the hands of an authoritarian regime it can easily be turned into a tool for monitoring users or blocking content.
The accompanying graphic shows patterns in the spread of different Blue Coat technologies to countries around the world. (click to see a full size version, or go to this link to further explore the data on an interactive map).  The interactive map reports that 9 packet shaper deployments were found on three networks in South Korea.
The complete Planet Blue Coat surveillance report can be downloaded from Citizen Lab at this link.  The findings include the following statement: "Our findings support the need for national and international scrutiny of Blue Coat implementations in the countries we have identified, and a closer look at the global proliferation of “dual-use” information and communication technologies. Internet service providers responsible for these deployments should consider publicly clarifying their function, and we hope Blue Coat will take this report as an opportunity to explain their due diligence process to ensure that their devices are not used in ways that violate human rights."

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Data visualization: situating Korea in the global information revolution:

Beginning this year, I'm planning to add material to this blog that directs readers to big data and data visualization tools that can be helpful in understanding Korea's experience of the information society.  One of these tools is the Global Internet Filtering Map published by the Open Net Initiative (ONI).  The graphic below illustrates one of the four different interactive maps available at the ONI site, this won illustrating patterns in filtering of conflict and security-related information. (click to see a full size version of the graphic.)

The Open Net Initiative is a collaborative partnership of three institutions, including the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard that aims to investigate, expose and analyze Internet filtering and surveillance practices in a credible and non-partisan fashion. For further detail, read the information at this link.
The ONI publishes interactive, online maps that illustrate four different types of internet filtering.

  • Political -- Content that expresses views in opposition to those of the current government, or is related to human rights, freedom of expression, minority rights, and religious movements.
  • Social -- Content related to sexuality, gambling, and illegal drugs and alcohol, as well as other topics that may be socially sensitive or perceived as offensive.
  • Conflict & Security -- Content related to armed conflicts, border disputes, separatist movements, and militant groups.
  • Internet Tools -- Web sites that provide e-mail, Internet hosting, search, translation, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone service, and circumvention methods.
If the above information has piqued your interest, I recommend going to the ONI site and examining their data for individual countries or regions.  For each country, the mapping data is accompanied by a thorough summary of background details.  The web site also contains a link to, that allows citizens from anywhere in the world to report web blockages wherever and whenever they occur.

Reactions to proposed "super ministry" for future, creativity and science

As might be expected, there is a public debate taking place in Korea these days over the government reorganization proposals announced earlier this week by the incoming administration of President-elect Park Geun-hye.  Equally unsurprising is that one big topic in the debate centers on the proper approach to ICT policy in this era of the networked information economy.

  • Members of the Korea Communications Commission, one in particular, are not happy at what amounts to a demotion of that commission's responsibilities.  As reported by The Korea Times, it will continue to have ICT-sector regulatory responsibilities, but policymaking and strategies for industry growth in the sector will become part of the new "super ministry," yet to receive its official English name, that will be responsible for future creation of science, including ICT.
  • Many people at the Ministry of Knowledge Economy (MKE) are no doubt unhappy because the proposed new super ministry would take over several functions currently assigned to the MKE, which will revert to its pre-Lee Myung Bak administration role as Ministry of Industry Trade and Resources (Energy).
  • As noted in the previous post (below), people who argued for restoration of the Ministry of Information and Communication are unhappy because  they perceive ICT-policy being handled at the Vice-minister level under the new super ministry.
The national assembly will need to approve the proposed governmental changes, so the current debates and discussions may have some impact on the final shape of the new government.  However, it is highly likely that the new "super ministry" will emerge, as it was one of the central campaign pledges made last Fall by candidate Park Geun-hye.  The graphic below, published by The Hankyoreh,  may help a bit to understand the forthcoming changes (click to see a full-size version).
As to the ultimate shape of the new super ministry and its relationship to ICT policy and regulation, I have several observations.   First, the debates over restructuring need to agree on a common concept or understanding of digital convergence.   In fact, convergence is a much broader, multi-faceted and complex subject than just the convergence of telecommunications and information technology, on the one hand, with broadcasting, on the other.  Some of the public statements being made these days seem to reflect limited conceptions of convergence.  However, the reason for including ICT policy in the purview of the new super ministry is that these new digital computing and communications technologies are what economists call "general purpose technologies" that pervade all industries and segments of the economy.
Second, the inclusion of (창조, the Korean word for "create" or "make") in the new ministry's title is significant in that one of the major challenges for future ICT policy, broadly conceived, is to help Korea move away from its heavy dependence on hardware manufacturing and export and toward greater involvement with software and content-based services. 
Finally, while some have argued that incorporate of ICT policymaking in the new super ministry under the leadership of a vice minister does not give adequate emphasis or prominence to this area of policy, there is another perspective that needs to be considered.   Reportedly, the reason that ICT policy is being included in the proposed new Ministry is that President elect Park Geun-hye feels strongly that ICT should be integrated with and not separated from the nation's overall science and technology policy.   This is in line with the need for a broad understanding and general agreement about what digital convergence and the information revolution is all about.  

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

More on the "Future, Creative, Science" Ministry 미래창조과학부

There is big news circulating today in Korea after yesterday's announcement by the incoming administration of President-elect Park Geun-hye that it will change the existing government structure of fifteen full and two lower level ministries to seventeen full and three lower level ministries.  The changes, which require approval by the National Assembly, could potentially have a profound effect on the nation's approach to ICT policy.

A powerful new ministry, which has not yet received its official English designation, incorporates the key words future, creation( or create, make), and science in its Korean title (미래창조과학부)  As noted in my previous post, the government should get good advice when it designates the official English name, because a literal translation will simply not do.  So far I've seen it referred to in the local English language press as "Ministry of Creativity and Science," "Ministry on the Future, Creativity and Science," and other variations.  As reported by The Joongang Daily, the new ministry will oversee ICT policies with a Vice Minister to be appointed in this area.

Some are still arguing that the new government should restore something like the former Ministry of Information and Communication.  For example, the Donga Ilbo yesterday wrote that  it was regrettable "  ... that a vice minister for the future, creativity and science ministry will take charge of ICT rather than a separate ministry to be established. ICT is a massive bombshell of future business that will transform the maps of all industries, including shopping, education, medicine and energy, by integrating with the smart revolution. Korea is believed to need a ministry exclusively in charge of ICT affairs that can predict changes, prepare the country for such changes and provide necessary support, and that can give opinions and suggestions based on professional insight and a sense of responsibility to the Cabinet and the National Assembly."

More on this issue as plans for the new government structure are finalized.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A "Future and Creative Science Ministry" (미래창조과학부) for Korea

Korea is in the midst of a process that takes place following every presidential election, which involves the preparation of final plans for the reorganization of government.  This frequently involves the reshuffling of cabinet-level ministries and other agencies, often based on public pledges made during the election campaign.
One of President-elect Park Geun-hye's prominent campaign promises was to establish a new Ministry, called the 미래창조과학부 in Korean, and which has been variously and awkwardly translated into English by local papers.   So far the best translations I've seen is "Ministry of the Future and Creative Science,"  as used in an article in The Korea Times.   I hope that the new government will get good advice before finalizing the official English title of the new ministry, to avoid any awkwardness, as occurred with the naming of the current Ministry of Knowledge Economy (MKE).
As discussed in a recent editorial in the Joongang Daily, are the subject of much discussion and lobbying these days.  The stakes are high and the outcome relates to the paper I'll be presenting next week at the PTC13 Conference, as noted in an earlier post.  I'll be following the Korean and English papers closely in the coming weeks as the shape of the new government and its implications for national ICT and digital convergence policies becomes clear.

Friday, January 11, 2013

WCIT-12 , perceptions, and the future of internet governance

The December meeting of the World Council on International Telecommunications (WCIT 12) ended in   a state of disarray that was portrayed in mainstream western media as a blow to future international agreement on internet governance.  For example, The Guardian published an article headlined "Dark clouds remain over the future of internet governance."  However, as Professor Milton Mueller of Syracuse university pointed out in a blog post on the Internet Governance site, WCIT 12 may have been derailed more because of what he calls "ITU phobia" than for substantive reasons actually affecting governance and the operation of the internet.
It is well known that China, Russia and certain other countries in the Asia-Pacific region would like to see governments in control of the internet.  The map to the left, published along with the article in The Guardian, shows the breakdown of votes. (click to see a full-size version)  However, it is worth questioning why South Korea voted for the treaty while Japan, India, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand did not.  Perceptions are important, and many observers might have expected that the nation with the world's most advanced and extensive broadband networks would have voted the other way, simply to avoid any confusion about whether it favors a free and open internet.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

U.S. policy, ICT and Korean reunification: an alarming new Senate report

The world has changed a great deal since Korea was divided at the 38th parallel after World War II, in no small part because of the revolutionary developments in semiconductors and telecommunications that fuel the information revolution. This is an underlying message of the recent visit to Pyongyang by Bill Richardson and Google's chairman, Eric Schmidt. As I have argued in numerous earlier posts (for example this June 2011 post) and in Chapter 8 of my Kindle book, Telecommunications and Transformation in Korea, communication  has always been a central reality in Korea's tragic national division, but the digital information revolution that started late in the 20th century has changed the game as the web, social and mobile media proliferate.
While the information revolution and economic development in China and other nations of the Asia Pacific region have changed the world, one thing remains unchanged and unfortunately stuck back in the Cold War era:  U.S. foreign policy vis-a-vis the Northeast Asia region.  A core aspect of the problem is the failure of the United States, at the presidential level, to articulate a foreign policy that clearly addresses the question of Korean reunification, while publicly making it clear that the United States favors unification and will work with the Korean people toward that goal.  This is a policy failure not just of the Obama administration, but successive Republic and Democratic administrations. (President Obama and President Lee Myung Bak did issue a joint declaration several years ago advocating a united Korea that was at peace, but this was not the sort of message that captured the attention of mainstream media around the world.)  In foreign policy perceptions matter a great deal and it seems dangerous to allow even the slightest chance that people in Korea or other nations of this region will misunderstand U.S. intentions.   After all, Dean Rusk who played a critical role in the choice of the 38th parallel as a line to divide Korea between the advancing Soviet forces who entered the country from the North and the U.S. forces in the south, has publicly stated that, had he known more about Korea's history, the U.S. would never have proposed that dividing line.   Furthermore, U.S. representatives over the years have made it clear that there was never any intention to permanently divide Korea.
In this context, a report published last month for the U.S. Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations is alarming. (downloadable here in pdf format) Entitled "China's Impact on Korean Peninsula Unification and Questions for the Senate," the report explores China's historical claims to territory on the Korean peninsula and examines the possibility that China might actively oppose Korean reunification.  One possible reason for such opposition might be the presence of U.S. military forces in Korea. To me and I'm sure to many others, the prospect of Chinese opposition to peaceful reunification of Korea is alarming.  All the more reason, I would suggest, for the U.S. administration to articulate its policy on the main political problem here in Northeast Asia, Korea's national division.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Google's chairman in North Korea (2)

Steven Haggard of the Peterson Institute published a blog post that adds interesting detail to my short post earlier about Google's chairman Eric Schmidt visiting North Korea.   Among the most interesting details is that Schmidt and his Google colleague Jared Cohen, Director of Google Ideas, are writing a book called "The New Digital Age," which is due out in April.
This morning I happened to see the video below on television news.   It proves that there are a few people in North Korea who, at least on special occasions, actually use Google to access and search the internet.   From all available evidence, the number of people who can do this is very, very few indeed, but it provides a fascinating glimpse into the North Korea visit by Google's chairman.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Government restructuring and ICT policy in Korea

In about two weeks I'm headed to the PTC13 Conference to deliver a paper, co-authored with Professor Jaemin Park, on "Government Restructuring and Its Impact on Innovation Capacity in Korea's ICT Sector." (see abstract here)  This has been a hotly debated topic ever since the Lee Myung Bak administration eliminated the powerful Ministry of Information and Communication in its sweeping 2008 governmental reorganization.  However, in the longer term and broader perspective, the question of ICT policy, which almost equates to broadband internet policy, is one that faces all countries as broadband internet has been widely accepted as an important ingredient in economic development and growth.
Professor Shin Dong Hee, who has published widely on ICT policy issues was recently interviewed by The Korea Times and reportedly urged that Korea adopt a "co-evolving IT model," through which government, business and academia realize a practical, user-centered direction.  In his interview, Professor Shin also stressed the need for Korea to meet global standards in "soft power," in order to achieve future success.
It will be interesting, indeed, to see how the incoming government of President Park Geun-hye structures its approach to ICT-policy.  The matter is challenging for several reasons, some of which I'll enumerate here.
1. ICT policy for Korea must be formulated and implemented with global realities in mind. These include technology standards as well as trade, economic and political factors.
2. Such policy must also take into account the interests of all stakeholders, including governmental, private sector and civil society representatives.  Indeed, in this era of burgeoning use of social media, efforts toward open government all around the world are incorporating citizens into the policy-making process.
3. Without totally ignoring the development of digital devices and hardware, on which South Korea's export-led development thrived, future policy will need to focus squarely on the challenge of developing the software and content side of the information industries.  Whether one considers big data, cloud computing, the internet of things, internet governance, or social media, all these phenomena underscore the centrality of content.
4.Future ICT policy should be based on a broad understanding and interpretation of convergence that acknowledges the pervasive impact of ICT throughout the economy as a general purpose technology.  Part of the problem in government policy making is that convergence means different things to different people, resulting in policies that may reflect narrow interpretations of what digital convergence is all about.

Why Google's Chairman Eric Schmidt is going to visit North Korea

The mainstream press is full of speculation about why Google's Eric Schmidt plans to visit North Korea, along with former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, especially now that the U.S. State Department has publicly suggested that the visit is not a good idea at this time.  Instead of speculating about why Schmidt is planning to visit North Korea now, the press should be asking why he has waited so long to visit.   The possible reasons for his visit abound.
Google, as its beautiful globe visualization (see the prior post in this blog) shows, is well aware that Korea is divided and North Korea isolated, a situation that is at odds with its corporate mission to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."
Google also has active, ongoing interests in development and international issues such as illicit networks and fragile states.
Perhaps one of the most interesting possibilities being discussed as the reason for Schmidt's visit is the one noted in The Chosun Ilbo.   The paper reported that the South Korean government believes North Korean leader Kim Jong-un invited Schmidt in order to change the image of his country and to persuade the U.S. to start dialogue. A government official here said, "By inviting the chairman of Google, which is the world's most open and innovative company, Kim probably wants to emphasize that his country isn't isolated and express his hope to engage in dialogue with the U.S."

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

DMZ, Digital Divide and the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics

When I posted Google's beautiful globe visualization of languages used to search the web around the world, it didn't occur to me to note that, like the iconic photograph from space of the Korean peninsula at night, the Google WebGL globe vividly illustrates Korea's division as a digital divide. Click on the accompanying graphic to see a full size version or go directly to Google's globe animation here and rotate it to hover over the Korean peninsula.
Readers of this blog will know that I've been interested in the status of the DMZ as a digital divide and the related question of the role of new digital media and communication generally in eventual Korean reunification.   The AP carried a story on the issue which was published today by USA Today, entitled "North Korea cracks down on knowledge smugglers."
All of this relates directly to the 2018 Winter Olympics to be hosted by Pyeongchang, a beautiful alpine city in Gangwon Province, the only province of South Korea that is divided by the demilitarized zone (DMZ).  The media attention that will predictably focus on Korea and Pyeongchang before and during the 2018 Winter Games will draw attention, as never before, to the political and human tragedy of Korea's continued division, for at least two reasons.  One is the new role of digital and social media in the Olympics, about which I've only begun to speculate, as in this 2011 post. 
Another, more important reason is that the 2018 Olympics will inevitably focus attention upon a reality that the mainstream news media and the whole world have chosen to address only sporadically and prefer to avoid, that the division of Korea is the last outstanding vestige of the Cold War in the world, a major obstacle to development of the entire Northeast Asian region, and a continuing human tragedy of untold proportions in the form of divided families. This  focus of attention is sure to occur, simply by virtue of the way that modern media and digital networks work.    One side effect of all this attention may well be to call more attention to the international proposal by the DMZ Forum to create a peace park in the DMZ (click on the graphic to see a larger version).  See my earlier post on the proposal.