Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Long-term Media Trends--Evidence from Google's Ngram Viewer

I couldn't resist playing with Google's new Ngram Viewer, a program that an article in the The New York Times described as "Google's 500 Billion Word Haystack."  Plug in some of the major communication media of the twentieth century and the Ngram Viewer returns the accompanying line graph (click on the graphic to see a full size version).  The telephone and newspapers received considerable mention in English language books throughout the century, with a bit more attention around 1940 than at any other time.  Mentions of radio soared during the World War II era.  Mentions of television began to increase around 1950 and continued to do so until the year 2000.   It comes as no surprise that mentions of the internet begin in the 1990s, a pointed reminder of how recent a phenomenon this everyday communication tool is.  Although we may use the internet daily, we still use it for listening to the radio, watching television or reading newspapers, among other things.

Court Declares Telecom Law Unconstitutional

As reported in the Joongang Daily and widely in the local and international press, Korea's Constitutional Court yesterday ruled as unconstitutional a telecommunications law that had been used to punish the famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) blogger Minerva.  Minerva's case had been widely publicized in Korea and was the subject of an earlier post in this blog.   It was viewed as an important case for freedom of expression and certainly highlighted the complex issues that Korea is facing in this area.
The Constitutional Court struck down the clause in the telecommunications law that had imposed a prison term of up to five years and a 50 million won fine ($43,500) for those who were deemed to spread false information on the Internet and mobile phones that would harm the public interest.In the 7-2 decision, the court said the clause was unconstitutional because it lacked a clear definition of “false” and “public interest” and imposed an excessively harsh punishment on violators.“The electronic communications law is unclear in meaning,” the court said in the ruling.
Civil liberties advocates said the ruling could be a significant milestone in preserving the right to freedom of expression.  However, as noted in The Financial Times, some conservative civic groups worried aloud that it might contribute to chaos in cyberspace by tolerating online invective and hate mail against public figures.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

English-Teaching Robots Arrive in Korea

English teaching robots have arrived in South Korea!  As reported in the Joongang Daily, the Daegu Office of Education introduced 29 robot teachers in 21 elementary schools.  The 1-meter (3.28 feet) egg-shaped robot, named “Engkey” (an abbreviation of English key), spoke, asked questions and conversed in English with students, and even entertained the crowd by dancing to music.  (Click on the accompanying graphic to see a full size version.)
From my point of view, one of the most interesting aspects of this experiment is that these robots are linked to real live teachers. These teachers control the machines by remote from the Philippines. They have cameras to record their faces - which show up on a flat panel screen that forms the robo-teacher’s face - and they can also see the Korean students through a camera installed in the robot. Basically, the robot is a rolling Internet link between students and teacher, although the human teacher can also command the robot to make human gestures with its arms and wheels.
No doubt this news is going to strike a chord with many of the expatriate English teachers now living and working in South Korea.   It is also an interesting bit of evidence to support Korea's ambitious goals for the future of its robotics industry!  Comments welcome!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Gifts and the Future of Books

It is Christmas Day, 2010, and all around the world people are unwrapping their Christmas gifts.  A very considerable number of these gifts will be e-readers or tablet computers.   The recipients of these gifts will, in turn, download a large number of e-books, magazines, newspapers and other products being offered for these new devices.  The New York Times took note of this phenomenon in an article titled "Christmas Gifts May Help E-books Take Root."
There seems to be little question that the growing availability of tablet and e-reader devices, coupled with the increased availability of books in electronic format on the internet, will drive a major shift in reading habits all over the world.  The local press here in Korea has taken note, as in the Chosun Ilbo article entitled "Print Publishers Find New Life Through Tablet PCs."  The embedded illustration accompanied that article (click to see a larger version).
So far, I've held off on purchasing a tablet-sized device.  Although the form factor of the iPad is appealing, I still consider it too heavy as a reader.   However, I'm sure that as costs continue to come down and these devices become lighter in weight and with more features, I'll become a user.  The question of whether I will use such a device to read books has already been answered.  In fact, the majority of books I've read in recent years, along with magazines, newspapers and academic journals, have appeared on my computer screen.   I'm sure this is true for most of you who read this blog.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Seoul's Subways and Smartphones

The Chosun Ilbo reports that Seoul's Subway Line Number 2 has become one of the city's major WiFi hotspots.  The reason?  It passes by major universities including Ewha Womans, Hongik, Seoul National and Yonsei Universities and is now notable for passengers' lively use of smartphones.  According to statistics released by KT,  Line 2 recorded 2.56 times more WiFi data consumption than the average of 14 subway lines running through Seoul and adjacent areas.  KT also noted that 94 percent of WiFi data usage was accounted for by smart phones.
"The soaring WiFi traffic on the Line No. 2 stations including Dongdaemun, Gangnam, Hongik University and Samseong shows that most smartphone users are young people in their 20s or 30s," KT said.  Click on the accompanying graphic to see a full-size version.

More on the Skype Outage and its Implications

Like millions of others around the world, I experienced the disappearance (see the previous post) of my normally dependable Skype service.  It was out of order all day yesterday (December 23), but by this morning I was able to log on normally.
The media are full of stories about the Skype outage.  As The New York Times "Bits" column noted, Skype will struggle to restore not only its service, but its reputation.  Skype has announced that its problem was with "supernodes," computers among its network of 124 million users that serve as phone directories and help connect calls.  For unknown reasons, they were taken off line.  Although unknown, Skype did know and announce, according to the BBC, that the fault had been caused by a "software issue" on critical parts of its network.
Skype has announced plans to compensate users for the outage, but the long term impact of this event will be on the dependability of Skype service, especially for business users.  I'd be interested in comments from other Skype users here in Korea about how this event affected them.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Skype Issues and the Future of the Internet

This morning at 7:00 A.M. Korea time I was ready to have a pre-scheduled Skype video conference with a colleague in the United States.  The first time I dialed and failed to connect to Skype, I thought it might have been a problem with my notebook computer or with the local area network or router in my house.  After re-booting several times, I could still not connect to Skype, so I placed the call via my mobile phone to my colleague's mobile number and we had our conversation, without Skype and without video.
This all reminded me of Jonathan Zittrain's book, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It.  I found that this book has been published on the web, with an associated site and blog.   Very interesting, and in light of my experience today, worth thinking about.  Some of you may find this site useful.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Enjoying IPTV in Rural Gangwon Province!

I did a post earlier on the arrival of fiber to the home (FTTH) service at our place out in Gangwon Province.  Yesterday, we took advantage of the fiber connection, by subscribing to IPTV.  This involved cancellation of our existing Skylife television service, and a short visit from a KT technician, who ran cable from the Qook modem to the set top box above our main television.
The IPTV service, for whatever reason, seems to provide better picture quality than our Skylife service did, and it has a host of new features, including the ability to search through and view old television programs broadcast after 2007.  Some of its features provide realistic glimpses of the future "smart TV," and they are all very easy to use.
According to the Joongang Daily, Korea is now the fourth largest IPTV using country in the world, after France, the U.S. and China.  As Korean consumers get used to the various features and applications that come with Google and other so-called "smart television," I expect it will rather quickly become a mainstream medium here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Google TV's Prospects in Korea

The New York Times is reporting that, despite setbacks, Sony is "optimistic about Google TV."  It could well be that Korea, with its world-leading digital networks and encouraging uptake of IPTV, as mentioned in my prior post, might be a market in which Google TV does very well.
Sony acknowledges that reviews of its internet-enabled Google TV have been mixed and Google itself has asked other television makers to delay new models until the software could be refined.  The Google TVs, which run on Intel’s Atom chips, are close to full-fledged computers. They let users search for keywords to find shows and see when and where it is being broadcast, as well as viewing links to Web sites about the show.
It appears that Toshiba, LG Electronics and Sharp have put off plans to demonstrate Google TVs at the consumer electronics show next month in Las Vegas.   However, Samsung still plans to show off a forthcoming Google TV model.  And why not?  Although the new, interactive, video-on demand and other services may take some getting used to, they undoubtedly represent a big part of the future market, especially with the digital network infrastructure available here on the southern half of the Korean peninsula!

IPTV Subscribers in Korea Top 3 Million

Internet protocol television (IPTV) has attracted more than three million subscribers within its first two years of operation, according to industry reports.  That figure represents 6 percent of the nearly 50 million subscribers in the local television market.   A KT official commented that "The number of available channels on Qook TV lags behind other cable TV services, but...we reached 3 million subscribers thanks to two-way services, such as video-on demand, and other features."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Digital Divide Concept as Applied to Korea

These days I've been looking more closely at the origins and different uses of the concept of digital divide.    As readers of this blog will know from prior posts, I believe the concept has particular relevance to present circumstances on the Korean peninsula and to prospective unification of the country.
Popular and scholarly use of the term "digital divide" roughly coincided with the large-scale adoption of the internet in the 1990s.  It is a multidimensional concept that has been used to refer to almost any aspect of access to and use of information using the internet and digital information processing devices.  The concept has been used to describe divergence in digital development between and among nations, differential access to information within nations, and also differences in how well different groups of people use information to participate in public affairs (the so-called democratic divide).  Those three approaches were outlined by Pippa Norris of Harvard in her 2001 book.
The digital divide has also been conceptualized in relation to the classic S-curve in the diffusion of innovations.  The accompanying graphic (click to see full size version), used in an ITU presentation by Choi and Lee,  illustrates the framework suggested by Molnar.
Korea's national division and its demilitarized zone originally took the form of an armistice that ended hostilities in the Korean War.  Both occurred decades before the digital revolution and arrival of the internet.  However, as I have argued on occasion, the latter developments have increased the significance of the DMZ as a digital divide, while decreasing its importance as a purely military demarcation line.
While searching for scholarly material on the digital divide, I ran across a fascinating book entitled Bytes and Bullets:  Information Technology Revolution on the Korean Peninsula.  It was published in 2005 based on an earlier conference hosted by the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, a U.S. Department of Defense Center in Honolulu.  The good news is that all nineteen chapters of the book are available in PDF format on the internet at this link.   Although much of the book deals with the digitization of defense in South Korea and some "guesses" about the role of IT in North Korea's defense modernization and in its economic development generally, the book and the conference represent the single most thorough treatment of this topic that I've yet located.   The introductory chapter, by Alexander Mansourov, outlines the scope of concerns treated in the book, and Chapter 18 by Scott Snyder, offers some interesting speculation on the digital divide on the Korean peninsula and the possible role of the IT sector in North-South reconciliation.
Comments are welcome, especially if you're aware of any more recent studies dealing with this topic.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Notes on some modifications to this Blog

I just reviewed my list of "Useful Websites in the right hand navigation bar of this blog.   Not surprisingly, I discovered that a number of the links were out of date.   I eliminated those and updated links to several Korean government web sites.

I also added sharing links at the end of each post to facilitate things for those of you using social networking sites.  

Finally and perhaps more importantly, I activated the mobile blog feature that Blogger now incorporates.   It looks a lot better on my iPhone and this should make things easier for all smartphone users who may occasionally read the blog!   Hopefully these changes are helpful.   Let me know if they are not!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Korea Ranks Number One in Fourth Annual "Speed Matters" Survey

The Communications Workers of America has released its fourth annual "Speed Matters" survey of broadband internet speed in the United States.  As shown in the accompanying graphic (click to see a full size version) their report benchmarks several other countries around the world, including South Korea.  The new report argues that speed matters because 1) speed makes the promise of the internet a reality, 2) U.S. economic growth depends on high speed internet, 3) millions of Americans don't have high speed internet, and 4) the U.S. trails far behind other countries.  According to this latest report, the United States ranks fifteenth among the countries of the world in average broadband internet speed.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why a Book on Digital Development in Korea: Reason 5, the Review Process

I've just finished reading the first page proofs of my forthcoming book with Dr. Oh, Myung entitled Digital Development in Korea:  Building an Information Society.  Doing so couldn't help but remind me of a fifth reason for writing the book:  the review process.  Writing a book like this starts with a proposal to the publisher.   That proposal undergoes review by acquisitions editors and sometimes series editors.  In the case of academic books like ours, the publisher sends out the proposal, including a number of chapter drafts, for a confidential peer review by other scholars in the field.  Then, assuming the book is accepted, the manuscript goes through one or two more reviews before and after the typesetting stage of production.
Yes, these multiple reviews may at times become tedious from the author's standpoint, but there can be little doubt that they contribute immensely to the quality of the final product.  I was reminded of this while responding to specific questions raised by the copy editor who read the page proofs before they were sent to us for review.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Another Chapter in Korea's Relationship with Qualcomm

Way back in 1993 the Korean government made a difficulty and bold decision to adopt CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology as its mobile communications standard.  Although holding much promise for the future, at that time it was an untested technology to which a small U.S. company, Qualcomm, held most of the patents.  The Korean government decision made it the first nation in the world to commercialize CDMA.
For many years, Korean companies paid handsome royalties to Qualcomm as they manufactured CDMA devices not only for the Korean market, but for export to the U.S. and other countries.   Last year, the Korea Fair Trade Commission fined Qualcomm a record $236 million for discriminatory acts that included charging higher royalties to some customers.  Now Qualcomm, as part of the agreement that followed that fine, will start disclosing information that will allow South Korean companies to develop software for its chips.  As reported in the Joongang Ilbo,  Qualcomm intends to open an application digital signal processor (ADSP) interface so that third parties can develop mobile multimedia software that can be used on its modem chip, for which it has exclusive rights. The interface helps to compress and convert computer files into moving images, making it possible to receive video and other types of content on a cell phone.
This is an interesting development that may give a boost to Korea's efforts to move from its manufacturing emphasis into software and services.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

President Lee: South Korean Reunification Drawing Near

President Lee Myung Bak, on a tour of Southeast Asian nations, has stated that although "North Korea now remains one of the most belligerent nations in the World... it is a fact that the two Koreas will have to coexist peacefully and in the end realize reunification."  As reported by the Washington Post, and widely in the international press, Lee made the comments on two different occasions.   In a speech on Thursday night, Lee said that North Koreans have become increasingly aware that the South is better off. He did not elaborate on how their knowledge had expanded, but he said it was "an important change that no one can stop."
Although President Lee did not elaborate on how and why North Korean's knowledge of the South is increasing, readers of this blog will know from earlier posts that the information revolution and the availability of ever-smaller and more powerful digital devices (cameras, DVD players, smart phones.....) is at the heart of the matter.
In August, President Lee said South Korea should prepare for reunification by studying the possibility of adopting a reunification tax aimed at raising money for the costs of integration. Lee proposed a three-stage reunification process in which the two Koreas would first form a "peace community" involving denuclearization of the peninsula, then an "economic community" for cross-border economic integration, and eventually a "community of the Korean nation" with no institutional barriers between them.  In a recent interview, the President noted that "ultimately, the foundation for reunification will be laid when North Korea becomes economically independent."

Facebook versus The Korea Communications Commission

The Korea Communications Commission (KCC) is in the news again, throughout the tech blogs and even in the mainstream press around the globe.  The KCC, formed in 2008 by the incoming Lee Myung Bak administration, is South Korea's top communications policy and regulatory agency.  This time it is in the news for issuing what The Register called a "stern warning" to Facebook about its privacy policies.
As reported by IDG, the KCC sent a letter to Facebook indicating that it is in breach of South Korean data privacy laws and needs to do a better job of getting consent from users when getting their personal information.  The KCC said the U.S.-based company has 30 days to respond to the complaint, so this may be a developing story.
Much of the blog and mainstream press coverage of this development, while interesting, fails to convey adequately the following obvious points.

  • Traditional conceptions of privacy in Korea, and in Korean language web content and services, are not at all the same as ideas about privacy in the West and other parts of the world.
  • Social networking in Korea, epitomized by Cyworld, and social networking in the U.S., led by Facebook, have significant differences.  As noted in earlier posts, even though Cyworld swept through the Korean internet experience almost half a decade before Facebook appeared, it cannot simply be treated as the Korean equivalent of Facebook (as noted in earlier posts on social networking.)
  • Notably, Facebook did not have much of a presence at all in Korea until the arrival of Apple's iPhone about one year ago.
  • Finally, it seems to me that the KCC complaint to Facebook represents another excellent illustration of the global scope of the internet.  While the activities of Facebook impinge upon Korean society and Korea's laws, the question of what impact the KCC complaint will ultimately have on Facebook's behavior is an interesting one.   Some months earlier, when the Korean government sought to regulate how users could log  in to Google's Korean Youtube site, that company reacted by closing the site.  Subsequently Korean users of Youtube flocked to sites hosted in other countries to make use of the service.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Dilemma for Korea's Online Game Industry

The Korea Times earlier this week carried an excellent article describing the dilemma posed by its online game industry. The nation's policymakers recently decided to limit the amount of time that Korean youngsters can spend playing their favorite online games. The new online gaming curbs prevent gamers under the age of 16 from playing between midnight and 6 a.m. to combat addiction.   The age and the time period were the result of a compromise between the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, which had advocated imposing the limits on gamers age 14 and under, and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which had proposed restrictions for all gamers under the age of 19.  Eventually, the Blue House had to step in to referee the conflict between the ministries.
The dilemma is clear.  Stronger restrictions on online games also restricts the growth of the industry, while a lax approach which encourages industry growth may contribute to more internet addiction.  The dilemma is being exacerbated by the mobile broadband revolution.  The country’s existing rules require all game content to be screened by government reviewers before reaching customers, and critics have been questioning whether such rules are relevant in an era when more games are played online than through CDs or game cartridges. Apple and Google have been forced to prevent its Korean customers from accessing the game categories on their content platform, as Korean censorship officials have no prayer of reviewing and approving the flood of games released by Apple’s massive network of developers every day. This has also prevented Korean games developers from marketing their products to local customers. As noted by an official of one local gaming firm, "The Internet has no boundaries, and the new regulations have no grasp of the reality. Young users can easily log-in to a foreign online game service after we stop providing them after midnight."

Korea's Ambitious Goals for the Robotics Industry

As reported in The Korea Times, the Knowledge Economy Ministry has announced that it will channel $26.3 million next year alone in an effort to become one of the three world powers in the robot industry by 2018.  This has been one of the government's goals for several years now, as noted in earlier posts.
Korea is seeking to capitalize on the global transition from a focus on mass production models to service robots.  Presently, Korea's global market share is about ten percent.  It seeks to double that figure by 2018.  That means that Asia’s fourth-largest economy is looking to earn as much as $20 billion a year in 2018 as the world market is expected to grow to $100 billion by then from today’s $10 billion.
The article notes that growth of the robotics industry is expected to positively effect related businesses such as motors, sensors, actuators, displays and chips.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Korea's Booming IT Exports

As noted by a report in the Joongang Daily, Korea's IT exports continue to flourish, led by semiconductors, flat screens and smart phones.  As shown in the accompanying graphic (click to see a full-size version) November marked the sixth consecutive month that IT exports exceeded $13 billion.   The information presented in this article, based on reports from the Knowledge Economy Ministry, make it clear that the worldwide boom in smartphones and other mobile devices is perhaps the major factor behind the export growth.  After all, as discussed in earlier posts here, many of the key components in Apple's iPhone and iPad are manufactured in Korea.  So, in addition to the export of Korean smart phones per se, we must consider how many of the semiconductors and screens manufactured here are sold in order to provide hardware for the transition to mobile broadband around the globe.
It is equally apparent that the new finger-slim LED television sets are selling well around the world.  In addition to the export categories already mentioned, television components was among Korea's top ten exports in November.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fiber to the Home in the Mountains of Gangwon Province

Since 2004 my wife and I have enjoyed dependable DSL service, courtesy of Korea Telecom, at our small house in the mountains of Gangwon Province.  It was initially installed during a Winter snowstorm by a young KT technician (see my earlier post and photograph as proof).
After years of dependable DSL service, the modem provided by KT suddenly went dead two weekends ago.  We made an appointment for another technician to come out yesterday and I thought he would simply replace the DSL modem.  Instead, he climbed up to a box on a nearby telephone pole, strung fiber optic cable from it to our house, and connected KT's Fiber to The Home (FTTH) modem.  All of this took approximately an hour.   No charge for the service and no change to our current service, except that we're getting faster speeds on the fiber!
For the record, this is our most recent experience of customer service from one of Korea's major service providers.

Korea's DMZ as a Digital Divide: Examining the Implications

In one of the earliest posts on this blog, back in late 2007, I noted the significance of Korea's DMZ as a digital divide.  Although much of the news about Korea these days is about the recent North Korean shelling of Yongpyeong Island or its nuclear program, there are some valuable bits of news here and there about the digital divide between the two Koreas, which deserves much more attention.
Stuart Fox has an interesting article about "The Technological Hassles of a Potential Korean Reunification," which draws heavily on interviews with faculty from Syracuse University, which continues an ongoing IT-related exchange program with Kimchaek University in Pyongyang.  The article contains some informed speculation on what might happen when the world's most digitally networked nation, South Korea, moves toward unification with one of the least digitally networked countries in the world, North Korea.    I would add that the implications of the current, growing ICT infrastructure disparity between North and South Korea is a topic that deserves not only more attention in the news, but also more serious and in-depth research.  For example, there is speculation in the article that unification might enable North Korea to leapfrog by quickly building new mobile networks.  To what extent is this really the case?  What of the need for terrestrial fiber optic networks that have taken South Korea decades to build?  An argument might be made that such a decades-long investment in fiber infrastructure will be necessary for full parity in communications infrastructure and for true and complete unification.
I also ran across the North Korea Tech blog, which contains regular posts on the development of the ICT sector in North Korea.  It is authored by Martyn Williams, Tokyo Bureau Chief for IDG News Service.
Back in the early 1990s when I was researching and writing The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea, it was already apparent that there were two broad aspects to Korean national division, from a communication perspective.  The first of these was the growing infrastructure disparity between North and South.   The second was that of the political implications of free flow of information in and out of North Korea.  Both are important, but these days the second area is getting more attention as cameras, phones and other electronic devices are becoming smaller, more mobile and more powerful, just as the internet and cloud computing become the norm for many.  In the current era it is literally impossible for any country to completely control the flow of information to and from its citizens.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

More on Social Networking Trends in Korea

The Joongang Daily has an interesting article today dealing with the problems of security on social networking sites in Korea.  It quotes a Facebook representative in Korea as saying that Koreans have a relatively low awareness of social network security.   I would suggest that this is part of the broader cultural differences in thinking about and using social networking sites, as discussed in earlier posts.   Cyworld is dramatically different from Facebook with the latter being introduced over four years later in the U.S.
According to eMarketer, 61.4 percent of Internet users worldwide have an SNS account, up from 51.4 percent in 2009 and 45.1 percent in 2008. And it turns out that people spend more time on social media Web sites than they do e-mailing or Web surfing. Those surveyed spent 4.6 hours a week on SNS sites, compared to 4.4 hours for e-mail.    Here in Korea, according to the Korea Communications Commission, 65.7 percent of the population uses SNS sites.
The article notes that the very concept of social networking is about sharing personal information.  However, there are limits, as most people would not want credit card or certain employment-related information publicized over the internet.   In Korea, as shown by the accompanying graphic, Cyworld is still the most popular "social networking" web site (click on graphic to see a larger version).
Online attacks have been a common occurrence in Korea, with the most famous being “dog poop girl.” In 2005, a photo of a girl who left the subway train without picking up her dog’s waste was spread on the Internet. Korean netizens revealed her identity as well as her school, and she ended up dropping out in disgrace.
Although the graphic in this post shows the current dominance of Cyworld, it should be noted that Facebook and Twitter are experiencing much more rapid growth with the booming growth of mobile broadband and smartphones.  This all amounts to many future challenges for Korean consumers, the government and the legal system here as South Korea adjusts to the realities and the security risks of social networking.