Friday, October 31, 2008

BBC Report: Chinese Melamine Scandal Widens

The BBC reports today that the "melamine scandal" has widened. As an American who has lived and worked in South Korea for the past twelve years, I feel obligated to comment on this. Why? Of course, it is because of the "Mad Cow Disease Scandal" that gripped South Korea for two months or more, bringing nightly candlelight vigils and almost paralyzing government.  Anyone reading the mainstream press or postings on Korean internet portals would conclude that "Mad Cow Disease" posed an imminent threat to Korean public health.  That widespread belief is what brought forth weeks of candlelight vigils. Although the health threat posed to Korea by the melamine scandal is far larger than that of the "Mad Cow Disease" scandal, there have as yet been no candlelight vigils or demonstrations about melamine. Read the BBC report and think about this issue for a moment.  The BBC reported that, according to the state media in China, the toxic chemical melamine is probably being routinely added to Chinese animal feed. The "Mad Cow Disease" candlelight vigils here in Korea were spurred by inaccurate reporting and rumors. The "Melamine scandal" on the other hand, is based on facts. This raises the question of whether the Korean public really cares about health standards.  If so, there should be nationwide candlelight vigils!  

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Korean Websites to Stop Using Citizen's National Identification Numbers

As reported widely in the press , the Korea Communications Commission has announced a revision to the Act on Promotion of Utilization of Information and Communication Network and Data Protection. All portal sites with average daily visitors of 50,000 or more, and all online commercial and games websites with average daily visitors of 10,000 or more must devise a new membership registration process that does not require resident registration number. Under the current system of relying on the citizens national ID number for registration, there has been considerable leakage of private data. About 1,176 websites will be affected by these new rules.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Two Percent of Primary and Secondary Students are Internet Addicts

According to an Education Ministry report summarized in the Korea Times recently, two out of every one hundred primary and secondary schoolers are seen as addicted to the internet, with the total number of such students reaching 100,000.  The addiction is reported to be much more common among elementary school students. Symptoms of students categorized as addicts include using the Internet for more than four hours a day, having problems with personal relationships and difficulties in study and daily life. The report also claimed they experience withdrawal symptoms when not using the Internet. According to the Internet Addiction Counseling Center under the Korea Agency for Digital Opportunity and Promotion, the center gave counseling to 73,000 students last year. ``Parents take their children to the center. Students themselves usually deny they are Internet addicts, saying they have no problem using the Internet,'' Koh Young-sam, head of the center, said.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Google and Globalization in Korea

The following is a letter to the editor that I wrote, published in the Joongang Ilbo
The Internet itself epitomizes globalization, and there is no more prominent indication of this than Google’s success. 
Because the Internet unleashes a flood of information, its users around the world now turn to Google to tame that flood and find the information they need. People in virtually every country of the world now “Google it” to find press coverage, images, videos and more.  Nevertheless, there are four nations in the world in which success seems to elude Google. The Financial Times, in an article accompanied by a map of the non-Google World, reported that Google has failed to achieve success in South Korea, China, Russia and the Czech Republic.  Here in Korea, the major media have made much of how Naver leads the search market and has so far beaten Google. 
However, this claim, like that on behalf of Yandex in Russia, Baidu in China and Seznam in the Czech Republic, is sheer nonsense. If you believe the apples and oranges comparison of these four search services with Google, I have a bridge to sell you.
In fact, the services all have two critical limitations. First, they answer search inquiries ONLY in Korean, Russian, Chinese, or Czech, respectively. Second, they do not search or “crawl” the entire Internet, instead focusing only on content in Russian, Chinese, Korean or Czech. Contrast this with Google’s stated mission, “… to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” 
A closer look at Naver’s success and the difficulties for Google here actually explains why Google must ultimately succeed in the Korean market. Part of Naver’s success is simply because Koreans feel more comfortable with a service presented entirely in the Korean language.  Despite the national campaign here to learn English, it is well documented that people here feel uncomfortable with situations that demand English, such as job interviews, meeting foreigners and surfing English Web sites. 
Naver also responds to a strong cultural need felt by many Koreans to know what other people are thinking. Hence, its most popular service is called “Knowledge-In.” Users submit questions which other Naver users are encouraged to answer, creating an ever increasing base of “knowledge.” 
The crucial limitation is that Naver’s database, because it is a Korean language-only service, effectively excludes most of the world’s knowledge.  In this respect, one can argue that Naver is more of a social-networking site than a search engine. Google, of course, allows searching in Korean as well as English and returns Web pages in both languages. 
Naver also relies heavily on “sponsored” searches, a model pioneered by Overture and Yahoo. With this business model, any company, organization or individual can pay to have its search results appear higher in the list of results from any search inquiry. 
Search results in Naver contain several categories of sponsored search. Consequently, commercial entities with the money to pay for Web-based promotion, dominate in Naver search results. So why must Google succeed in the South Korean market? 
The answer is because the flood of information that is available electronically and digitally via the Internet is multilingual. Although English may be the dominant language of international business today, other languages are important. Google’s robots search, or attempt to search, this entire universe of information on the Internet, whatever the language.  This explains Google’s interest in automated translation from one language to another and why its translation service now represents the best available machine translation. 
Whatever Google’s weaknesses, its global scope and goals are surely its strength.  Take a specific example from the field of education and study abroad, currently a booming business here. If a Korean parent or student does a search on Naver for “study abroad in the U.S.”, they will typically receive a page of search results that are sponsored by the dominant commercial study-abroad institutes in South Korea.  While those results may serve the promotional needs of private institutes, they may not fit the needs of the individual student or family.  They also may fail to contain the most current information placed on the Internet by the U.S. schools, colleges and universities themselves.  For such information - you guessed it - we advise parents and students to “Google it.”
For Korea to fully participate in the global information society, a higher portion of its students, teachers, government officials and business personnel will need to more effectively find and utilize the information available through the Internet. As things stand, this means embracing Google or a service like it, rather than simply enjoying the Korean-language province of the Web, which is now dominated by Naver.  South Korea has embraced the notion that English fluency is one key to its future role in the global information society.  The nation might do well to also monitor use of Google as an important index of globalization here.

Korean Search Engines to Separate Advertising, Legitimate Results

On Thursday of last week, the Korean Communications Commission announced that internet portal sites will be required to identify advertising links separately from information links on search engine results pages to avoid confusing consumers.  I found this most interesting since it added support to arguments I made in two earlier posts (read the first here , read the second here ) explaining why Google must succeed here in Korea.  I also wrote a letter to the editor of Joongang Ilbo on this topic.

Korean Internet Companies Opening Networks?

Yesterday's article in the Korea Times certainly caught my eye. Daum ( ), the country's second most popular portal site, and Paran ( ) have announced this month that they are supporting Google's ``Open Social'' initiative. Open Social is a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) developed by Google and other Internet companies like MySpace that aim to create a unified system of tools at different social networking sites and allow interoperability of applications. Industry watchers believe that Daum's commitment in Open Social could start discussions over the development of an open platform and common service standards for Korean social networking sites.
Although Daum has announced support for the Open Social initiative, it is significant that Naver and Cyworld have not, at least not yet.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Media Preferences of South Korea's Teenagers

The Korea Times today reports on a survey of middle and high school students by the Korea Press Foundation in September.  The survey showed that Korean teenagers prefer internet portal sites to newspapers for getting news, and trust them more than conventional print media.
When asked which media they are likely to use the most when they become adults, 46 percent selected Internet portals, while 25 percent picked terrestrial television, 12 percent internet news, 7 percent free newspapers distributed at subway stations, and only 5 percent newspapers. When asked to rate the credibility of 30 private and public media organizations, MBC, KBS, Portal Sites and Hangyoreh daily ranked first, second, fourth and fifth respectively.  Netizens ranked third on the measure of reliability, while the Joongang, Chosun and Donga Ilbo newspapers ranked 22nd, 24th and 25th.
Internet portals, online communities, and friends or family dominated the teenagers reported sources of information about this year's candlelight vigils.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Samsung Enters U.S. Notebook Market

Having personally used Samsung notebooks for many years now, I welcomed the news that this company is going to enter the U.S. notebook computer market.  It can only help competitiveness in the market and make available some high quality products to American consumers.  A little over a year ago I gave my Samsung X-10, a multimedia notebook with which I was very happy, to my wife.  For my own use, I purchased a Samsung Sens Q35, a bit more compact, but powerful notebook that is handy for weekend and occasional overseas traveling.  While in my office during the week, I plug into a larger monitor and regular keyboard.
One could almost say this Samsung move was inevitable, given that it manufactures most of the key components that go into a notebook computer these days --display, hard drive, and memory chips, to name the main ones.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Apple's iPhone Unlikely to Appear in Korea Soon

A report in today's Korea times suggests that Korean gadget lovers wanting an iPhone for Christmas had better forget it. The planet's most sought-after handset of the moment won't be making it to the world's mobile-phone capital by the end of the year.  This situation exists despite the interest of many consumers here in trying out the i-Phone.
There are basically two reasons for this situation.
  • One is the turmoil at KTF, whose former chief executive, Cho Young-ju, a big supporter of an iPhone release in Korea, is in jail for taking bribes from equipment makers.
  • And the Korea Communications Commission (KCC), the country's broadcasting and telecommunications regulator, still can't decide on whether to lift the software requirements (WIPI) that had prevented foreign handset makers from releasing their high-end products here.
Since 2005, the government has mandated ``WIPI,'' or ``wireless Internet platform for interoperability,'' for all handsets supporting mobile data services. Foreign makers have been reluctant to produce WIPI handsets only for the Korean market, which numbers about 20 million sets per year.
Samsung, LG Telecom and SK Telecom may all be content to see the Apple iPhone excluded from South Korea's market.  However, in the larger picture, this can be viewed as potentially damaging South Korea's market share in global mobile device exports.  As with Google's Android phone, the Apple iPhone is a cutting edge product.  If Korea would freely allow such products to compete fully in the local market, it would provide long term benefits in strengthening the capacity of its leading companies to compete globally.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Future of Mobile Technology

The following discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos makes for interesting viewing.  I recommend it to readers of this blog.