Monday, November 29, 2010

Why a Book on Digital Development in Korea: Reason 4, the Book Format

Within a week or so my co-author and I should receive the first page proofs from Routledge of our forthcoming book, Digital Development in Korea: Building an Information Society. Routledge has published preliminary information about the book on its web site here.   This post is another in my series of thoughts about why I would want to co-author a book on this topic.  Why write a book, especially one that is subjected to a long process of blind (anonymous) peer review, and then takes 6-8 months to produce and print?
A fourth reason is simply that the book format is proving remarkably resilient in the face of digital convergence and the information revolution generally.  Google has its book project.  The Kindle and its competitors are all "e-book" readers.  In the midst of all the current changes, the concept of the book (versus the magazine article, newspaper article, blog post or many other shorter formats) holds a certain attraction for both readers and potential authors.   Despite the rapid growth of the internet and various digital information sources that it interlinks, many doctoral students around the world still strive to publish their doctoral dissertations as a book!
Whether in e-format, hardback or paperback, there is something about the book that appeals to human readers around the globe.  I recall once, during a conversation with my co-author when I mentioned publishing it in e-book format, he smiled and said something to the effect that "but you still need to print a book!"
Having said all this, it would seem that the delivery format for books is shifting toward electronic readers and digital distribution via the internet.   However, the length and basic chapter structure of a book are likely to stay with us for some time to come.
You're invited to contest or add to my Reason #4.   More reasons to come in future posts.  

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

IT in Education: New System Targets Student Cheaters

A new system for admissions to foreign language and international high schools was adopted by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in January of this year.  It placed greater emphasis on essays and teacher recommendations versus test scores and language certificates.  This change in emphasis highlighted another threat, that of cheating on essays by hiring a ghostwriter from a private institute.
Consequently, the Ministry has now announced the introduction of a new system that targets student cheaters. If an essay has more than five consecutive words that are the same as on any other essays, the system will automatically highlight the common words so that examiners can judge whether a student cheated, according to the ministry. The system will indicate the name of the writer and what percentage two essays may have in common.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Korea's North-South Digital Divide: Cracks in an Orwellian Paradise

The overarching political problem in Korea today, the continuing tragedy of national division, also makes the digital divide between North and South the largest such divide existing in any country or bordering countries in the world.  I've been interested in national division as a digital divide for a long time, at least since my 1995 book, The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea was published, and have posted on it in this blog.
There are at least two major aspects to the North-South digital divide in Korea.  The first is the growing disparity in digital communications infrastructure between the two countries.  The growing infrastructure disparity has many implications, including important ones for the cost of unification.  The second aspect of the digital divide on the Korean peninsula is the vast political or democratic divide that has developed.
Andrei Lankov, an astute observer of North Korean affairs, devotes an article in The Korea Times  to an exploration of how the government in North Korea has attempted to insulate its population from outside information.  He tells an interesting part of the tragic story, and it is worth reading.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

More on Microsoft Monoculture and the Mobile Revolution in Korea

An article in The Korea Times yesterday highlights an important aspect of the mobile broadband revolution occurring in South Korea, namely the problems caused by the so-called "Microsoft Monoculture" that has grown up here.  Readers of this blog will know from earlier posts that I've been an observer of the heavy reliance on Microsoft and its implications for Korea.
The article notes the great popularity of both the Apple iPad, running on the Apple OS, and the new Samsung Galaxy Tab, which runs on the Android operating system.   Unfortunately, despite all of their other attractive features, the fact that these devices do not work with the older Microsoft software that has been adopted for online banking and many e-government services in Korea somewhat limits their utility.   The article correctly notes how the nearly exclusive adoption of Microsoft's Active X and public key certificates is at the heart of this problem.   Ironically, Micorosft itself has been moving away from Active X for a long time now due to security problems.   Another factor diminishing the appeal of the iPad is that it will not display many "Flash-happy" Korean websites.
The article might have gone on to note that the mobile broadband revolution involves not only Korea, but is global in scope.  Most likely, the introduction of the iPad and the Galaxy Tab signal an increasingly urgent need for South Korea to jettison its reliance on Microsoft and move more aggressively into the mobile and ubiquitous network environment of the future!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Social Networking and Korean Social Networking: The Rise of Twitter and Facebook

In retrospect it is clear that "social networking" via the internet arrived in Korea, in the form of Cyworld, almost half a decade before Facebook appeared in the United States.  However, as pointed out in an excellent  article in The Korea Times, Cyworld's "mini homepages" were tailored for users seeking to maintain a closed and controlled network of immediate friends.   I assume part of Cyworld's great appeal here in Korea is that it naturally extended the Korean penchant to form close networks among classmates,  family or friends from the same hometown or business.
It is most interesting that Facebook and Twitter, along with Google to some extent, only began to seriously penetrate South Korea's market with the arrival of Apple's iPhone about a year ago.  According to local market research, the number of visitors to Facebook and Twitter reached 7.38 million and 8.65 million respectively, during the month of September.  This represented a 650 percent year-on-year increase for Facebook and a 580 percent jump for Twitter.  Cyworld saw its visitors drop nearly 12 percent over the same period.
In response to these developments, local services such as Cyworld and Naver are introducing their own alternatives.  In the case of Cyworld, one such service is C-Log, a Facebook resembling service.  Time will tell about the success of these services, but as prior posts on this blog have argued, (for example here, here, or here.  Better yet, search this blog for "language") language and culture are extremely important factors in shaping Korea's information society and this reality is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Emerging Growth Patterns in the Global "Smartphone" Market

The Independent recently carried two articles that are of interest to those following the global growth of the smartphone market, which is more aptly thought of as the worldwide transition to mobile broadband.  The first of these reports on data from a recent Gartner study showing that Google's Android system surged past Apple's iPhone and Canada's Blackberry in the third quarter of this year to become the second biggest smartphone platform, after Nokia's Symbian.  Based on third quarter sales, Nokia held a 36.6 percent market share, compared with 25.5 percent for Android, 16.7 percent for Apple and 14.8 percent for Blackberry.   Among other trends, smartphone sales grew 96 percent in the third quarter and accounted for 19.3 percent of overall mobile phone sales.  Nokia continued to be the leading handset manufacturer in the world, followed by Samsung and LG.  Samsung, according to Gartner, was the top Android seller in the third quarter, with sales of 6.6 million Android phones.
The second article of interest appeared last month, and relates to an earlier post on this blog.  It deals with the interesting relationship between Apple and Samsung as competitors yet partners in the global roll out of mobile broadband via smartphones.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

LG and Samsung Struggle to Crack Smartphone Market

An IHT special report published in The New York Times yesterday was headlined "Korean Giants Struggle to Crack Smartphone Market."  It caught my eye and I read it with some expectation, but it was disappointing.  It failed, as many reports in the mainstream press do, to get to the heart of the reasons why Korea suffered the "iPhone shock" or "smartphone shock" beginning about a year ago.  As readers of this blog will know, I've been caught up with attempting to explain this phenomenon for a long time.  See this post, or another here, or simply search this blog for "smartphone shock" or "iPhone."
The story of why Korea's leading consumer electronics companies are struggling with the rapidly expanding smartphone market is more complex than the IHT special report makes it seem, and it involves the following elements.

  • Weakness in software and content versus hardware exports.  Smartphones themselves (the hardware) are not the key element in this wave that is sweeping the globe.  Rather it is the "apps" and the software ecosystem that count.   Not surprisingly, Google and Apple are major players.
  • Language -- As I've noted in earlier posts, Korea's heavy reliance on Naver for internet search casts into stark relief the importance of language and culture in any given market.  See my posts on Naver versus Google here or here  or do a search of this blog on the topic.
  • Non-tariff barriers -- The WIPI software platform adopted in Korea, while it may have originally had good intentions, eventually became a barrier to entry of the Blackberry or iPhone into South Korea's market.  I've done a number of earlier posts on this topic including this one.
  • Worry about loss of Voice Revenue--Korean telecoms executives, along with some of their European counterparts, feared a massive loss of mobile voice telephony revenues if they were to allow the iPhone and other smartphones into South Korea's market.  In fact, these fears were well grounded as Korean youth had flocked to buy Apple's iPod touch, on which many of them installed the free, Skype VOIP service.
The above are just a few of the points I wish that the IHT article, published in the New York Times, would have expanded upon.

Growth of Mobile Phone Service in North Korea

According to a report in Business Week, mobile phone subscriptions in North Korea have surged by 400 percent over the twelve month period ending in September of 2010, reaching a total of 301,199 subscribers.  Of course, this increase is due in part to the low level of subscribers a year earlier (reportedly just slightly over 69,000 as of September 2009).  Cairo-based Orascom Telecom said its advanced 3G telephone service network now covered 75 percent of the population.  It reaches a total of 12 main cities, 42 small cities, and 22 highways and railways.  Orascom plans to extend coverage to over 90 percent of the population by year's end.
Analysts had predicted that mobile service would be limited to North Korea's political elite and the capital city of Pyongyang.  However, Orascom reported a steady increase in voice and SMS usage over the past three quarters.  The company has 26 direct and indirect sales outlets in eight North Korean cities.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Why a Book on Digital Development in Korea: Reason 3--Language

A third reason I can think of for co-authoring a book on Digital Development in Korea is language.  By that I mean to emphasize several points.  First, while there has been a great deal written about these developments in Korean media and scholarly journals, there is a lack of such information in English.  Second, my own ability to read, write and speak Korean has improved to a point where it motivated me toward a better effort to understand the 한국의정보사회.  There is little doubt in my mind that the language barrier alone explains in part the relative lack of international scholarly attention to Korea's remarkable developments.  Third, as our forthcoming book will explain, language is a key factor in explaining the distinctive pattern of South Korea's digital development. The popularity of Naver versus Google, for example.   And, of course, language and culture are ever so closely intertwined.  

Friday, November 5, 2010

Samsung's Galaxy Tab versus Apple's iPad

Ever since Steve Jobs recent public comments about the optimal size and other characteristics of tablet computing devices, I've been thinking occasionally about this matter.  One of the reasons I have not jumped to purchase an Apple iPad is its thickness and weight.  It is just a bit to heavy in your hands to be comfortable for reading e-books, magazines, and newspapers.  Heavier, that is, than a paper newspaper or a paperback book.
The Chosun Ilbo today covered the introduction of Samsung's Galaxy Tab, the 7" tablet that Steve Jobs critized.  While it is definitely lighter in weight, its problem is that the screen size doesn't permit a natural reading of books, newspapers or magazine articles.  The Chosun Ilbo's article does note one point that I strongly agree with.  Consumers will be the ultimate judge.  In my opinion, neither Apple nor Samsung are quite there yet, in terms of the form factor for  tablet-size computers or reading devices.   I see these emerging as lightweight and very much the size of the old print media.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why a Book on Digital Development in Korea: Reason 2--History

A second major reason for co-authoring my forthcoming book with Dr. OH, Myung (Digital Development in Korea:  Building an Information Society) was the need for historical perspective on Korea's accomplishments.  This is the second post in my informal series on the reasons for the book.
If you're like me, you've read many industry or press reports that make it sound as though the information revolution occurred just within the past few months or perhaps years.  For example, many published reports about Korea's broadband infrastructure access and use begin the story in the mid-1990s or later.
The developments during South Korea's so-called "1980s telecommunications revolution" need to be included in the story to comprehend today's evolving information society here.   As of 1980, the nation suffered from a massive backlog in telephone service, its basic telephone network had only a few imported digital switches, and efforts to enter the semiconductor industry could be described as somewhat hit-and-miss.  The development of Korea's networks and its electronics sector during the 1980s was truly revolutionary.  It also laid the foundation and set precedents for developments in the 1990s and beyond, illustrating what economists refer to as the "on the shoulders of giants" characteristic of information.  That is, information is both an input and and output of its own production process.  As explained by Yochai Benkler in The Wealth of Networks, in order to write today's academic or news article, I need access to yesterday's articles and reports.  So it is with building advanced digital networks.  Also, the technology is continually changing, so that a long-term project to build a certain network over fifteen years might be shorted to ten years owing to technological change.