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.

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