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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Citing the recent Pew Research Center report, MSNBC says apps could be overtaking the web. Although I do not believe that apps will take the web over, there certainly is  a strong tendency leaning onto the “apps” paradigm and everyone is praising or worrying. To predict the future of the web and apps is something beyond my sight, but I can tell you where to turn to if you want to know what happens after the web overtaken by apps: South Korea.

There are two dominant apps in SK: Naver and Daum. Well, in a general definition, they are not apps. They are calledportals generally. But do you think you can still call them portals if there is no exit in these portals? According to Collins Cobuild Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary, “a portal is a site that consists of links to other websites,” but the SK portals don’t let the users leave them.

At the dawn of the SKorean web, Daum almost dominated the scene with its über-popular Hanmail web-mail service and “cafe,” which resembles groups of Google or Yahoo. While Daum was content with its market dominance, Naver, one of the newcomers in the scene, launched Knowledge Search (지식iN in Korean) in 2002. Soon it turned out to be a game changer and even inspired Yahoo! Answers. Since 2003, Naver has never let others take its top position.

Naver’s later moves were a lot alike of those of the chaebol. It built their own “cafe,” mail, blog services and abused its superior position in the market, giving privileges to contents from its services in search results, to promote its own services. Even if you had a great blog post about some issue, Naver would show posts from the Naver blogs far above your post.

Those who seeks a quick attention readily migrated to Naver. Especially independent web communities and blogs outside of the Naver enclosure were soon disintegrated and melted away.

Naver’s next campaign was the press. Although Naver itself hasn’t created much of journalistic contents, it almost ruled upon what to read by curating news links on its front page. In a country like SK, in which 85 per cent of its people read news via the web (mostly portals), the portals has the power of agenda-setting.

In this month, Naver cut off several news outlets including the Kyung-hyang Shinmun and the Hankyoreh, which are mostly critical to the current regime, from its newscast service for 3 days. About 70 to 80 per cent of the traffic the newspaper company’s web site get comes from the portals so it definitely was a heavy blow. Naver explained that the measure was due to the codes contained in the web pages of the newspapers that might be harmful to the visitor’s computer but some suspect its true intention in these days of the upcoming general election.

Portals are exercising themselves as de facto media entities but the authorities helplessly took no regulative measures, excusing they are not the press by law. Nonsense! So the law has to be amended.

I do strongly stand for diversity of the web but the future of the web remains yet to be seen. People seem quite contend with the status quo—what they are looking for is all to be easily found inside the enclosure, it seems. With their abundant budget, portals provide quality services including the best dictionary—English, Japanese, Chinese, French, Spanish, German—of which I am one of the biggest beneficiaries.

One of my working hypotheses is that the third world countries in rapid development, e.g. SK and China, might show a glimpse of the future of the first world civilization, Europe and America, with rapid and radical development that surpasses the first world, due to the lack of the buffer, that is, historical contexts and social self-consciousness. If I am correct, we will see the future from where it is least expected to be seen.

Will Naver survive in spite of its closeness? What would be the first crevasse if it falls apart? What would play the major role and from where would it be?

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It is no news that freedom of speech has shrunk since the establishment of the MB government severely. Among the many cases of repression of freedom of speech, one broke out after a government agency had surveilled on a businessman who uploaded personally a video clip lampooning the President in 2008. The agency was the Public Ethics Office under the Prime Minister’s Office, which handles, as we can imagine from its name, corruption issues of government officials. That the agency had absolutely no authority to investigate civilians made the surveillance illegal and several officials had to be indicted to the scandal.

It is highly unlikely that the agency alone voluntarily conducted the illegal surveillance. Many suspected that the Blue House was behind this and there was a related testimony, but the prosecution turned down the allegation due to “a critical lack of evidence.”

The situation turned upside down about three days ago after a former senior official of the agency exposed that a then administrative officer at the Blue House had ordered him to destroy the evidences and offered him a reward for a cooperation. The exposer, Jang Jin-su, provided the recording of his dialogue with Choi Jong-seok, the former Blue House officer, to the media.

The dialogue depicts the Blue House officer, who persuade the exposer to not reveal that the Blue House was behind all of this, and the exposer who gently (of course he was the one who was recording!) rejects. Although it is a long, banal, run-of-the-mill conspiration deal that tears apart, some lines are genuinely hilarious, make the readers question themselves whether they are reading a Hallyu telenovela script:

Choi: You really don’t know? What it means to live your life a bit frankly, you really don’t know?

Jang: I don’t know. I just want extenuation…

[ellipsis]

Choi: Yes, and I do appreciate what you’ve sacrificed… What I am saying is that we have to find out the best solution. This [exposure] is no good.

Jang: I don’t know how.

Choi: I’m going to resign, so go out [from government service] with me then. I will provide you with my company that I’m going to incorporate. I’m giving my word to you. No worries, then. I will provide you for life, whatever happens, if you just stand by me.

An ever-growing market for “spec” engineering in SK has expanded again, beyond our imagination. For those who are not familiar the term “spec” and how it is being dealt in SK, I’m going to brief about it first.

As we can read from a dictionary, spec, an abbreviation of specification means “a detailed precise presentation of something or of a plan or proposal for something,” which can usually be seen printed on a package of a product. I don’t know whether it is the same in the Western culture however when it is used to a person, it refers to things to decorate one’s résumé: alma mater and GPA score, scholarship, anything that can give appraisers a remarkable impression—e.g., having fought for freedom in Lybia. From this, we may see the mentality of the SK people that voluntarily accepts their presence as commodities but this is not, although this is an extremely interesting subject, what I mean to discuss here right now.

A piece from today’s issue of the Chosun Ilbo depicts an interesting case of this “spec” engineering market. It begins with a punch line of an advertisement of spin doctors: “a career of a president [of a student council] is a major charm [what it literally said was “power spec”] to admission officers.” The best part of this advertisement is that it targets mothers of elementary students.

Unfortunately, these spin doctors would not give our little candidates a lesson as Malcolm Tucker would do. They just teach them a method of speech and write a campaign speech for them. (I don’t think I have to add that it’s expensive but I’ve just did in case of…)

Why? The doctors say that “getting elected [to a prez of a student council] in an elementary school means a lot when the student tries to enter an international middle school and it even affects to an admission into a specialized high school.” An international middle school and a specialized high school are SKorean equivalent of prep schools. Here again, moms are trying their best to engineer their children’s future.

This is not a national phenomenon and would’n be, not to mention that we should consider the media’s inevitable sensationalism when we deal with this kind of story. Anyway, what’s clear is that this perpetual war of envy and jealousy, in which children are held as hostages, will only lead to exploit children’s life and their own dreams. There will be no victory for anyone, only casualties will remain.

During these weeks there were two major fusses about public persecution through social network services online (a blog post from Human Rights Monitor Korea sums the cases up pretty well). Newspapers, severely suffering from losing their grip on public sentiment, are trying their best to keep the public away from SNS, dubbing these cases “SNS witch hunts.” Leaving the existing media outlet’s interest aside, these cases are worth contemplating anyway.

Both cases were ignited by lopsided, unilateral opinions and the initial self-claimed victims were backfired later as contrary statements came up from the other party. In the end, it seems that the both party were victims of the despotic public.

Something like this could always happen in any culture but I think it is way too severe in SK and I am not alone in this view. We, Koreans care too much for the others and are charged with immense pathos (by which I mean a general aspect of emotions, not the usual meaning in English). This tends to lead into fanaticism to the extent that blurs a frontier between religion and politics. We see it in the remnant of the Roh Moo-hyun camp returning to the stage (which I would like to dub “necROHmancy”) and the recent fuss around the I Am A Weasel fanatics.

Can’t Koreans just leave the things as they are and stand on as an each individual? It seems that they can’t help taking sides and persecuting each other’s side. They cannot bear inside critics so they purge them from their camp, solidifying the uniformity of the group. Yes, I think we have strong totalitarian sentiments, even after having suffered from the totalitarian military regime.

One thing for which I am particularly concerned is that ethnic minorities would soon become the next prey for these hostile sentiments. Heretofore, SK have maintained a relatively uniform ethnicity or culture. The notion of Korea as a single-race nation-state is outright delusional (there is nothing like a “single”-race!) but it still has a certain grip on the people.

After having become one of the economically prospering countries, SK draws in more and more people from different cultures. Who’s going to be blamed after an inevitable economic downslide took over? And what if there are ethnic minorities, much easier to prey on than union members or people from Honam? As the ethnic or cultural minorities become a part of the society, more likely for them to be at gunpoint of the blind pathos, I’m afraid.