Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Because the newer emphasis on Korean social media stuff has had some positive responses (a few nice comments in person rather than, as yet, many more hits) I’ve decided to make that the main (but not sole) focus of the blog. To help with the SEO stuff and try and get more attention among casual browsers looking for info on Korean social media, I’ve also changed the subhead above to the rather more prosaic “social media and stuff from South Korea.”

Though I seriously considered changing the blog’s name too, I decided, in the end, that it would be more trouble than it’s worth, so Footman’s Frothings stays. And finally, I made the header image wider, scrapped the multimedia box, and added links to the assorted Korean sites I reference to the sidebar on the right. I hope it all meets with your approval.

Korean Social Media Round-up

Elsewhere in Korean social media land:

  • Despite its problems, social commerce continues to boom in Korea. From ZDNet comes word that a deal between social commerce site Soopang and Burger King, which offered 10,000 Whopper meals for 2,900 won (instead of 6,500 won) a pop, sold out in just 20 minutes. And showing that social commerce is moving beyond the realm of restaurants and beauty salons, ZDNet also reports on wemakeprice.com, one of a new breed of sites offering discounts on luxury brands and household goods including robot vacuum cleaners. “As smartphones and tablet PCs become more mainstream, social shopping could revolutionise the way products are distributed [in Korea],” said a spokesperson from the company.
  • Cruelly exposing my ignorance of women’s sites in Korea, ZDNet has news of another portal aimed at women, ezday, and its new, upgraded iPhone app. “Season 2” of ezday comes with an improved, real-time chatting service, along with all the regular gubbins about childcare, cooking, travel, love and lifestyle.

  • Echoing some concerns I heard when doing my Yonhap piece, ZDNet reports that Han Sang-gi, a professor at KAIST’s graduate school of arts and culture, gave a seminar in which he fretted about the flood of false or unverifiable information circulated via Twitter. He also made the intriguing claim that the problem is particularly acute in Korea because 50 percent of retweets take place within just 30 minutes here, compared with 50 percent in 60 minutes overseas.

    Professor Han said that this indiscriminate retweeting of what is often little more than rumour is becoming an increasing source of controversy. He cited the case of the late indie musician Lee Jin-won, who was said, via a Tweet, to have received royalties in the form of dotori, the virtual currency used in Cyworld. (As Mark wrote over at Korea Gig Guide, royalties from portals are already a very sensitive issue for Korea’s indie musicians.) Though Cyworld’s owner, SK Telecom, rushed out a denial, it was, the professor said, already too late: The original message had already been retweeted thousands of times.

    As for solutions, Professor Han suggested setting up some kind of system that provides information on the Twitterer’s location and posting history. But given that the lack of “real-name” registration has been a key factor in Twitter’s success in Korea, it’s hard to imagine such a system finding much popular support here.

  • Finally, in its weekly portal briefing, Bloter reports that uploads of the YouTube version of Naughty Kiss, a popular soap on Korea’s MBC network, passed the 8 million mark. Remarkably, in the five days since that report went up, the number of uploads has soared past 11 million! I remember writing a piece about hanryu five years ago, and speculating toward the end whether its time might not soon be up. I guess, once again, I have my answer. (See here for more about the show in English.)

The Rise of Paran: Korean Web Users Going Mobile

The round-up starts this week with a possibly very significant story about what is still, just, the smallest of Korea’s top five portals.

For those who haven’t before, meet Paran. Though it has long trailed the mighty Naver, Daum, Nate and Yahoo! Korea, the last nine months, as this story in ZDNet explains, has seen a significant reversal in its fortunes.

According to Rankey, the average visitor to Paran in October spent 13 minutes, 10 seconds on the portal, compared with 8 minutes 53 seconds in January. This 53 percent jump made Paran the only portal apart from Naver to register an increase, and just 9 seconds behind its closest competitor, Yahoo Korea. Continuing the good news for Paran, page views per person rose from 119.1 in January to 128.9 in October.

So why has this happened?

First, the article attributes the success partly to Paran’s new page design, which has replaced the traditional grid format in favour of a “stack.” Users can now more easily customise their Paran homepage to show news, blogs, shopping sites or whatever else they want easy access to. Parannies(?) can put all their SNS links on their homepage, too.

A connected, but much more significant point is that Paran has tapped into the booming numbers of Koreans using mobile devices, rather than PCs, to access the web. In this, the article says, the design is no accident: It has been specifically optimised for use on mobile devices, and indeed looks just the same on a smartphone and on a PC. Per the article:

The rise in Paran’s use was heavily influenced by improving the user experience both on regular and wireless devices. They also expect to achieve a lot of synergy and increased traffic through the competitive apps they own.

If trends elsewhere in the world are anything to go by, Paran’s ascent may only just be starting. As a great recent presentation by Mary Meeker showed, the switch from PCs to mobile access is one of the most significant tech trends of our time.
And if you need convincing of how quickly these changes are happening, take a look at the extraordinary case of Japan:
In just four years, Japan’s internet use transformed from being primarily (83 percent) desktop based, to being overwhelmingly conducted on mobile devices. Given how crazily popular iPhones have become in Korea since their release last year, and how quickly Koreans seize on to technological changes, who would bet against the same thing happening here?

Korean Social Media Round-up

From the Korean social media news:

  • On Interactive Dialogue & PR 2.0, Juny takes a brief look at the explosive growth of social commerce in Korea. While saying the possibilities for social commerce are “boundless” here, he cautions that there are numerous issues to be overcome.  He then leads into a series of documents and tables from the Altimeter Group including a link to an apparently free but (for anyone in Korea) nastily timed webinar about the rise of social commerce.
  • As if in to illustrate Juny’s point, on November 20th came a report from SBS that what it calls “social shopping” is already spawning a wave of opportunities for purveyors of “속빈 강정,” or  “hollow rice crackers” (ie, empty promises). It cites one restaurant that promised 50 percent off its beef intestines —  that is, one serving, or 300g, for 16,000 won instead of 32,000 won — if more than 100 people signed up for it online. Unfortunately, when the customers went to redeem their vouchers, they found out that the restaurant owners were including the weight of the plate as part of the 300g. When the plate was removed, the serving shrank to 200g.
  • After citing another sharp practice at a ski resort, the report goes on to say that from zero at the beginning of the year, there are now around 140 social commerce sites in Korea, and their business is already worth 60 billion won (US$53 million) a year.

  • Lots of stuff on Bloter.net in the past few days, including some intriguing news about a more open approach from Daum regarding its Twitter clone 요즘 (Yozm). As I’ve mentioned previously, The Economist ran a blog post recently arguing that Naver’s largely closed platform could prove its undoing against the combined forces of Google, iPhones, Facebook and Twitter. It seems as if Daum is taking the opposite route, because as Bloter reports, the portal has just made it easier to post Tweets and, um, Yozms (?) directly on to Daum blogs, and vice versa. It also apparently makes it simple to post material from Twitter photo services (such as Twitpic) or even  location-based services such as Daum Place and Foursquare. This is all very  interesting stuff, not least because it’s the first time (in my admittedly limited experience) that I’ve seen Foursquare mentioned in the Korean media.
  • Also looking to open things up is itgling, an Android app that links people with similar interests through messages it calls “itlges.” Rather than subscribing to feeds (as with Twitter) or applying to be a friend (a la Facebook), itgling offers to let you join groups it forms by finding common interests between you and people you know. In the piece on Bloter, Yun Ji-yeong, a spokesperson from itgling’s creators MediaRe, says:

With next-generation SNS such as itgling, instead of placing restrictions on communications, the service focuses on “openness” and finds anyone who might want to take part in the conversation.

  • Also on Bloter comes news that Konkuk University has signed a deal with KT to turn Konkuk into a “smart campus.” While negotiations on similar deals are under way with KT, SK and a number of other universities, this agreement, Bloter says, marks the first time that any university will be making itself not just friendly to smartphones, but to iPads too. Through their tablet computers, Konkuk students will now be able to sign up for classes, as well as check for information about relevant books and class content. Even better for classroom-averse students, the university is also developing a system for taking e-classes through the iPad.

  • Finally, showing that there are increasingly few realms of life that are free from the reach of SNS, ZDNet reports on a special event from twitonair, a third-party Twitter app, that will offer live video streaming of wedding ceremonies. Aimed at SNS-savvy types with friends in far-off places, the event will allow guests to watch the ceremony via a real-time video feed. Applicants can make themselves known until the 30th of this month.

Synth Corner

In the first of what may be an occasional series, I’m posting a YouTube video drawn from the glory days of late ’70s/early ’80s synth pop. Why? Simply because it is one of my favourite genres of music from any era, and I don’t think it quite gets the critical recognition it deserves. (And if you can’t indulge a predilection for icy, Ballardian pop from your childhood on your own blog, then where can you?)

Synth music in general has always suffered from a credibility deficit, particularly among fans of “real” music — ie, guitar rock. I recently had an animated exchange with my girlfriend on this very topic, sparked by my saying that I Feel Love by Donna Summer was at least as important a song as Turn, Turn, Turn by The Byrds. As it was, she was kind of horrified by my opinion. But had I been arguing for, say, Heatwave by Martha and the Vandellas, which to my ear is a fairly straight-up dance music song but with “proper” instruments, she may have agreed to disagree with me.

Anyway, my first choice is this belter by OMD, or Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark as the were when they first started. Despite the presence of a big, clunking bass guitar, OMD were on a mission, like so many of their peers, to rid pop music of rock guitars and drums. As they acknowledged during an interview in the sublime Synth Brittania documentary, they singularly failed to do this. But this song is a neat encapsulation of what they were, in their early days, looking to achieve.

Korean Social Media/Tech Roundup

  • On Bloter.net comes word that KakaoTalk, the wildly successful chat app for the iPhone and Android, now has more than 3 million users. Since starting barely eight months ago, the app, which lets people chat and exchange photos one-on-one or in groups, has become such a success in its native Korea that the company is now, according to Bloter, in talks with Verizon and Cocone to promote the service in the US and Japan, respectively. It isn’t available for the BlackBerry (surprise, surprise) so I haven’t had a chance to try it out, but several of my Korean friends are big fans — not least because, besides being free to download, it is very cheap to use.

  • Digital Times has a piece showing that Android technology is suffering hard from the perennial Korean problem of piracy. Saying that the regular market for Android apps is becoming “incapacitated” in Korea, the article cites the case of black market services such as Applanet.net (which now seems to be down), which openly offer what should be paid apps free of charge. Strikingly sophisticated, these “black market” sites even list (bogus) prices and user recommendations next to the various apps (over 9,000) on offer).

    That these sites operate so openly, the Digital Times says, indicates just how difficult it is to stop them. As with porn and other black market apps, users reportedly employ .apk files to distribute apps covertly, making it difficult to get any concrete information on the developers. In addition, many developers of pirated apps live overseas, so the servers they use don’t fall under the jurisdiction of Korean law.

  • Also on Bloter, more evidence of smartphones’ unstoppable rise in Korea. According to a survey of 1,226 office workers by JobKorea, six in 10 now own a smarpthone, and 90 percent of the laggards are thinking of getting one. The percentage of smartphone owners also varies according to company, with 77 percent of workers in foreign companies smartphoned up, compared with 68 percent in big Korean companies, 63 percent in mid-sized Korean firms, and a measly 51 percent in public companies. When outside of work, 85 percent of respondents said they use their smartphone for checking stuff online, 56 percent for movies or music, 45 percent for SNS, 28 percent for music and for games, and just 13 percent for study. So now you know.
  • The massively prolific ZDNet Korea had a couple of stories that caught my eye. Under the headline “My Ex-Boyfriend is a Recommended Friend? How To Decide…,” the first begins with the story of 32-year-old Imo, who opened her Cyworld account one day only to see an ex-boyfriend among the “recommended friends” (a similar function to that on Facebook) on the right-hand side of the screen. The perturbed Netizen wondered how Korea’s biggest SNS site could have ended up committing such a faux pas, a question the article looks to answer in terms of privacy issues.

    Concerns about privacy apparently prompted a flurry of Cyworld users to post questions in August about how to disable the “recommended friends” function. According to the article, Cyworld generates the friend recommendations through contacts on the NateOn messenger service, school friends and e-mail addresses, However, it then starts fishing for friends of friends, friends of those friends, friends of those friends, and so on. This, it seems, is how poor Imo’s unwelcome reunion took place. At any rate, the answer to the irate Cyworlders demand is apparently that Cyworld does indeed allow the “recommended friends” function to be turned off. Which prompts the question: Is this possible on Facebook?

    Unfortunately, the article didn’t address this, nor did a quick Google search yield the answer. I would guess that Facebook doesn’t allow users to disable friend recommendations, and I would also guess that this particular story — about bumping into an ex through SNS friend recommendations — would be a bit of a non-issue in the US or UK. I’d be happy to be proved wrong, though.

    Anyway, the article goes on to list the varying search methods and privacy settings for finding friends on other Korean SNS and messenger services. Intriguingly, Daum’s Twitter-a-like service 요즘 (Yojeum — or Yozm as Daum spells it — meaning “nowadays”) counts blood group among one of the criteria used for recommending friends. I wonder what the German government would make of that?

  • Finally, kind of answering a question that came up here a couple of weeks ago, ZDNet also looks at the case of Jardin de Harry, the first Korean flower shop to open a fan page on Facebook. Besides offering info on new lines, how to care for flowers and other plant-related knowhow, the page (which seems to be a personal account rather than an actual fan page) provides a forum for four experts from the shop to get to know their fans better and answer whatever questions they may have. So why don’t they use Korean SNS sites? According to owner Lee Hyeri:

Normally, sizeable flower shops in Korea would pay portals such as Naver or Daum to set up sponsored links, but that costs a lot and it’s really difficult to carry on conversations with our customers [on those sites]. Facebook is free and we can generate fans and specialized groups. Also, we can exchange stories on flowers whether or not they’re being advertised.

Techy Twitterings…

In a K-pop-heavy round-up of Korean tech/social media blogs:

  • Bloter.net has an interview with Joyce Kim, who after a stellar academic career (Cornell, Harvard, law school) decided to ditch her job as a lawyer and start up Soompi.com, a site aimed at making Korean films, soap operas and pop music more accessible to English speakers. The article begins with some observations about how hard it is, language issues aside, for foreigners to access sites offering Korean dramas and K-pop music (Korea’s real-name registration system, Korean sites’ insistence on using Internet Explorer, and the dearth of English-language sites in the US).
    Kim says her site now gets more than 1.2 million hits a month (of whom only 10 percent are Korean) and that Korean pop culture has enormous potential among American youngsters, who Kim reckons view Hollywood as increasingly stale. About the difficulties facing start-ups in Korea, Kim has this to say:

    [In Korea], before you can actually launch, you prepare your presentation material and have your meetings, and six months have already passed. In the US, even if the service isn’t perfect, you get started, fix things later and get it complete. In America, the developers and the founders can comfortably sit down together, exchange opinions and come up with policy. In Korea, the decision-making is all tilted toward the CEO.

  • Also on Bloter is the weekly round-up of portal news:

  • Nuggets include:
  • As noted elsewhere by Joel, me2day, Naver’s Twitter-esque message service, has topped 3 million users.

    In what could be two firsts for Korea, Daum has launched 미즈미, a portal aimed at women, and enlisted the help of a pop group, Girls’ Generation, as part of a drive to get computer users to upgrade to Internet Explorer 8. (Now if they were trying to persuade Koreans to switch to Firefox or Google Chrome, I’d be even more of a 소녀시대 fan.)

    In yet more evidence of the iPhone’s inexorable rise, Nate’s popular NateOn communicator now has an iPhone app.

  • On Interactive Dialogue & PR 2.0, Juny looks at the curious case of Girl’s Day, a girl band whose fame has arisen almost entirely through social media. They first came to public attention on June 23, when, through Twitter, they released a video of themselves dancing in Hongdae. It was subsequently picked up by the website allkpop, and then parodied by an American Kpop fan. The members of the group started publishing their profiles over Twitter, and then released a video on July 7. On July 9, they had their debut on KBS 2’s Music Bank, but despite the big expectations, the performance — due to “exaggerated facial expressions” and their overwhelming nerves — was a disaster. But things have started to improve, and Girl’s Day released a single on July 22. See below for more on this story story:
  • Finally, from ZDNetKorea, comes news of an Ulleung-do and Dokdo smartphone app. As well as reams of information on nature, history and, in the case of Ulleung-do, the best places to eat and stay, the Dokdo part of the app will be using North Gyeongsang Province’s “Cyber-Dokdo” service to offer bird’s eye view pictures of the endlessly controversial rocks. The report goes on to say that in order to help drum up interest among foreign tourists, an English-language version of the service is on the way too.

A Brush With Fame

My CNNGo piece about K-pop star Nichkhun has been up a few days now, but I thought it might be fun — even if only for me — to recount the second interview I’ve done with a genuine star in my time here in Korea (the first, with actress Kim Suna, is unfortunately no longer online).

Though I was vaguely aware of his band 2PM from their saturation coverage on TV, Nichkhun himself didn’t register with me until I saw him on the Korean programme We Got Married. This reality-type show brings together two young singers or actors, and then has them go on a series of “dates” while also exercising, making rice balls, having housewarming parties, and other such humdrum activities supposedly typical to married life in Korea.

The edition of the show with Nichkhun (in which he paired off with Chinese singer Victoria Song) was a big hit with audiences, but what really struck me was his apparently flawless English. On further inquiry, I found out that not only was Korean not his first language (it’s Thai), he wasn’t even of Korean descent (he’s Thai-American). He would be, I thought, the perfect subject for one of the occasional pieces I contribute to CNNGo.com. The editor agreed, and so, after various to-ing and fro-ing with his friendly but harried PA, I managed to secure 40 minutes of his time.

The interview took place at the new MNet offices, which are part of the CJ Building in Sangam-dong. In a manner befitting pop royalty, a downstairs restaurant opened up a back section for us, and the man himself entered with his manager.

I have to say, the first thing that struck me about him was just how young he looked. Carefully sculpted into a faux-rugged, safely sexy persona on video, in person he could have passed for 15. However, as I quickly discovered, he was also open, modest and genuinely funny, all of which made him a great interview. It certainly helped that his story — of an awkward, rather reluctant teenager suddenly thrust into the spotlight — was such a compelling one too.

The story’s been up for about five days, and it’s caused by far the biggest stir of anything I’ve ever written. Within hours of its going online, a bunch of K-pop fan sites had seized on it and swarms of his followers were poring over his words.

Thankfully, given the fans’ enormous fervour, most of the feedback for the piece was pretty positive. There were (a bit prissily, I thought) a few eyebrows raised over his use of the terms “black people and lots of whites” to describe the audience on 2PM’s US tour. There were also a few claims that I had plagiarised the story, or that the interview hadn’t even taken place because the real Nichkhun is too well educated to litter his speech with “likes.” (This last claim was scotched by another commenter who swore she had seen a recording of this actual interview on CNN. In fact, no cameras were present.)

I can’t claim to be a fan of 2PM’s music — I am surely not, to be fair, the demographic the band’s songwriters have in mind when penning ditties like this. But, as a fellow furrner living in Korea, it is heartening to see just how much Koreans have taken to this young Thai-American. And, as his legions of fans would no doubt agree, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer fellow.

A More Social Approach

After having a think about the direction of this blog, I’ve come to some conclusions:

1) For it to be worthwhile, I need to update it more often and give it a more distinct identity.

2) For me to do that, I need to come up with stuff that perhaps isn’t covered in such depth elsewhere.

3) Given my increasing professional and personal interest in all things social media and tech-related,  why not produce more content about those things?

So, in an experiment starting from today, I’m going to try and post (along with all the other not-so-regular gubbins) regular updates summarising stuff from a few Korean-language sites covering social media and tech issues. There are some undoubted challenges in doing this, not least my still far-from-perfect knowledge of Korean and the tech industry. For these reasons, I would be delighted to hear any (constructive) feedback on mistakes I make. However, I’ll give it a go and see if I have the stamina to get up early a few times a week and post about three or four big stories.

So, without any further ado, here are a few choice bits for today:

  • Bloter.net has a story speculating on the reasons for KT’s sudden postponement of pre-orders for the iPad in Korea. Though KT’s official announcement puts it down to “global currency issues,” Bloter notes that the won has been rising against the dollar since at least May, making KT’s very sudden announcement yesterday — issued just hours before pre-orders were due to begin at 8pm — somewhat puzzling. The site speculates that KT’s proposed payment period of three years would mean that iPads are effectively going out for free, which is perhaps not a message that Apple would be keen on. Alternatively, they say, KT’s eagerness to get the iPad out this week, in time for the release of Samsung’s Galaxy pad, may just have seemed a little too hasty for Korea’s Apple office.

  1. Fully 91% of the 1,500 respondents are using social media marketing.
  2. The social medium they used most for marketing was Twitter (88%) closely followed by Facebook (87%). (Cyworld was nowhere to be found — is social media marketing even possible there?) And:
  3. 86% of respondents said they do all their social marketing in-house.

  • Finally, Premee at  Twitterian looks at another of the profusion of third-party Twitter apps from Korea. This one’s called Seesmic Look, and it aims to show you “everything in a single glance.” Twitterian’s reviewer lauds Seesmic’s ability to make Tweets look “beautiful” and to show Twitter trends in a single place. On the other hand, s/he bemoans the app’s over-reliance on Twitter’s own trending function, which he says makes it difficult to find trends in Korean, and says that the app’s emphasis on aesthetics has come at the cost of some function. Here’s the sample video: