Thursday, May 31, 2012

Links, language and culture: thoughts on the future of global television news

Readers of this blog will know of my interest in the role of language and culture in shaping uses and effects of the new digital media.   Regardless of the rapid changes in digital communications technology, computing power and the global scope of the internet, human language is still right at the center of all sorts of global communication.  For all the talk about "digital divides," it may be more important to analyze linguistic divides, especially since language and culture are so closely intertwined.  This reality helps to explain, among other things, why Chinese, Russian and Korean consumers still rely on their own home-grown "search engines," rather than using Google.
PBS's Media Shift blog has an interesting article entitled "Could LinkAsia's Digital Hybrid Model Be the Future for Global TV News?"   I recommend it and will have more to say on the topic in the future.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Facebook's active users in South Korea

The Korea Joongang Daily carried an article this morning that helps to clarify levels of usage of Facebook in South Korea.  As mentioned in an earlier post, Nielsen data showed about 15 million Korean unique visitors to Facebook in April of this year.  The Joongang Daily article was occasioned by a visit to Korea by Javier Olivan, Facebook's Head of Growth. “When I first came here, there were very few users of Facebook but now one out of five Koreans actively use it,” he said. “Active” is defined by at least one login per month. Based on what he said, some 10 million Koreans have not only registered themselves with the social network but also visit regularly. The accompanying graphic (click to see a full size version) shows the global growth of Facebook usage.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The state of software piracy in Korea and globally

The Business Software Alliance (Korean language homepage here) has released its ninth annual study of software piracy around the world, and it contains some interesting data that show South Korea's changing place in this picture.  The report, entitled Shadow Market:  2011 BSA Global Software Piracy Study, shows that the United States led the list of top twenty economies in commercial value of pirated software with a value of over $9.7 billion, followed by China, Russia and India.  The web presentation of the report contains an interesting animated globe graphic.  One of the reports statistics is the percentage of people in each nation who admit to pirating software.  Sixty-nine percent of South Koreans admitted to doing so, compared with only 31 percent of Americans.  Globally, 57 percent of consumers admitted to pirating software.
South Korea ranked 16th on the list with the commercial value of pirated software measured at $815 million.
More significant than South Korea's current world ranking is the trend in this country over recent years, as it has come to have a greater stake in the protection of intellectual property.   As shown in the accompanying table (click to see a full-size version), the software piracy rate in Korea has decreased from 43 percent in 2007 to 40 percent in 2011, a pattern also shown in other Asia-Pacific nations.   However, note that the overall commercial value of pirated software increased, despite the decreasing rate of piracy.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Facebook's prospects in Korea

It seems the whole world, certainly its mainstream media, were paying attention to Facebook's IPO yesterday. In the afternoon, as I was driving home from a downtown visit, I received a phone call from a BBC Radio correspondent in London.  He called again upon my return home and we had an interesting conversation and later a short studio interview.  The BBC was interested in how Facebook will fare in Korea, China and some of the other Asian markets where it has limited experience to date but where the growth potential is very large.
One thing that can be said with some certainty is that Facebook is off to a good start in the South Korean market, where social networking via Cyworld's mini-homepages was launched half a decade before Facebook appeared.  In fact, by the time Facebook was launched in the U.S., over a quarter of Korea's population and an estimated 90 percent of those in their twenties were using Cyworld.  Today one can begin to piece together the overall picture by consulting data gathered by different organizations, with different sampling techniques and for different purposes.
As shown in a recent study by Neilsen (, Facebook has recently overtaken Cyworld's mini-homepy service.  The accompanying graphic (click to see a full size version) shows the trend in share of usage in a direct comparison of Facebook and Cyworld.  Nielsen measures usage rates based on a comparison of unique visitors to both of the social networking sites being compared.    The Nielsen data indicate that usage of Facebook surpassed that of Cyworld early this year.   The Korean language report published by Nielsen notes that the great success of Cyworld in South Korea, especially during the period from 2003 to 2007, established the pattern that Korean consumers depended upon social networking to solve some of their communication problems.  Thus, when Facebook introduced a platform that was open to external sites and users, Korean consumers were ready to switch.
Significantly, the Nielsen report suggests that PC and Mobile (Android) visitors to Facebook totaled more than 15 million people as of April 2012.  (as a point of comparison, suggests that South Korea has only about 7 million Facebook users)  The pie chart from the Nielsen report (click to see a larger version) clearly illustrates the large impact that mobile broadband is having on the use of Facebook, a pattern that extends to other similar social networking services.  Although 58.5 percent of Facebook users in Korea use only PC Facebook, 20.5 percent use Facebook only on mobile devices and another 21 percent (shown in green) use Facebook with both mobile and desktop (PC) devices.
The Nielsen report also shows clearly that young people in their twenties are driving the trend toward greater use of Facebook in Korea.   The 19-29 year old age bracket accounts for 31 percent of all Facebook users in South Korea at this time.
Finally, I thought it would be interesting to consult Google Trends data on the number of visitors to compared with visitors to   The results are shown in the accompanying graphic (click for larger version of graphic).  Note especially that the number of Korean visitors to Facebook starts to increase in late 2010.  It is undoubtedly not a coincidence that Facebook introduced its localized, Korean language service in August of that year.  Google Trends also shows that it was sometime in late 2010 that Korean-language searches for Facebook (or 페이스북, written in hangul) began to increase.
Taken together, the patterns noted in this post bring into clear focus the challenge Facebook will have to ensure long-term success in the South Korean market.   Success will depend upon how well it can localize its services, not simply by translating everything into Korean, but by adapting them to the consumer preferences in the fast-moving and always interesting Korean marketplace.  That was the gist of my argument in a post back in 2010.
Incidentally, if Facebook really wants to thing about larger long-term success, it should begin planning for services that will assist in the reunification of divided families in Korea and ultimately the process of national reunification itself.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Smartphone use exceeds 50 percent in Korea: perspective on a milestone

As reported widely in Korea and around the world,smartphone users in South Korea now account for more than 50 percent of all mobile subscribers. According to the three mobile service providers KT, SK Telecom and LG Uplus, as reported in the Chosun Ilbo, the number of smartphone users stands at 26.72 million, 50.8 percent of all 52.55 million mobile subscribers.
However, some of the international press coverage fails to accurately report the Korean situation.  For example, an AFP story suggests that "South Koreans were introduced to smartphones relatively late, with Apple's iPhone approved only in September 2009 because of privacy concerns over some of its features."  While it is true that the iPhone arrived in Korea late, about two and a half years after its introduction in the U.S. and after it had entered 80 other national markets, the reasons have to do with much more than privacy concerns.   There are at least three important factors.
First, the major mobile service providers in Korea (SK Telecom, KT and LG) were afraid of losing voice revenue to VOIP services if the iPhone were allowed into Korea's market.  Remember, there was already an incipient trend among young people to install Skype on the iPod Touch.  Second, a unique software protocol called WIPI was still required on all mobile phones used in South Korea, even though it had outlived its original stated purpose and had become more of a non-tariff trade barrier than anything else.   Third and finally, Korea's handset manufacturers, led by Samsung Electronics and LG, had placed almost all of their emphasis on the development of feature phones and were perplexed by what to do in the face of the new smart phone paradigm.
Given these circumstances, including the obvious fact that Korean consumers had to watch and wait as the iPhone spread rapidly through other markets around the world, pent-up demand no doubt helps to explain the rapid diffusion of smart phones in South Korea.  Another factor, of course, is is the presence of a tech-savvy and highly educated populace here.   Koreans are quick to try out and use new information technologies, most especially ones that can help them better organize their lives and communicate with friends, family and co-workers.
It is important to place this milestone in the growth of smartphone usage in proper perspective.  In a recent speech, the CEO of KT, Lee Suk-Chae, blasted Korea's big companies for "free riding" on KT's networks.  As reported in The Korea Times,he said that “Korea needs a new paradigm. The digital revolution has changed everything. Despite heavy data traffic amid rapid rises of data-intensive devices such as tablets and smartphones, no one is ready to pay in return for using networks.’’

Sunday, May 13, 2012

More evidence of outside information circulating in North Korea

A study commissioned by the U.S. State Department is getting quite a bit of attention in the international media, and rightly so.  Entitled "A Quiet Opening:  North Koreans in a Changing Media Environment," it was conducted by the consulting firm Intermedia.   The study is valuable primarily because it provides empirical evidence that the North Korean public is using new media, including mobile telephony, television, DVDs, USB keys and so forth to consume information, including news and entertainment from the outside world.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Korea's "Smart Grid" test draws international interest

As reported in The Korea Joongang Daily the town of Gujwa in northeastern Jeju last year became the only full test of a smart grid. Consequently, it has attracted international interest.
Around 6,000 homes are on the smart grid system and 168 companies are testing the grid’s technology, including the power company, telecommunications companies and even automobile and home appliances companies. As of last month, about 270 billion won ($236 million) was invested and the companies involved in the project include SK Telecom, KT, LG Electronics and GS Caltex.
A smart grid is a digitally enhanced electrical grid that gathers, distributes and acts on information about both electricity providers and consumers in order to improve the efficiency of electricity services. As shown in the accompanying graphic (click to see a larger version) the Korea Institute for Advancement of Technology predicts that the global smart grid industry (including research) will expand from $200 billion last year to $238 billion in 2016 and $870 billion in 2030. Korea’s smart grid industry last year was around $3.8 billion in size, the institute said, and is expected to grow to $4.5 billion in 2016.
The Joongang Daily article is worth reading and this is a story that is worth following. South Korea clearly has the potential to be a world leader in smart grid technology.   One of the most interesting aspects of this nation's broadband revolution of the 1990s was the role played by the Korea Electric Power Company (KEPCO).   As described in some detail in my book with Dr. Myung Oh, KEPCO began installing fiber optic cable throughout its network as early as 1980.  This meant that, when it came to the big push to build out commercial broadband services in the 1990s, the KEPCO fiber network became extremely valuable.   Today, the simple fact that South Korea possesses the most extensive and advanced digital networks in the world would seem to suggest that it will utilize these networks, alongside the electric power supply grid, to become a leader in "smart grid" technology.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The DMZ as digital divide and nature preserve

When the United States and the Soviet Union agreed upon the 38th parallel as the point to divide their zones of occupation of Korea following World War II, few thought that this would mark a division of Korea that would last more than half a century.   However, due to changes in the world and in the DMZ itself, the very character and meaning of this strip of land that crosses the Korean peninsula has changed.
The information revolution has transformed the character and meaning of Korea's DMZ.  Formerly it was simply a military demarcation line and a visible, tragic reminder of the long Cold War and the lack of a formal end to the Korean war.  Today it is the world's deepest and most prominent digital divide, separating the world's most advanced and extensive digital networks in South Korea, from North Korea which ranks last or near last in the world by most measures of digital networking.    Chapter 8 of my recent book, Telecommunications and Transformation in Korea:  A Personal Perspective, explores the implications of this change on the Korean peninsula for the manner in which we think about national division as well as the manner in which reunification is likely to occur.  The change is also powerfully symbolized by satellite photographs of  the Korean peninsula at night, published in earlier posts on this blog.
Other dimensions of the Korean DMZ have been recognized by the DMZ Forum for Peace and Nature Conservation, which has published some wonderful resources on its web site.  In addition to the photograph published with this post, visitors to the site can tour the DMZ  using Google earth.  The photograph here immediately struck me, probably because I spent my first two years in Korea in Chuncheon, teaching English at Kangwon National University.    I like the fact that the DMZ Forum hopes to enlarge the peace park project to encompass both Diamond Mountain and Sorak Mountain in eastern Gangweon Province, which is more mountainous and less populated than western stretches of the DMZ.   Of course, the success of such a park will also signify reunification of the only Korean province split right in two by the demilitarized zone.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Virtual shopping in South Korea

Last fall I was living in Seoul's Gangnam district when the British retailer TESCO introduced its "virtual shopping" experiment at a nearby subway station.  It appears that this experiment has achieved some degree of success in Korea and may spread to other markets around the world.  Forbes, in an article entitled "The future of shopping is virtual," reports that, the retailer Peapod is trying out a similar scheme in Chicago.  As noted in that article, virtual shopping pioneered in South Korea.   The video below provides an interesting glimpse into the fast moving Korean marketplace and how retailers are exploring new uses for those smart phones that nearly all consumers will soon carry.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Samsung turns to outside talent for mobile software

The Wall Street Journal carried an article noting that Samsung Electronics has begun to aggressively hire foreign software engineers, especially from India, in an effort to keep up with its rival Apple.  The article adds some interesting context to current developments.   However, there is a somewhat misleading sentence early in the article, suggesting that " the smartphone market rapidly shifts its emphasis from hardware to software, the Korean manufacturer is realizing it must change its insular corporate culture." In point of fact, the smartphone market has been heavily dependent on software from the very beginning, especially the variety called mobile "Apps," but including all of the software required to support an "ecosystem of services." This reality helps to explain why there was such excruciating shock in the South Korean market when Apple's iPhone finally arrived in late 2009, after it had already been adopted in about 80 other countries over a two and one half year period.
The need for an ecosystem of services that provides useful information service applications also explains why there are two dominant players in the global smartphone market today, Google and Apple, which I identify in order of the degree of their present and future dominance.  Google, with its Android software and growing array of cloud-based information services, has chosen a course that seems likely to make it far more dominant in the global marketplace than Apple.   As to the Microsoft-Nokia alliance, I think that both of those companies came late to the party.   Microsoft especially, suffers from being so closely tied to the old, Windows desktop model of computing, which is now rapidly being replaced by cloud-based, mobile solutions.  Here in the Korean market, LG has paid a heavy price for its decision to use Microsoft's mobile software.
The Wall Street Journal article also notes that Samsung's own mobile software platform, Bada, has been unpopular with consumers.  Rather than attempting to introduce an entirely new mobile OS, I would think Samsung could benefit over the long run by putting its software engineers to work on ensuring that all of its mobile devices run efficiently on Android and on the development of both Android apps and logical extensions of the Android platform (which after all is an open platform) in Asia and for the global marketplace.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Akamai's "state of the internet": A report from Daejon

Akamai has released its State of the Internet report for the fourth quarter of 2011.  Readers of this blog will know that I've been following those reports somewhat regularly in recent years, most recently in a post last fall. This latest report takes on even greater interest now that I've moved to Daejon in order to join the faculty of KAIST.   You see, Daegu and Daejon  (spelled Taegu and Taejon in the Akamai report) topped the list of the worlds cities with the fastest average broadband connection speeds, as shown in Figure 9 of the report.  In fact, they were the only two cities with average connection speeds above 20 Mbps.
In this era of increasing use of big-data and data visualization on the internet, the Akamai report is well worth reading, and reading carefully with an eye toward data sources, sample size and possible sampling error.  Even more interesting and useful than the downloadable quarterly State of the Internet report, are the online tools that can be accessed on the same page of the Akamai web site.  They allow the easy creation of line graphs comparing data from different countries.   For example, Figure 8 of Akamai's quarterly report contains the table presented here (click to see a full-size version), along with a world map that shows  the location of leading countries.  Although this static picture is interesting, it is possible to create a more informative picture of what is happening in those countries by using the data visualization tool on the website to create and download a line graph from the data made available.  
I've done so and the graph is presented here (click to see a full-size version).   It shows the average broadband connection speeds for the top five nations in Figure 8 by quarter, for over four years from the third quarter of 2007 through the end of 2011.  This line graph is only one small example of what is made possible by Akamai's  "State of the Internet Data Visualization" tool.  Indeed, it is possible to compare data across time for many different combinations of nations.   I found it very interesting to note that the world map presented on the Akamai site contains data for North Korea, but only if you hover over that country with the mouse pointer.  Data for North Korea are not available on the drop down menu of nations and individual U.S. states.  For the record, North Korea shows an average connection speed of 1,012 kbps, or just over 1 Mbps.
There is much, much more that could be said about the gathering and reporting of big data on internet trends, but I will leave that for future posts, while I continue to enjoy "Daejon-speed" broadband internet.  As always, comments are welcome.