In SK, apps did overtake the web years ago

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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